Fitness and Fulfillment after Football:
Former Oakland Raider #42 Vance Mueller
By Paul Turse aka Samurai Raider
Sports Columnist of wwwraiderdrive.com
When asked what he has been doing with himself lately, after being away from football, Vance responds with a hearty laugh: "Right now, I'm just trying to keep from getting fat!" But fitness for Vance is really no laughing matter. He and wife Lisa are both fitness and personal trainers for their Sacramento area-based club, where, aside from helping others, they can also train and workout. Vance explains the origin of his motivation: "My whole
The fanaticism for fitness is one of the things that engendered Vance's respect for newly acquired LB Bill Romanowski, whom he jokingly calls, "Ol' Bucket Head." "That guy stays in shape; he works out 6 days a week," Vance said. "He's always maintained his fitness. He's been very lucky because he's really never been injured. When Romo went from San Francisco to Philly, he really got into a workout regimen, and he's maintained it. If you see Romo today, he has no body fat! That guy is in phenomenal shape." It is not just Romo's dedication toward fitness that impressed Vance but also his ‘tude toward the game. "Romo's quote in the paper, I loved was, ‘You really hate me unless I play for you.' And I think that's pretty much the way it sums up his whole career."
A 1986 LA Raiders 4th Round Draft Pick, Vance has had an interesting football career. Graduating in 1986, Vance played football at Occidental College, a small liberal arts institution located in northeast Los Angeles.2 He earned the "Chevrolet Player of the Game" in Occidental's nationally televised 1982 defeat of the University of San Diego.3 During his impressive six-year stint with the Raiders, he had the distinction of playing on the 1990 Divisional Championship Team (12-4), playing with the likes of Bo Jackson, Marcus Allen, Willie Gault, Howie Long and Jay Schroeder.4
While Vance had a substantial role in many great Raider victories, his most memorable game was a Monday night battle against the Denver Broncos. "I can't remember the year; but we were down 24-0 at half time, and we came back and won that game," Vance recalled. "That was a hell of a battle and a fun game. You talk about knocking some heads, grunts, and getting down and dirty-- that was the game for me. In that game, everybody contributed-- from offense, defense, to special teams. I think that was the greatest comeback in history as far as a halftime deficit and certainly for a Monday Night Football. I remember in the 4th quarter, we were behind…the temperature kept dropping; and by the 4th quarter, it was freezing cold. But we just knew that if we kept the pressure on John Elway back then, that he would make a mistake somewhere, and he did. We ended up making a crucial pick (interception). We ended up running it back and scoring, which was a huge ball game. Those were the days! Those were the days!"
Although he lives in the Eldorado Hills area, a suburb of Sacramento, Vance still keeps up with Raider games and tries to vicariously live those old days. "I always watch the Raiders," he said. "I go to all the home games. I've been a season ticket holder since they came back; and, if I'm not taking my wife, I usually take the kids.
While Raider football is always Raider football, Vance has noticed some crucial differences in the game today, generally speaking. "I think there's a thing that you hear today that you don't hear from the old days. The kids today love everything about football except for the football itself. And that is to say that money has changed the game, and I think that kind of goes without saying." But Vance believes that it is not just an attitude that the players have, but one that extends to the owners, to the management, and to the fans. "It's what everybody expects of the game," Vance pointed out. "When the fans go to a game, and it costs them $300.00 to go a game on the weekend, they have high expectations. One of them is, they want their team to be winners every time. I think the game in general has changed everybody."
While all players and teams want to win, the increase in salaries has perhaps de-emphasized the benefits that come from post-season bonuses. Back in the old days—in the era of players like Ken "Snake" Stabler—winning was more of an incentive then because the players increased their finances considerably when they succeeded. As Vance pointed out, "That play-off check meant a lot to them. Kids (young players) today, they're taking a pay cut when they go to the playoffs. So they really don't have that same incentive to get there. I think in that aspect, that's one of the ways that changed the game."
One of the things that hasn't changed in the game is the need for great offensive lines and linemen, and Vance played with some of the best, like Art Shell and Henry Lawrence, to name a just a couple. The Raiders of today, Vance believes, have an outstanding offensive line. "They have some very versatile guys like Sims, who could play guard, tackle and center. I think the Raiders right now, as far as depth, are a very solid team, and I think the concern, although not much, would be the age factor. How much longer can some of the stars stay on top of the game?"
However, even though the play of some of the older Raiders might begin to level off, their veteran leadership is a factor that can intensify the performance of the rookies and those who have patiently been waiting in the wings. The help of a veteran is an intangible that Vance is fully aware of. "Jim Otto has been my mentor. He's one of the guys that's been close to me. He's counseled me in football as a player; and since I got out of football, he's helped me out a lot in business as well. Jim Otto and I are going out on a fishing trip soon in Oregon. I call Jim, "Pops." That's his nickname. He's definitely sort of looked after me like a father figure."
Not only do Vance and Jim keep in contact, but so do many of the retired Raider players maintain close ties. In fact, whenever former Raiders are interviewed, one theme that seems to ring out loud and clear is the camaraderie that exists within the entire organization. One gets the impression that the Raiders' organization is not just a franchise but also a family.
"As surprising as it may be, a lot of the pro teams do not have a strong alumni like the Raiders do. The Raiders have a lot of good people who have been working on that in the last few years, and, as far as I know, the Raiders have always kept in close contact with former players. That's the one thing about the Raiders' organization: we are all close, even after the fact that we retire and go our own way. The Raiders make us feel like family, and it is a family atmosphere when we get together."
When he is not working at his health club or hanging with his Raider buddies, Vance enjoys motorcycling with his own family through some of the great scenic areas of Sacramento. He also takes time out to involve himself with community charity events, such as the Clovis Buchanan High School Quarterback Club fund-raisers to send local high school football players away to Hawaii to compete,5 and the Pro/Am Celebrity Regatta to benefit United Cerebral Palsy of San Francisco.6
Too many pro football players seem to believe that just because they have given their all to the fans during their careers, they do not need to give anything after their playing days are over. But pro footballers are supposed to put forth their best at all times; that is what they get the big bucks for. When they make a spectacular play on the field, that is what they are supposed to do, for they are the best in the world at their sport. However, they seem to forget what football, the community, and the fans gave to them each and every season. And they may not realize how much more inspiring it is to give back something more to the community and the fans than just football. The very presence of a former athlete, like Vance, doing public service can be as awesome as any game-winning play; for when these former athletes help raise money for so many worthwhile charities, they win something much more valuable and far more important than a football game. And for those youngsters who will be helped by these after-career activities, the memory will last longer than that of any Super Bowl victory.
By taking part in charitable functions, by maintaining close ties with the Raider franchise and family, by enjoying Raider games and motorcycling with his own family, and by living a healthful lifestyle, Vance Mueller stands as definitive proof that there is fulfillment and fitness after football.
1Vance Mueller quotes from interview with Raider Drive Larry Garcia
3Athletic Dept, Occidental College (http://www.oxy.edu/departments/athletics/football/about.program.html
41990 Season Results- Raiders 1990 Division Championship (http://nflsearch.100megs6.com/results/raiders/1990.htm
5Clovis in the News News Release June 1, 2000 http://www.clovisusd.k12.ca.us/news/news98/NR_BHSQuartbackclub.
6Golden Gate Invitational Draws Top Local Skippers, (http://www.semaphore.co.uk/sailing/yrn/news/sf1.htm).