It's very likely, if not 100 percent certain quite yet, that we will never see punter Steve Weatherford on an NFL field again. And that saddens me.
Weatherford is one of the most badass special teams players of all time. He has spent a decade in the NFL, and in Super Bowl XLVI against the Patriots, he set a Super Bowl record with three punts inside the 10 (and almost had a fourth). In 2010, while with the Jets, he tied the record for most punts inside the 20 with 42.
There was that tremendous talent, and there was also serious weightlifting. That's where some of the badassery comes in. He's 6'2", weighs 230 pounds and can squat almost 500 pounds.
And this is where my recent story on Weatherford begins. In the gym.
I had gotten Weatherford on the phone.
"If you don't mind long pauses or grunts, we can definitely talk," he said.
This was the first interview I'd ever conducted with a player while he lifted weights. But like I said, Weatherford is a badass.
We were talking about his future and possible retirement and...
There was grunting and sudden silence.
"Three more," I heard.
He meant "three more reps." Weatherford, I think, was on the bench.
Weatherford wouldn't say for certain that he's retired, but it seems that way. He isn't the big-announcement type. For all of his punter-y flair, he's a humble, normal guy. Plus, he knows that this summer, as he watches training camp news from the comfortable perch of retirement, he can't promise that the gravitational force of football won't pull him in.
"I don't want to be Brett Favre, retiring four times," he joked.
But in all likelihood, he's gone. Weatherford said he's "92 percent retired." And, again, that saddens me.
"I'll miss the camaraderie," he said. "The locker room. Running out of the tunnel, and the smells of game day. I know that's weird to talk about the smells. I don't know if it was the hamburgers or hot dogs being cooked in the parking lots, or the beer. But all of that."
There was another pause and then more grunting.
I heard: "Six more."
He was lifting again. Get those reps in, dude.
I mean, after all, this is a guy who was just thrown out of a gym for grunting too loud.
And who was the subject of a pretty spectacular magazine cover. He can lift all he wants, when he damn well pleases.
Then he was back.
"I love football," he said, "but I'm happy with what I've done with my career. I played 10 years. I played in a Super Bowl. I saved my money, and while I loved football, it didn't define me. For a lot of players, football defined them. That's why a lot of players struggle when they leave.
"When they played, their phone blew up. They got the best seats at restaurants. Then when those Sundays are gone, they don't feel special anymore. But I have my family. I'm happy with what I did."
Some of you will say he was just a punter. There's still a feeling by more than a few players, too, that punters and kickers are aliens who should be shipped to Area 51 for study. That's always been wrongheaded, but it's reality. Weatherford was never viewed that way by teammates, though.
In Super Bowl XLVI, after his initial punt deep into Patriots territory, Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck forced Tom Brady into intentionally grounding the football for a safety.
Tuck ran off the field, and the first person he looked for was Weatherford. Tuck poked Weatherford in the chest. "That one's for you," Tuck told him.
The Giants' players never saw Weatherford as someone to ignore. They saw him as one of them, because he was. He was a football player.
Off the field, Weatherford got it. He prepared for life after football, and he was always one of the more charitable men in the NFL. He's been consistently generous in honoring the men and women in the military.
Suddenly, Weatherford was lifting again.
"I don't have any hobbies," he said. "I have four kids. I lift. That's what I love. I'm letting you interrupt my workout. You're special."
No, Weatherford is, and he will be missed.
Mike Freeman | www.bleacherreport.com | May 27, 2016