EXCERPT

During the Denver Broncos’ team camp and minicamp, I felt like I was trespassing. On the field, I didn’t want to steal time from the kickers fighting for a chance. Off the field, I didn’t want to attract any more attention than my presence already did. In 25 years of reporting, I’d never felt so tentative. An NFL locker room, not surprisingly, is an intimidating place.

Time, though, is a good relaxant. Nervousness about my ability and my physique—showering next to my huge, sculpted teammates instantly destroyed the pride I’d taken in my dozen pounds of new muscle—is fading. My presence is no longer noteworthy. Journalistically, this is terrific. The players don’t care anymore that I’m carrying a notebook, and when they remind themselves that I am they keep talking anyway. And they seem to respect that, no matter my skills, I have the guts to be here at all. “You’re doing this stuff,” Amon Gordon, a sensitive, soft-spoken 312-pound defensive tackle, tells me one day. “You’re doing it.”  Still, I want to be accepted not just as a teammate but as a player.

Most of the Broncos rarely watch me kick. If they wander out early and witness only one of my inevitable pop-ups or line drives, that kick defines me. That’s a performance issue. Then there’s a confidence issue. I fear failure and its attendant embarrassment, which argues deeply against attempting what I’m attempting. It’s one thing to try, in early middle age, to become an expert Scrabble player. It’s another altogether to try to become a professional athlete.

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Living the Lesson, by Stefan Fatsis
Illustration by Jay Bevenour

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