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Chad Lewis: Reflections
Great read.... I miss Chad Lewis. What a great guy and football player.
HEADLINE: Reflections: Memories include a friendship with President Bush
BYLINE: As told to Doug Robinson Deseret Morning News
As NFL training camps open, veteran tight end Chad Lewis, who will be 35 in October, is still at home in Orem -- just the way he wants it. His playing days might or might not be finished. Meanwhile, he is writing a book about his unlikely, sometimes star-crossed career.
A walk-on at BYU and an undrafted NFL free agent who was cut by two teams, he became a three-time Pro Bowl tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles, catching 229 passes for 2,361 yards and 23 touchdowns. Along the way, he was invited to dinner at the White House, introduced President Bush on a campaign stop, toured China with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, played for some of the game's greatest coaches, helped two teams reach the Super Bowl and never played in the Super Bowl. These are just some of his reflections:
I'm not going to training camp this year. After breaking my foot in the 2005 NFC Championship game, it took months to recover. It was the hardest thing I ever went through, and I'm not getting any younger or faster -- but the linebackers are. I have left open the possibility of signing with a team later if the situation is right. I lift weights and ride my bike like a maniac and catch passes from a JUGS machine in my garage.
But for the first time since my church mission, I won't be going to training camp. People ask how it feels. It feels good. I'm sitting here with my kids. If I had a burning desire to be on a team, I would have made the calls and I'd be in a training camp. I am staying in touch with my agent. There are several coaches out there I would play for -- Brad Childress (Vikings); Jon Gruden (Buccaneers); Sean Payton (Saints); Andy Reid (Eagles). I'm not worried. If I do want to play, I'll have an opportunity.
I'm writing a book about the experiences I've had that have changed my life. I have recorded them all in a journal I've kept since I was in junior high. I try to write a page every night.
I've been so blessed. I have had the greatest string of coaches that any player has ever had. One of them was D Vermeil. He's a powerful, powerful person. I didn't want to play for him at first. When I was a free agent, I read the stories about how brutal his training camps. They had a team mutiny the second week of the season. But the Rams were my only option.
I developed great respect for Coach Vermeil that season. He cares so much about his players. He has every player to his house for dinner in the offseason and he cooks for them -- 8-10 players at a time with their wives or girlfriends. That's just how he is. He just cares about every person who plays for him in a way that most coaches are afraid to expose themselves. Players love D Vermeil.
When he cut me during Week 9 of that season, he had no choice. He had four injuries and had to make a roster spot available. When I went in his office, he was crying. He had to walk to the corner of his office to compose himself. I told him, 'Coach, it's OK. I love you.' He told me, 'I did not want to do this. I love having you around. I know we're going to win the Super Bowl and I wanted to put you on the injured reserve for that, but the more I thought about that it wasn't fair to you. I know you're going to do great things. I want you to have that opportunity. I'm going to do what I can to get you a job.'
I flew to Philadelphia the next day and Coach Vermeil called my wife and asked her if there was anything he could do to help her. No one does that! He was telling her, 'I'm sorry. Chad is going to be fine.' And it wasn't just me; he was like that with his players. I've talked to him several times since. It's always a handshake and a hug.
I've had some great experiences as a result of my career. During the 2004 season my wife Michelle and I noticed that President Bush was making a speech one mile from our house. So we go there without tickets. Everyone is asking for my autograph, and the Secret Service is wondering what's going on. The Chief of Staff asks, 'Who are you?' I apologized and told him I played for the Eagles and that these people love football.
He invited us to sit in the middle of the second row. Afterward, one of the president's aides tells me to follow her. She walks us out back and no one was there except Secret Service, the president and his helicopter. We talked for five minutes. He treated us like we were old friends and he had all the time in the world. You know how during speeches he sometimes stammers around; well, he's not like that in person. He looked us right in the eye and spoke very firmly. As we were wrapping things up, I told him, 'I want you to know that we're praying for you.' He looked me in the eye and said, 'That means more to me than anything else, people praying for their president.' Then he flew away and Michelle and I are looking at each other like, what just happened?
Three weeks later I'm on the team plane after a game in Cleveland, and I got a call from the White House. And they're asking me if I would be willing to introduce the president for one of his last campaign speeches, the day before the election. I couldn't believe it. I introduced the president as planned, with 10 of my teammates and (former Eagle/BYU star) Vai Sikahema. He met with all of us afterward and we had our pictures taken with him.
So, jump ahead. There I am with a broken foot, sitting in my hotel room a few days before the Super Bowl and I get another call from the White House. They invite me to a black-tie dinner on Valentine's Day. It turned out it was Laura Bush's valentine's gift to the president. She invited four athletes to the dinner -- Willie Mays, Roger Staubach, Lynn Swann and ME!!!
We get to the White House and Laura Bush was so dignified, with beautiful blue penetrating eyes, never in a hurry. Michelle and I kept looking at each other -- what are we doing here? Afterward, the Swanns, Staubachs and us didn't want to leave. We were looking around the White House. Finally the guards said they wanted to go home.
Something else happened during Super Bowl week -- Commissioner Tagliabue asked me to go to China. I speak Chinese because I served a mission there. We talked to the minister of foreign affairs, mayors. We had dinner with the president of China. I won't be surprised if China has its own football team someday.
I was so impressed with the commissioner. He is passionate and knowledgeable about the game. He knows the players and understands the problems. We discussed drugs and agents and the T.O. situation. We would start at 8each day and he would hold court telling great football stories.
I could end up playing again. Last year, after my foot recovered, I was signed by the Eagles for the last eight games. By then, T.O. was gone and the Eagles were not the same team because of that as well as injuries. I feel like I could have helped the situation if I had been there. I would have spoken to both T.O. and Donovan. It did not need to happen. When I'm ready to talk about that, I will, but I'm not ready.
Being a professional athlete definitely gives you a platform. I still can't believe how much people care about football. You have countless opportunities to visit schools and youth groups and sick children and do good because of the power of the jersey. Kids' faces light up when they see you in that jersey. It's a chance to do great things. There were definitely challenges on my time, but you can't be so busy you don't give time to kids. I've tried to make the most of it.
Looking back, I will miss football, but I know I'll always have my family. I remember being at the Super Bowl in 2005 and how disappointed I was that I couldn't play because of the broken foot. I had dreamed of playing in the Super Bowl my whole life. As a kid, I had caught thousands of passes in my yard imagining I was in the Super Bowl, and now to get there and not be able to play. I was crushed.
And then it hit me. I realized my Super Bowl was my family sitting behind me cheering my name. They were going to be with me long after the Super Bowl lights went out. I realized it as I was sitting there. I'm grateful to have gone through football and still know that. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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