Marc Edwards was on top of the world.
Five years into his NFL career and in the first of a two-year stint with the New England Patriots, the former Notre Dame captain played an integral role in helping lead the third of five organizations he would play for to the Super Bowl XXXVI title.
Four years later, the second-round, No. 55 overall pick of the 1997 draft was out of football. He was 31-years old.
“People see me getting my hands dirty and say, ‘You played in the NFL for nine years. Why are you out here working? You should be set, right?’” said Edwards during a recent return to his alma mater to participate in an exchange of ideas with the current players on the Irish team.
“I’m like, ‘Look, I made good money, but I didn’t make retirement money and very few guys do.’ That’s the perception. You played in the NFL and you made millions and millions and you’re set for life. But wife, kids, all that other stuff…I’m only 40-years-old now.”
The fact is most NFL careers don’t last as long as the 1996 Notre Dame captain’s, and even if you are a 12-, 13-year veteran of the league, you’ve more than likely experienced diminishing financial returns in your declining football years.
That still leaves you with the rest of your adult life to fend for yourself and family, which means mortgages, college tuition, car payments, and the same money drains that everyone faces.
Edwards, a telemetry consultant for forklift dealers across the country and former product manager of Speedshield Fleet Solutions in Jacksonville, Fla., learned quickly after his retirement from football -- with a wife and four children -- that he couldn’t shift into cruise control.
“One of the things I’ve experienced, which I try to pass on to these guys, is you’ve got to build positive relationships and reach out to Notre Dame people right after you get out of here because growing up, playing football, being successful, you hear yes your entire life,” Edwards said.
“Yes, I want to take you out to dinner. Yes, you can get to the front of the line at the club. You hear yes all the time. People want a piece of you, people want to be around you. Once you retire, you’re calling on those same people to build business relationships. All of a sudden, you’re hearing no for the first time.”
Fortunately for Edwards, his experiences prepared him for no. He began applying that business management degree from Notre Dame, but it was a bit rocky initially.
“I had a nine-year NFL career and was not able to get back to the university,” Edwards said. “When I finally got out, I started reaching out to people in general and tried to build a business relationship. That’s when I started to hear no for the first time and I was like, ‘What the hell is going on? People have been telling me yes my entire life!’”
Yet the more Edwards pushed forward, the more the value of his Notre Dame education came to the surface.
“The unique thing about Notre Dame is it’s not just former student-athletes; it’s anybody who went here,” Edwards said. “If you went to Penn State or Ohio State, there’s not the instant trust, whereas if you tell someone you graduated from Notre Dame, through my experiences, there’s an instant trust, an instant brotherhood with that person.”
That’s how Edwards began making inroads in his current line of work.
“It’s different within the Notre Dame community and the Notre Dame family,” Edwards said. “You’re going to reach out to people and you’re going to keep hearing yes, to a large extent.
“I reached out to a Notre Dame person, which got me in the business I’m in. They brought me in happily.”
It makes Edwards proud to return to the Notre Dame campus in early summer to share his experiences with young men who are traveling down the same path he once traversed.
“It’s a career networking class,” Edwards said. “You’re teaching them what to do once they leave here because even if a handful of these guys are lucky enough to play in the NFL, it’s going to end at some point.”
Edwards looks at the 100 or so players now wearing the Notre Dame colors and thinks back to his arrival to Notre Dame in 1993 out of Norwood, Ohio.
“I remember when I got here, I thought, ‘Four years…I’m going to be here forever!’” Edwards said. “Four years felt like an eternity, and it’s gone in a blink of an eye.”
Now Edwards has a daughter who is being recruited for her soccer prowess. His own experiences have given him a clearer picture of how to proceed, and a greater appreciation for having earned a degree from Notre Dame.
“These guys are here, playing ball with their boys and they don’t understand all of this yet,” Edwards said. “You spend four years trying to get out of here. Then you spend the next 40 trying to get back.”