by Andrew Brewer
My journey through football has been quite unique and has played a huge role in my life by shaping the man that I have become. I started playing football in 5th grade despite some serious reservations from my father, but he eventually caved in. After getting my first taste of the game of football, I was hooked. Football was so much fun, I made new friends, and I thrived off of competition.
After a position change, a few injuries, and one successful collegiate season, I found myself knocking on the doorstep of the NFL. However, somewhere in the process of pursuing the NFL, the game I once loved became an endless chore that consumed my life. I had tunnel vision. Almost every decision I made from my diet, my job, and how I spent my free time was all in relation to making the NFL. I trained year around with the conviction that I could get a phone call from a team at any point. I finally signed with two teams in the preseason of 2012 only to get cut for the third time in 2 months. I left the game thankful for the journey, but with a bitter taste in my mouth towards football.
After “hanging the cleats up” I was ready to move on with life apart from football. Little did I know what was around the corner was a chance at redemption. I received my fourth consecutive offer to play football as a Parma Panther in the IFL (Italian Football League.) I have always dreamed of going to Italy and what better way to spend my time then being a player-coach in Parma, Italy. I was forewarned by my coach, Andrew Papoccia, that football was going to be extremely different than what I was used to stateside.
I knew that the competitive aspect was going to be a lesser quality of football than I was used to, but that was not the biggest surprise. Actually, watching my teammates smoke cigarettes before games, during halftime, and after the game was quite alarming at first, yet comical to see. Despite some of my teammates personal health choices, I grew to admire and respect their passion for football. The only paid players on the team are the two american imports. These guys are college students, working full time jobs, and some are married with children. Some traveled from other cities to come play for my team in Parma, but what for? American football is not popular at all in Italy, they do not get paid, and there is no glory. They do it for one simple reason: they love football for what it is. A game.
I learned several important life lessons while I was over in Italy for six months. It brought me back to the beauty of the game and why I began to play it in the first place. Despite playing my last days in America as a Packer in Lambeau Field in front of 80,000 screaming “cheeseheads,” I found myself playing on cruddy, dirt field in front of 12 people after a seven hour bus ride to Rome. Both life and football are very different in Italy, but you know what? I loved it. For the first time it did not matter about the circumstances. I did not have to worry about being perfect or getting cut from a team. I was with my new friends and we got to have fun playing football together. That is why we all started playing sports, right?
My challenge to my readers and athletes is two fold. First off, do not let your identity get wrapped up in your athletic successes or failures. You are so much more than what happens on the field or court. Secondly, never loose sight of why you started playing your sport. Work your tail off and give it your all, but remember at the end of the day it is just a game.