My Super Bowl Journey: Jared Retkofsky
As the Steelers prepare to take on the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII, several players shared their "Super Bowl Journey" with Teresa Varley.
The journey as to how they came to Pittsburgh, how they made it on the roster varies from player to player, but the ultimate dream remains the same – winning a Super Bowl Championship.
Long snapper Jared Retkofsky's journey is probably the one with the most stumbling blocks that had to be overcome, and not all of them were about X's and O's, but rather about life itself.
Many people look at NFL players and think they have had smooth sailing their entire life, but for Retkofsky that was far from the truth. This is a guy who as a kid had to break free from family for his own good, was cut several times and was working for a moving company when he got the phone call to come back to the Steelers after long snapper Greg Warren was lost for the season this year.
Below Retkofsky shares his inspirational story in his own words and talk about how he ended up Pittsburgh and what the journey to Super Bowl XLIII has been like for him.
*"That could take a while." That was the answer that Retkofsky had when I asked him to tell me a little bit about his background. After hearing a shortened version, I wished he would have had more time to talk, not just the time before heading out to practice. It's an impressive story, one I could have listened to for much longer than the 15 minutes or so the interview went – and one Steelers fans are sure to enjoy.
- My family is special; my parents (Eric and Kelly Dennis) are special. I grew up in a single parent home and my mom had a real bad drug habit, off and on drugs, in and out of rehab. I would stay with her then I would leave and try and go away and stay at my friend's house and then I'd have to come back home. I kind of bounced around.
My best friend, his dad ended up shooting his mom and himself. They had nowhere to go so they went to live with his aunt and his uncle. Probably within a year of that my mom had a bad relapse with drugs and I basically had all I could take. I was in seventh grade and I left and I went and lived with my best friend and his aunt and uncle (Eric and Kelly). They took me in from day one, no questions asked. They took care of me. They put food on the table for me, gave me clothes, a place to sleep, put me in school.
I actually call them mom and dad. They took care of me. They never had any kind of help from the government or anything like that. It's kind of a cool story. My mom wouldn't let me go and live with them. I wanted to go live with them. I asked her and she wouldn't let me. She got messed up, relapsed on drugs and I called my dad, my friend's uncle, and he was there within an hour with paperwork and he had her sign over papers. He had her enroll me in school and we did all that on that day. From then on I've lived with them ever since.
They are great parents. Obviously there are some things they would like to change. There are some things that I would like to change when I look back on things. I really don't know how to word it. I am sure it is surreal for them to see one of their kids succeed. My mom actually was upset with me because I wanted to pay for their tickets and the kids tickets to the game and she wouldn't have it. She was like 'no, no, no I'll pay for it.' She had to call me back and apologize. She was like 'I'm not use to having a son who can provide and I'm the provider. I'm going to do it and that's my role and I'm always going to keep that role and you're not going to keep it from me.' It was cute so I started laughing. I'm pretty sure that's undecided who is paying, but mom usually gets what she wants.
*How he got to where he is today….
I was with the Steelers for the last two training camps and for OTA's this year, so I've been here for the last two years. It's hard knowing that the writing's on the wall, that you are going home when your time is up because there is a veteran there already. Basically I wanted to learn as much as I could and soak it all in from these guys. Greg (Warren) is a great snapper and I learned everything I could from him, Jeff (Reed) and all those guys. I was basically hoping that someone else would take a chance on me down the road. I was trying to learn everything I could from these guys. When I got cut, I was okay with it because it was kind of expected. Then I got brought back in and then got cut again. I've been cut by the Steelers three times already.
It's really tough. It's hard to get by basically. Day to day I didn't know. I didn't have a clue. After I got cut I was out of work for probably a month before I decided, all right no one is going to call. I have to go back to work. I got bills to pay. I have to take care of myself. I started to get workouts with teams. I had a ton of workouts but no one was biting. I started coming to the realization that maybe my time in the NFL is up and I need to start focusing on my career. I graduated form TCU with a degree so I tried to use my degree to get a job. The problem is in Fort Worth the job market is horrible so I couldn't find a job. I started to sign up for police testing. I was going to try and do the fire academy. I signed up in several cities for police academy work.
I was working for Bonilla Moving Company to make some money. I also did some work for Bell Brothers Moving Company. It was whenever I had work there. If I could work for the other guy I would. I tried to work as much as I could. It was enough to get by, to pay my bills. Sometimes we'd work 60, 70 hours a week. Sometimes we'd work 12 hours a week. It just depended on what kind of jobs we had. It kind of stunk because you never knew what days you were going to have off. Everyday you've had to call in and see if you were off. Then it got to the point you wanted to work every day, but you couldn't because there was no work.
I did everything, drove the trucks and pulled the trailers. We kind of did it differently than most people. Most people have big trucks that do it. We had one big truck and we had long car trailers that we'd pull. At the time I was working, I was the main one that could pull trailers on our crew. So I was usually the one driving on those days. There were four of us working together. We were all pretty good friends. We got along well.
