NFL Afterlife is a series of conversations with former players about their careers, life without pads, and anything else we want to discuss.
Former NFL tight end Jake Ballard is a classic example of how short-lived an NFL career can be. Make no mistake, Ballard experienced glory in four seasons. He sports a Super Bowl ring, which he earned as the starting tight end for the New York Giants who beat the New England Patriots 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI. But it was that game – on the world’s biggest stage– where Ballard suffered an ACL tear that derailed a promising career.
Ballard had subsequent stints with the Patriots (yes, catching balls from Tom Brady) and Arizona Cardinals but he never felt the same and decided to retire in August of 2014. An Ohio State product, Ballard, 27, now resides in Columbus and has just embarked on a new career that while vastly different from the NFL, also requires a unique brand of hustle.
We touched on a variety of topics, including his name doppelganger from Scandal.
Melissa Jacobs: Before we get into your afterlife, please describe what it’s like to catch soft balls from Tom Brady?
Jake Ballard: [Laughing.] I never thought they were any different from any quarterback.
MJ: Fair enough. When the punishment was handed down you were pretty livid on social media. Now that you’ve had a couple of days to digest it, what’s you current level of anger?
JB: I still think four games is a little much. I was at the right place at the right time. I had just got home and the punishment popped up on my TV so I thought I’d hit the Twitter and see if I could get anybody riled up.
I understand where the commissioner is coming from since Tom wasn’t very cooperative with the investigation. At the same time to issue the same suspension as players who failed drug tests, popped PEDs. I just think it’s totally different.
MJ: On the spectrum of crimes it is pretty low.
JB: Absolutely. I thought maybe two games max. A quarter of the season, especially for a guy that while he’s at the prime of his game and just won the Super Bowl, you don’t know how many years he has left. I’m definitely interested to see what happens with the appeal.
MJ: Since this interview is about you, let’s talk actually about you. When you retired, you issued an eloquent statement, part of which read, “Having a quality of life after football is very important to me and I have witnessed it taken away from others.” Explain what you were fearful would happen to you.
JB: Being around football all my life and in the NFL, you see older guys in the facility or at functions throughout the year. Sometimes they’re not much older than you or maybe your dad’s age and they’re 5-10 surgeries in – bad knees, can barely walk. Some have hip implants or knee implants and some people have head issues.
I was at the point where I was in so much pain that was all I could think about. Waking up every morning with pain, I just wasn’t enjoying the game I used to love. I did that for a while and it became too much. At the time I was 26, no kids. I still don’t have kids, but when I do I can’t imagine not being able to play with them in the yard or show them how to pick up a basketball, throw a baseball or catch a football.
MJ: That’s interesting. As we become more enlightened to the effects of all injuries, do you feel like more guys may follow suit and not hang on as long as they can?
JB: I don’t know. If I couldn’t be at 100% with my knee, I felt like I was more susceptible to hurting other things, including my head.
I think guys should look at their future more than they do but it’s hard to turn down the money, and playing a game for your job is a fantasy world, so I see both sides.
MJ: Can you describe the feeling when you went down in the Super Bowl? Did you know right away?
JB: I was running around and I had my future teammate Brandon Spikes guarding me. I was cutting inside and he was kind of pushing me from behind. I was going in and he was going out and my foot just kind of got stuck in the turf. It was quick little turn. I knew something was wrong. It was a quick pain but it definitely felt off. I didn’t really know it was an ACL at the point. Trainers checked it out and thought maybe it wasn’t my ACL – that it could be my meniscus. They taped me up and had me do some tests on the sidelines and that’s when I got hurt worse.
MJ: That’s very sad. Were you still able to celebrate being a Super Bowl champion?
JB: We just won the Super Bowl. It was my second year in the NFL. I started all year and it was kind of my coming out party. The Super Bowl was in Indianapolis, two and a half hours from my hometown, so all of my buddies and family were there.
I’m on crutches, not knowing what’s going on with my knee, how serious it is. I was trying to enjoy the night and eventually I did, but that was a lot for a 24-year old to think about.
MJ: How much do you miss football?
JB: I miss it every day. Not just the playing but being around the guys. You have more motivation to go out and run and lift when you’re thinking about the upcoming season.
MJ: Now you have quite an interesting new career twist. How did you decide to become a real estate agent?
JB: I’ve always had an interest in the housing market. I worked on houses when I was in college and flipped a couple in the past year and a half. I feel like being a real estate agent is a very lucrative business. It’s one of those things that what you put in is what you get out. If you bust your butt and treat people the right way and look out for them, it will work out
MJ: I just closed on a house a couple of weeks ago in New York. I love the agent we used but found the process of finding her difficult. What traits do you think make for the best agent?
JB: You want someone who will look out for your best interests and someone who will help you not find a house just to live in but a house to love. You don’t want them to always be selling you something. You want them to be working the hardest when you’re not right there. And you want someone you can be comfortable with, someone who can become a friend down the line.
MJ: How’s the market in Columbus these days?
JB: Really good. Columbus is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. It’s a good time to be here.
MJ: I would think anyone who wants a house in the area would instantly be drawn to the former Buckeye and NFL player as opposed to the Joe Schmoe who didn’t play football.
JB: I just started about three weeks ago. I think that definitely helps. I have a large network of people I know and it’s been a lot fun reaching out and reconnecting.
MJ: Onto more important matters. At some point in your career – probably about two years ago – you became America’s second most famous Jake Ballard. Do you watch Scandal?
JB: I don’t, and that guy’s ruined my life.
MJ: How so?
JB: No, he hasn’t. But I do get a lot of ‘Jake Ballard, like the TV show?’ And I have to let them know that I’m the real Jake Ballard.
MJ: Are you tempted to watch?
JB: No, I’m more of a How To Get Away With Murder type of guy
MJ: That’s so funny. You picked one of the other Shonda Rhimes Thursday night options. But you know the deal with the Jake Ballard character, right?
JB: Yeah, what he’s the Captain or something?
MJ: Sorta. It’s very complicated. It’s funny because he’s been on for about a season longer than he should have simply because Scott Foley fills the eye candy quotient. It’s actually ridiculous.
JB: I thought he died and I got really happy and even tweeted that Captain Jake Ballard died on Scandal.
MJ: It was a big tease. He was presumed dead and now he’s not.
JB: What is this, South Park? He can’t just come back to life.
MJ: C’mon, you watch another Shonda show. I assume she does crazy things with her characters on How To Get Away With Murder.
JB: Oh, that show is so good. You just really need to watch.
MJ: Really? Ok. I’ll try. Well, in closing, I’m just going to fire off some quick questions which you can answer with one or two word answers.
Toughest QB you played with?
Toughest coach you played for?
In 10 years the NFL will be America’s number (blank) sport.
#1 for sure
One word to describe Roger Goodell.
Favorite movie of all-time
Count of Monte Cristo
Best job in the NFL
Where you see yourself in 10 years
In Columbus with a nice family