Sunday, February 1, 2009

Football-ex wins Super Bowl ring

Steelers long-snapper Jared Retkofsky ‘ 07 won a Super Bowl ring tonight after Pittsburgh beat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

What’s more amazing is how he got there.

Twelve weeks ago, Retkofsky was loading furniture into the back of a truck for Bonilla Moving Company in Fort Worth, making $12 an hour.

"The last week I was there, I got a raise to $15," Retkofsky said by telephone last week from Tampa, Fla.

A three-year letterman (2004-06) as a defensive lineman and special teamer for the Frogs, Retkovsky was signed as a free agent in 2007 by Pittsburgh but never made the squad. In fact, he’d been cut by the Steelers twice in 15 months. The Seahawks cut him too, and Chiefs never returned a phone call after talk of an audition.

Money was so scarce that Retkofsky was going to skip a tryout with the Bills in September rather than pay for a flight to Buffalo until his agent, Chicago-based Ken Sarnoff, picked up the tab. When that chance never materialized, Retkofsky began to think seriously about Plan B and the rest of his life.

He and his wife had separated, and in the current economy the job market had shriveled. So Retkofsky started applying to the fire and police academies around Tarrant County and took the job moving furniture.

"My bills just started piling up and I had to take care of myself, so I was willing to do anything," said Retkofsky, who had 34 tackles, including 4.5 sacks, in his Horned Frog career. At one time, he held the TCU weight room record in the broad jump (10-1) for defensive linemen.

Vince Bonilla, owner of the moving company that employed Retkofsky for four months, remembered him bringing that attitude to work every day. He allowed Retkofsky occasional days off to attend tryouts, and he used the words "humble" and "clean-cut" to describe the guy who wore No. 61 tonight for the Steelers.

"This couldn't happen to a better person," Bonilla said. "He was an inspiration to a lot of people here who were thrilled when he got the call."

Everything changed on Oct. 26. His phone first rang that afternoon when he was shopping at Wal-Mart. His dad, Eric Dennis, called to see if he had seen Steelers long-snapper Greg Warren being carted off the field with a season-ending knee injury. Warren, with whom Retkofsky had become friends during his two training-camp stints, followed up on the phone hours later with some friendly advice.

"Greg called me and said, 'Hey, man, I'm done for the year, so you need to get in touch with your agent and get to Pittsburgh as soon as possible,' " Retkofsky recalled.

By the end of the night, Steelers special teams coach Bob Ligashesky had sent text messages to Retkofsky. By Monday afternoon he was on a flight to Pittsburgh for a tryout with three other long-snappers. That moment, Retkofsky's life began to change.

The Steelers always liked Retkofsky, a defensive end at TCU who learned to long-snap as a freshman. But Warren had signed a three-year, $2.3 million contract last off-season, and no team carries two long-snappers.

"Honestly, I was at the point in my life where I didn't know what I was going to do or what would happen next," Retkofsky said. "I told myself I was not going to be that guy who floats around for four or five years trying to make an NFL team.

"If you asked me 11 or 12 weeks ago if I would be snapping in the Super Bowl, I would've said, 'No chance.' It's surreal."

There have been times when the pressure forces doubt to creep into Retkofsky's mind. "Last week before the (AFC title) game, I was a nervous wreck," he said. "I was thinking, 'What if I screw up and I cost these guys a chance to go to the Super Bowl?' "

Now, not only has his team gotten there, it’s won the franchise’s sixth title. However, it might Retkovsky’s last game for the Steelers. If he is released when Warren returns, he will have made about $200,000 and an impression on any NFL team looking for a long-snapper with Super Bowl experience.

"Regardless of whether I snap again for the Steelers, I've had an OK run," Retkofsky said. "If this is my last game, I get to say I got to play in a Super Bowl. Considering everything, that's so emotional for me to say."

A moving story indeed.

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