It can be tough work, it depends on the customer. Movers charge hourly. We try to tell them that the more ready you are, the better it goes, the faster we go and the cheaper it is. You can show up at a house and you don't have any clue. Usually you go in about a month in advance and you give them an estimate. After the estimate, you tell them basically what you think it will cost. You go off that estimate. A month later you have no idea if all that stuff you estimated is packed boxes. If you have to pack them it's going to take longer. If they've got clutter or they want to take everything in their house or they want you to go other places. You never have any idea what you're moving when you get there. The hard thing is that you've got to find out if you're moving pianos and that kind of stuff. That stuff has to be planned out.
I knew I wasn't going to be a mover forever. I was just doing that to hold off until I could get a job. I had one job offer. It was basically to work at a nursing home and I was going to manage the facilities and the maintenance staff. Basically I was in charge of making sure the floors were clean and the bathrooms were cleaned and that kind of stuff. They offered me a really low amount for a year and I couldn't bite on that. I was better off staying with the moving company. I had a little leeway; if I could get a workout with some team I could leave.
Right around the time that I was going to go for one of the police tests, probably a week before my first test popped up, I got a phone call from the Steelers. Greg had gotten hurt and was done for the season. It meant a lot to me when Greg got hurt and they put their trust in me and brought me back in.
It was really exciting. But the truth was that they called me and said, 'look here's the deal, we're going to bring three other guys in and you're going to have to snap against them and we're going to take the best one.' I had a history with the Steelers and I wanted to come in. I felt like I had gotten a lot better than where I was and I wanted to prove to them that I was better and that I've improved. Then I saw the guys I was snapping against and they both had been in the league for a few years. It's a little intimidating going against guys who had experience and I have no experience. I think once I got out there and started snapping I was just back in the normal rhythm and wasn't even thinking about it. Then we were all sitting in the locker room and they pulled me out of the group and we started to walk up stairs and they said 'let's go sign some papers,' and I thought I was going to drop to my knees and bawl. I wanted to hug people and it was just great.
Every year of my life since second grade I have played football. I was always a running back or linebacker. In high school I was a running back. In college I was a defensive lineman. The weird thing was going to the NFL, I was just a snapper. I snap and then I stand there and watch practice. I'm still trying to get used to it. I think I'm used to it now. It's different to kind of watch things unfold, watch the defense play, watch the offense play. I've accepted the fact that I am not an NFL defensive lineman and I am okay with that. I don't want to do their job. That's a tough job.
The AFC Championship game was amazing. I am watching the clock and I am like 'please keep ticking, let's go.' I look and it was at 10 minutes. I look at Jeff (Reed) and he's like, '10 minutes to the Super Bowl.' I was just like "ah!" They got the ball and all they needed was a field goal at that point. There were just so many emotions going through your head. Once that final second ticks off the clock you're like, 'I'm going to the Super Bowl. We're going to the Super Bowl. This is awesome.'
The crowd was great. The very first time I played at the stadium it was a preseason game and I ran out of the tunnel and they were going absolutely nuts for a preseason game. The first thing I thought about was I can't imagine how these guys are during the season or how they are during the playoffs or anything like that. The fans are just great. They are so loud. I don't know if they even understand the difference they make in a home game. It's truly a home game for us when we have them in the stands.
When I signed that day, I had absolutely no idea we would be where we are today. I told somebody that it's your childhood dream. Growing up I was like, 'I want to play I NFL. I want to play in the NFL.' I never once thought about playing in the Super Bowl, you know. It was just such a great experience just to achieve my childhood dream to play in the NFL and as the season grew on and grew on I said, 'These guys are really good. We have a chance to go the whole way.' It was pretty exciting and crazy to think I was, however many weeks ago, on the back of a moving truck putting on boxes and tying stuff down, and being the go to guy when stuff was too heavy and now I am snapping in the Super Bowl.
My family is beside themselves. They are just so excited. They are so proud and happy. My mom called me the other day and was crying because she thinks I am the best kid in the whole world. I keep telling her that's just because you're my mom that you think that. They are all going to be there. My mom and dad and brother and sister will all be there. That will be fun.
This team has a chance to be one of the greatest teams in history and it's going to be decided by one game. We have one game left to do it. It's crazy to think that I could be a part of that history. It's real exciting especially knowing where I come from, my background, my childhood. I never thought I'd ever be in this place today.
This is so surreal. I thank God every night that I am here. Coach (Bob) Ligashesky and those guys put so much trust in me. Coach Lig spends extra time with me every day, watching film and talking to me, and pulling me aside and talks. We go through extra video work and stuff. Coach Tomlin and all those guys put a lot of trust in me. That's a huge job to do. I know I am only out there six plays a game or eight, whatever it is, but it could be the difference in a game some day. I welcome that pressure and I accept it and I wouldn't have it any other way. I definitely would rather take the pressure of snapping in a big game than moving furniture.