There’s an old saying that football players die twice – once when they can no longer play the game they love, and then when they actually stop breathing. Those who haven’t played football simply can’t relate. But those of us who’ve played a team sport know there will be a time where we have to quit. And it isn’t easy.
For former New York Giants center and Pro Bowl player Shaun O’Hara, the transition away from pro football has been anything but easy. A member of the 2009 Super Bowl Champions squad, O’Hara was cut before the 2011 season – a victim of injuries, the salary cap and his own rich contract. While such decisions are always attributed to “business,” for O’Hara, it represented a life changing phenomenon. “My transition away from the game was and continues to be challenging,” says O’Hara, a 35-year-old New Jersey resident. “It has been pretty surreal. I’ve been playing football since the 5th grade. I trained as pro athlete for 11 years in the NFL and 5 years in college at Rutgers. I’m just not used to being idle.”
At this time last year, O’Hara says he moped around the house trying to figure out his next career move. After the Giants released him, he wasn’t picked him up by other teams and he debated pursuing another career. When Giants were in their playoff run last season, a few local New York/New Jersey TV shows invited O’Hara on the show as a guest commentator, and it brought him close to the game again. “I realized that this is something I can do for the next 10 years and not blow out an ACL or torque my back!” says O’Hara. “It was great to be back in football, but on a totally different level.”
After the season, NFL Network hired O’Hara to contribute to June preseason programming and soon hired him as a full time analyst. He now co-hosts the Total Access program along with Willie McGinest or Scott Hansen. But unlike his move into football broadcasting, his transition back into weight lifting hasn’t been easy. For the past 16 years, he hit the gym daily on a strict workout regimen, carefully scripted for inseason maintenance or offseason heavy lifting. But when the Giants released him, he didn’t find the same purpose in his workouts. “If you asked me what type of workout I’d be doing in February, May or September when I was playing, I could tell you exactly what type of training it would be based on goals at that time of the year,” he says. “But when the structure is gone, you almost feel like a prisoner who’s finally out – now you’re on your own without being told what to do every minute.” He admits it’s easier to train with teammates pushing him. “You press more weight than you believe is possible because of the guys you’re training with. But there aren’t a lot of Snees in Equinox Gym in LA to push me hard!” he says, referring to his old training partner and current NY Giants guard Chris Snee (unofficially perhaps the strongest man in the NFL).
He didn’t change his training during his first year out of the NFL, in hopes a team in search of a center would call. But the offers he received weren’t attractive enough and he came into the 2012 offseason still lifting four days a week for two hours, in addition to cardio. “Earlier this year I finally realized I was burned out and didn’t need to go as heavy and do same movements.” he says. “But now there’s no reason for me to be in gym that long. Now I condense everything into about an hour.”