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Mike Vandermause column: KGB exits game with grace

Fellow Hall of Famer Jacke advises players to prepare for life after football

Jul. 20, 2013
 

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Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame inductees Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, left, and Chris Jacke, walk through the tunnel at Lambeau Field on Saturday. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media

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Most professional athletes dream of going out on top.

But Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame on Saturday night at the Lambeau Field Atrium, left the world of professional football in a little different manner.

Unlike Ray Lewis with the Baltimore Ravens this season, Gbaja-Biamila didn’t retire after his team won the Super Bowl. Instead, KGB’s career ended abruptly in the middle of the 2008 season when the Packers cut him.

Yet Gbaja-Biamila said he was determined not to be bitter or conduct a pity party when the Packers released him.

Imagine getting fired and then hugging the boss who broke the news. That’s exactly what happened when KGB left the Packers.

He hugged Packers General Manager Ted Thompson on the way out the door and thanked him for the opportunity to play for the team.

“I even went back to Ted, and said, ‘Hey Ted, I just want to let you know, I know you’ve gone through a lot with the whole Brett Favre situation,’ ” recalled Gbaja-Biamila. “But if I had to have somebody let me go, I’m glad it was you. It was kind of crazy. … I know that Ted really cares about this team. He wants to do (what’s) best for this team.

“I just gave him a hug and just truly wished him well. He said he really appreciated it.”

Instead of feeling down in the dumps, Gbaja-Biamila said he went home that day and felt a sense of peace.

“I said, ‘I did it, I did my very best,’ ” Gbaja-Biamila said. “A lot of people always think that leaving on top means having your final game, winning the Super Bowl. Leaving on top is controlling your attitude on the whole outcome. I left and was thankful for the opportunity I played for this organization.”

Unlike many former pro athletes, Gbaja-Biamila admits the Packers made the correct decision in letting him go.

“Ted Thompson had to make the tough decision, he was doing what was best for the Green Bay Packers,” Gbaja-Biamila said. “As you can see, he made the right decision, because they ended up winning the Super Bowl.”

One of the biggest lessons Gbaja-Biamila learned in the NFL is that everyone eventually will get replaced.

“Seeing the whole Brett (Favre) deal, I already knew that no one is above the game,” Gbaja-Biamila said.

“I knew that one day I’d be there and then I’d be gone, and life would just keep on going.”

Place-kicker Chris Jacke, who also was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame, offered some advice to help players make the transition out of the NFL.

“Start preparing (from) Day 1,” Jacke said. “As a rookie you’ve got to start preparing for life after football. If you don’t have your education or degree, get the degree. … The average years played in the NFL is three years. You’ve still got another 60 years to live in your life. Just prepare for that.”

Former Packers punter Craig Hentrich, who served as Jacke’s presenter at the Hall of Fame dinner, said it was easier for him because he left the NFL on his terms.

“For a lot of guys that are forced out, it kind of is a shock to their system because they’re used to kind of this lifestyle they live in the NFL,” Hentrich said. “All of a sudden now the money is not there anymore. Now you’ve got to go maybe put on a coat and tie every day and go to a 9-to-5 job which is kind of a shock to those guys. As long as you prepare from Day 1, both financially and also personally, just prepare for it. I think you’re fine once you leave the game, but if it comes as surprise you’re going to have troubles.”

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause

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