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Friday - 6/29/2001
By Vic Carucci
NFL Insider for

LEESBURG, Va. (June 28, 2001) - NFL players don't even like to ponder, let alone discuss, the day they stop playing. To do so means to accept that one of two things will likely happen to them, neither of which is good: A career-ending injury or an erosion of physical skills.

Players would much rather focus on the here and now, hoping against hope that the good life on the top rung of their sport will never end. Coaches would prefer they do just that because looking too far ahead can be a distraction. Besides, as Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy always said, "Anyone who talks about retirement has already retired." Then there is this take from former New York Giants defensive end George Martin: "The NFL is not a destination. It's just part of the journey. It is a means to an end." Martin shared that perspective with the nearly 300 draft picks who attended this week's NFL Rookie Symposium at the Lansdowne Resort. He did so while leading a panel discussion on "life after football," which was ironic considering that the football careers of most of those in the audience had yet to officially begin.

But as someone who specializes in helping young athletes plan for the future financially, Martin knows it is never too early for players to consider what they will do when a helmet and shoulder pads no longer are proper business attire.

"The preparation that you should have and you should implement for life after football does not begin later on," Martin, who is vice president of MONY Sports Financial Services, told the rookies. "It begins today. Harry
Carson, the (former) All-Pro linebacker for the New York Giants, had a great term that he used and you should familiarize yourself with it: Gentlemen, this is the best 'temp' job that you will ever have in your life."

Martin's point was made even stronger by the fact that two of his fellow panelists were current players: New York Jets Pro Bowl linebacker Mo Lewis, who is 31 and entering his 11th NFL season, and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, who is 29 and entering his ninth season. Lewis and his family shouldn't face too many worries when he finally hangs up his cleats. He has used part of his substantial income from football to invest in a successful produce business.

"Believe it or not, I've been playing football, and now I'm into produce," Lewis said to the first-year players. "And I enjoy it.

"Football is not going to last forever. This is not something you're going to do for 30 years. It's going to come to an end, and I have accepted that. And it's going to be up to you all to accept it as well, whether it is four years, five years, or 17 years. Fortunately, I have something to fall back on."

For Bettis, NFL stardom has been a great vehicle for networking. But, as he stressed to the rookies, it takes effort to use it effectively. Early in his career, Bettis got into the practice of collecting business cards from the many corporate executives he has met in his travels. He also keeps notes on those conversations, even if it's just a chance meeting on an airplane.

"I'll jot down a little message on the back of the business card to remind myself to send that person a (follow-up) note to try to stimulate further growth of a relationship," Bettis said. "After a week, you can end up with five business cards, and when you look at them, you ask yourself, 'Who is this guy? Who is this guy?' So I'll jot down, 'Met him on a plane ? Real nice guy ... Asked for autographed picture for his son, Jason.' "It pays off if you take the time to do the small things." Bettis isn't certain what career he wants to pursue after football. He sees broadcasting as a possibility. But it could be another field. "What I do know is that this game gives me the opportunity to do whatever I want to do if I understand the opportunity that I have," Bettis said. Warren Moon, who spent 17 seasons as an NFL quarterback after six years in the Canadian Football League, came as close as almost anyone has ever come to playing forever.

But he has always seen himself as getting ready to do something else with his life, which was why he dabbled in a variety of areas - broadcasting, real estate, owning his own business - while he was playing. "Start preparing for the day your career's going to end the day you come into the league," Moon said. "Because there's no guarantee how long your career's going to be. It could be just as long as training camp. You need to start preparing for that (final) day, whether it's the way you start planning your financial security, whether it's the relationships you build while you're in the game.

"I think the better prepared you are for anything in life, the more successful you're going to be." That includes knowing how to dress for success. "The day you were drafted, you became a professional football player, and a lot of responsibility comes with being a professional football player," Moon said. "It means you have to carry yourself in a professional manner. I see you all out here in your jeans and your shorts and your casual wear, and that's fine. I come to practice the same way. "But I also know, if I have a function to go to after practice, whether it be a charity function or a business function, I'm going to dress appropriately. Hip-hop fashion is in right now. It's a fad and everybody's into it, and I don't blame you guys for being into it because that's what the fashion is.

"But when you go before Corporate America or when you go before people in a profession where they're maybe dressed in a tie or a suit or whatever, that's the way you should come, too. People are watching you all the time once they recognize you, and you want to make sure you're handling yourself in a professional way."

Being sensible with the money the players earn from football is part of that equation. Some of this year's rookies have received, or will receive, millions of dollars just in signing bonuses. "If you save your money diligently, meaning that you save a lot of it, no matter how long you play - whether it's one year or 17 years - you can do whatever you want when you're finished," said former San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Harris Barton, another member of the panel. "You can hang with your family. You can be a trash man. You can be a teacher. You can be a coach.

"You don't need six houses. You don't need 14 cars. Take care of what you get, because the rest of America gets by on far less than what you're going to get by on."