As a big Chicago Bears fan, this is a special interview for me. I want to welcome Adam Podlesh to The Great Rabbino team. Podlesh, who played seven full seasons in the NFL with Jacksonville and Chicago, is a Super Nintendo-loving, big-legged, former fourth round pick. He shares his journey from sunny Jacksonville to frozen Soldier Field and his life-changing battle with cancer.
1) Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Well, I am originally from upstate New York, but now my wife Miranda, two kids (Addison, 4, Carter, 2) and I reside just south of Jacksonville, Florida. I went to college at the University of Maryland in College Park where I also punted on the football team before I had the honor of playing in the NFL ranks. I am a huge trivia fan, a hobbyist of many sorts, and I absolutely love to be active, particularly with our two little ones.
2) You were drafted by the Jaguars. What was that moment like? Not many punters and kickers are drafted as high as the 4th round. Did that add to the moment?
It was one of the most overwhelmingly emotional events of my life. Ever since I was a kid, playing in the NFL was always a dream of mine (my parents have video evidence to prove it). As hard as I worked at my craft through the years leading up to the draft, I still knew that statistically the NFL was very improbable. No matter what any draft board said beforehand, especially for a punter, there are no guarantees. I didn't expect to be drafted at all, much less in the fourth round. Just thinking about the surreal moment my phone rang, while at the same time hearing Rich Eisen say "the Jacksonville Jaguars are on the clock" over the television gives me a rush of euphoria.
3) During your time in Jacksonville you battled cancer. What was that like for you in the locker room? Did it change who you were as a person?
It undoubtedly changed me as a person. Going back to when I was a kid I've never been known as a "laid back" kind of guy, and I would become enveloped with the daily grind very easily. The perspective on life that I gained after going through that ordeal not only granted me more balance in my life, but ultimately made me a better punter. In my earlier seasons I would stress out a lot if I had a bad game. After battling cancer, the gravity of scraping the wheel of your car, or having a bad game on Sunday becomes pretty trivial. And as for the locker room, I couldn't have had a better group of guys going to bat for me, and giving me support during the ordeal.
4) As a Bears fan, I remember you had one of the best years of any punter in Chicago history. What was punting in Soldier Field like? How did playing for the Bears and Jags differ?
Playing in Soldier Field to me was the equivalent of a violinist getting the opportunity to play a Stradivarius, or a pro golfer teeing it up at St. Andrews. The history embedded in that stadium is something that can be felt when you walk out on the field. As far as the actual punting goes, it was difficult to say the least. If you were to ask every NFL punter where the toughest stadium to play is, I'm willing to bet the vast majority of them would be pointing to that cold ... windy ... snowy gridiron off Lake Michigan. Conversely, the experiences that I had with the Jaguars were by no means menial. The organization is top notch, and I loved playing for the city of Jacksonville and its fans. However, the one thing that a newer franchise doesn't have is time, and in that I mean historical time. A hallowed ground that is Soldier Field and a founding NFL team that is the Chicago Bears is tough to compare to anything else really.
5) What is the hardest part of punting in the NFL?
For me the biggest challenge was managing the emotional ride that is the NFL. With some other positions on the football field, getting "amped" up for a game can increase their performance, however for a punter it is counterproductive. Staying emotionally "level" while living a dream in a crazy environment was a difficult task.
6) Do you think you could have kicked in the NFL too? Why did you choose punting?
Kicking and punting has become so specialized at this point that there would be no way I could've kicked in the NFL as well. I think the last player to manage all the kicking duties on a team was Michael Koenen in 2006, and he only lasted a few games. Another reason why they have a kicker and punter is because the sure-handed punters nowadays have become specialized holders on placekicks. When I was younger I was a much better kicker, but it was because I played soccer before I transitioned to football. Once I learned the mechanics of punting at around 15 years old, I quickly outperformed my placekicking ability. I had the self-awareness to know this, and also that my best chance at a free education was from punting, not kicking.
7) What was your Jewish upbringing like? Do you still practice Judaism?
I do not strictly practice Judaism nowadays, but as a child my family belonged to Temple B'rith Kodesh in Rochester, NY where I attended Sunday and Hebrew school. I also had my bar mitzvah in the same temple.
8) What was your favorite Chanukah gift growing up?
Super Nintendo … hands down ... not only because it was a great gaming console, but I also sneaked into my parents room and saw it a month in advance. It was unbearable as a grade school kid staying patient for that gift.
9) What are you doing today since you retired?
As a newly retired player (May 2016) I have been enjoying precious time around a growing family and have been weighing my options before I delve into a new career. My potential interests have centered around the world of TV/radio personalities, financial advising, and public speaking.