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Life after football: The struggles after playing days come to an end

By Ben Estes, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 29, 2012

“Can one wonder that under the circumstances the relative importance of work and sport is sometimes lost in the mind of a twenty-year-old undergraduate?” — Harper’s Weekly, Nov. 12, 1892

The crowds of students huddled impatiently outside the Blue Leprechaun bar last spring, just as they do outside any bar in any season here.

The first thing on their minds was the bouncer — getting past him. If they looked at him, it was only with a fleeting glance, maybe one moment of eye contact while their ID was in his hands.

It wouldn’t be enough time to recognize that this bouncer started on Michigan’s last national championship-winning team 15 years ago, the only team to do so in the last 64 years.

“They have no idea (who I am),” said Chris Floyd, an NFL fullback-turned-bouncer. “If anything, they will mistake me for a current player.”

It’s about a mile and a quarter from Michigan Stadium to the Blue Lep, as the bar is affectionately known. It’s a trek that takes about 20 minutes on foot, a little faster by car.

For Floyd, it was a journey that lasted 15 years, one that took him through at least six jobs, three internships and a successful stint at grad school. All of those occupations represented the 37-year-old’s attempts to find a career once his football days finally expired.

It’s a journey that is still very much ongoing — this latest job at the Blue Lep is a mere placeholder. It keeps income flowing while Floyd awaits the opportunity that brought him back to Ann Arbor, the place where he made his name as a football star.

He is not the only one to go through such travails. Countless other former athletes, at Michigan and everywhere else around the country, find themselves unsure of what to do when they are told once and for all that they can no longer play football — the only thing they’ve known for most of their lives.

These aren’t the true stars — the Tom Bradys, the Charles Woodsons, the LaMarr Woodleys — the men who enjoy 10-to-15-year careers in the NFL, and can live off their spoils the rest of their lives.

These are the more forgotten players, men like Floyd. The ones who last a few years in the NFL, perhaps, but no longer.

Fifteen years after that national championship, Chris Floyd is back in the town he still loves. It’s the town where he once soaked in the cheers of 100,000 fans every Saturday, back when the future seemed limitless and the present was free of worry. He’s holding a job so close to the Big House — the place where he made so many memories — that he’s practically in its shadow.

Yet that stadium never felt so far away.

***

Floyd was drafted by the New England Patriots in the third round of the 1998 NFL draft, 81st overall, after helping lead the Wolverines to their 1997 national championship as the starting fullback.

Third rounders have a decent shot at playing for a long time in the league. While they aren’t expected to be stars, third rounders have more than a puncher’ s chance at carving out a role for themselves, and many end up as solid veterans.

This wasn’t the case for Floyd. He never made it past special teams in his two-plus years with the Patriots, and first-year coach Bill Belchick cut him after a penalty-filled game in front of Floyd’s family and friends in Detroit on Thanksgiving in 2000.

Floyd couldn’t find a permanent home in 2001, either. From there, he spent the next two years as a football vagabond, training and trying to make teams. But workouts with Detroit, Atlanta and Buffalo didn’t amount to anything. He also tried out with the Chicago Rush of the Arena Football League and spent some time with the La Crosse Night Train of the National Indoor Football League, buoyed by former Michigan teammate Diallo Johnson.

It was after Floyd’s last NFL tryout in 2003 that the trying times, the carousel of short-term jobs lacking long-term prospects, began.

“I think my lowest point was being turned down for jobs,” Floyd said. “I’m talking about odd jobs. There’s been so many jobs I’ve applied for.”

So many, in fact, that Floyd used to keep a notebook of all the rejection letters he received. But it’s spring 2012, and he thinks he’s finally found his calling. For Floyd, it’s long been an aspiration to come back to Michigan and work in the Athletic Department.


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