Spergon Wynn considers himself a “baseball dad.” Marc Bulger is an Olympic hopeful. Tim Watson teaches high school history. Shannon Taylor teaches PE. Anthony Becht talks about football for a living. Fred Robbins helps kids who are learning the game. And Chris McIntosh works under a man he once called “Coach.”
More than two decades ago, NFL teams drafted them. Their careers, on average, lasted six years. Since retiring, they’ve sent children to college. They’ve embarked on second and third careers. Their classmates have moved on as well. Of the 254 players picked in the 2000 draft, only 21 stuck around past 2010. Only three made it to 2015. Most are like Wynn, a sixth-round quarterback, now “just focused on family, [and my] new career.”
Yet when they turn on Super Bowl LV this Sunday, they’ll see one of their own still dealing. They’ll sink into a couch, perhaps massage an aching body part, and watch Pick 199 go for ring No. 7. They’ll juggle dad duties, and perhaps some Monday lesson prep, and marvel at Tom Brady’s eternality.
“I am mesmerized by it,” says Becht, a former tight end.
“It’s extraordinary,” says Robbins, a Super Bowl-winning defensive tackle.
“Actually,” says McIntosh, a first-round offensive tackle, “it strikes me as almost impossible.”
Football seems like a distant memory
Tim Watson was Pick 185, a defensive tackle out of Division III Rowan University. He never played an NFL down. At Seattle Seahawks training camp in 2000, a hook protruding from a practice sled sliced his knee. He spent his rookie season on injured reserve, then part of 2001 on the PUP list. He soon conceded that his football dreams were fractured.
So he returned to New Jersey, and took a job as a crisis counselor, working with at-risk kids. He moved into coaching and teaching, all while raising two young children of his own. For nine years at Cedar Creek High School, he won championships and mentored dozens of teens. Now, he teaches 9th grade history, and an elective entitled “The Conscience of Mankind.” The course meanders through genocides and the psychology of evil, and topical discussions on race in America. “I’m fortunate to teach it,” Watson says over the phone, hours after a lesson on the Tulsa race massacre. He loves the life he has built for himself. His NFL disappointment is buried in the past.
So when he gets a new batch of high school students, and uses “two truths and a lie” to break the ice, and tells them he was drafted before Tom Brady … usually, he says, they don’t buy it.
But 198 people were. Almost all are in their 40s now. Each of their life stories is unique. Many, like Watson’s, have been full of success — but mostly outside the NFL. A chronic neck injury ended Chris McIntosh’s football days in 2002. Shannon Taylor, Pick 184, played four years before returning to Virginia with family. Brady’s fellow sixth-rounders, on average, lasted 3.9 years in the league.
Their lives, though, were still young. Taylor has since spent over a decade coaching at North Cross School in Roanoke. McIntosh delved into the real estate world, then invested time and money in wellness startups. After a decade of entrepreneurship, he returned to his alma mater, Wisconsin. A few years later, he ascended to deputy athletic director, one step below his former coach, Barry Alvarez.
His life, like Taylor’s and Watson’s, has been fulfilling in so many ways. All three have watched their children grow. Taylor’s daughter has graduated college, and his son now plays football at Temple. Watson’s daughter was a 2020 McDonald’s All-American, and a five-star basketball recruit to the University of Oregon. McIntosh has two daughters in high school, and a son coming up behind them. He shuttles them around to their own sporting events, and to Wisconsin volleyball and basketball games as well.
He has lost 90 pounds since his NFL days. “There are so many things that have happened in my life – family, and career developments – that make football seem like such a distant memory,” McIntosh says.
Which brings him to Brady. He glances out his window. His office overlooks Camp Randall Stadium. A skinny Michigan quarterback visited back in 1999, and beat McIntosh’s Badgers, 21-16.
“And that seems like a lifetime ago,” McIntosh says. “To think he's still making other teams pay is incredible.”
‘I really don’t understand how it’s possible’
The average NFL career lasts roughly three years. Fred Robbins hung on until 2011. Anthony Becht did too.
Around Year 11, they say, the sport’s brutality began to take its toll. Early in a career, Robbins explains, “you wake up Monday with a few aches and pains. And by Monday into Tuesday, your off day, you work it out. And Wednesday, you feel your body come around.
“But that wasn't the case for me my last year. I'm like, ‘Wow, man, I really need an extra day or two.’ I just felt like my body was starting to wear down.”
Robbins had always told himself: “I want to come out the game somewhat healthy.” So in 2012, he said goodbye. He moved back to Pensacola, Florida. He poured time into his nonprofit, Mr. Robbins Neighborhood; and into his performance training program, which works with elite football players of all ages. Most of his life is geared toward the next generation — including, first and foremost, his two sons.
Becht moved on in 2012 as well. He settled down in Tampa, with some nerves about post-NFL life. But he immersed himself in retired-player communities. He supported his son, now a touted high school quarterback. He jumped into broadcasting, calling college games for ESPN. He works New York Jets pre- and postgame shows, and breaks down the Bucs for a local sports radio station throughout the week.
When he analyzes Brady, he remembers how “old” he felt at the end of his own career. He remembers the grueling “physical grind,” but more so the “very heavy mental grind.” It’s why so few players last a decade in the league.
And then he looks at Brady, who has lasted two-plus.
“I'm telling you, man, it's not fascinating to me; it's remarkable,” Becht says.
“A lot of people talk about it and say, ‘Wow, it's incredible.’ I really don't understand how it's possible.”
Better than them all ... combined
Six teams drafted quarterbacks ahead of Brady in 2000. Two went before him in the sixth round. One was Marc Bulger, Pick 168, who recalls sitting with Brady two months earlier in a hallway in Indianapolis. As they awaited their turn at the scouting combine, surrounded by imposing physical athletes, Bulger remembers them saying to each other: “We’re just as good as these guys. Why are they first-round picks and we're not getting projected higher?”
Brady, of course, was right. Bulger was as well. He became the second-best QB in the class, statistically. He enjoyed a 10-year, multi-Pro Bowl stint in St. Louis. He and the other non-Brady QBs from the 2000 draft accumulated a combined 49,437 career yards and 277 TDs.
Brady is at 79,204 yards and 581 TDs — and counting.
Bulger hung up his cleats in 2011. He now lives in Nashville with his family. His daughters, aged 10 and 7, are “the biggest joy of my life.” He has a farm business in Missouri, and a foundation that benefits veterans and ill children. Prior to the pandemic, he was also pouring long hours into a new competitive pursuit: curling.
He and former NFL defensive end Jared Allen had taken up the sport from scratch, with their eyes on the 2022 Olympics. Training has been on hold, but Bulger is building his own curling rink in Nashville. The 30,000-square foot, curling-bowling-dining combo facility is scheduled to open in August. “It's gonna be awesome,” Bulger raves.
Pick 183, meanwhile, is an energy services broker in Texas. Spergon Wynn spent a season with the Cleveland Browns, then another with the Minnesota Vikings. He bounced around the Canadian Football League for a few years. Then he left football to take a job trading power and natural gas assets. He has been in the industry ever since. He works 8-3 on weekdays. He chauffeurs a son to travel baseball tournaments on weekends. In between his various commitments, he’s part of a team working to launch a sports management agency called Next Page Sports. They hope to be up and running in time for the 2022 draft.
Wynn is off social media, and mostly out of touch with former football colleagues. He rarely gets asked about the quarterback drafted 16 spots behind him, or the contrasting trajectories of their careers.
But when I did, he didn’t mind.
On Brady’s longevity, he jokingly says: “My knees hurt playing a little bit of basketball. ... So it's pretty dope that he's still out there doing it.”
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