Even as he’s relishing a few precious days at the dream house he and his wife built in Southern California, tending the grill and watching his four kids frolic in the pool, Eric Weddle will think about the Green Bay Packers.
The bye week could not come at a better time for the Ravens safety, whose 32-year-old body has been battered all season.
But Weddle, the most unapologetic workaholic you’ll ever meet, can never fully set aside the game that consumes him.
“It gets to the point where your body, your mind, everything, you need a break,” he says, easing into a chair beside the field after an early November practice. “But you never really let go of what you’re about. Football never really leaves you. I can go home, hang with my kids and cook dinner, but I’m always thinking about what the game plan is or who we’re playing or what I could do better.”
Weddle and his family flew west Wednesday, after the Ravens’ final practice of the week. What did he plan to do Thursday morning? Work out his hips, groin and adductor muscles — just as he would if he were at the team’s training complex in Owings Mills.
Weddle’s obsessive routine, which he’s been tweaking for the past seven seasons, begins right after the previous game. If it’s a Sunday, he watches the film once on his iPad before he gets to his Baltimore County home and then again on a big screen with his wife of 12 years, Chanel.
“She’s very knowledgeable, so she keeps me humble,” he says. “We go through offense and defense and then who did what.”
If the Ravens won, he indulges in a bowl of ice cream, a picture of which he tweets to his 84,000 followers.
On Monday, his day “off,” he stretches, runs, bangs out a full-body weight session, rehabilitates in the cold tub, hot tub and sauna, and begins watching the next opponent’s most recent game.
On Tuesday, he does leg-focused lifting and watches more film after organized team meetings. He wants to know the opponent inside and out before the first practice of the week.
Wednesday, he arrives at the Ravens’ facility at 5 a.m. for an upper-body lift, and he doesn’t generally leave until 13 hours later, after he’s squeezed in another few hours of post-practice film study. Then comes church night for the devout Mormon.
Thursday is a similarly long day, with his workout focus shifting from legs to core muscles.
Friday, he polishes it all off with an arm-oriented lifting session and one more practice.
“The older you get, you need to find ways just to get yourself going and get through the week,” he explains. “Just to be able to get out at practice and run.”
When he was younger, he took several months off after the last game of the season and realized it took him just as long to get back in shape to absorb the weekly “car collisions” endemic to NFL play. So he took just one month off after his second season, and now, he gives himself exactly two weeks to relax each year.
He sounds genuinely anguished when he describes missing even part of a day of work.
“It’s miserable,” Weddle says. “I’ve been sick a couple times where I couldn’t lift or I was dehydrated. Or my kids were sick, and I couldn’t come in early, so I got there right before practice. And it’s like I can’t function.”
There’s the short-term loss of time with Chanel and the kids. And then there’s the long-term toll on his body, which he already feels.
“There are days where you find certain ways not to do things at the house because it requires walking up and down stairs,” he says. “That’s how bad your knees hurt, and your hips and back. Or sleeping at night, just trying to get a couple of good hours because you’re always in pain, whether it’s your neck or your shoulders.”
This year has been especially rough for the four-time Pro Bowl safety, though Weddle never wants to discuss specific injuries.
“I don’t make excuses for myself. If I’m able to run, I’m going to play,” he says. “It’s something I choose to do. People who know me and watch me are aware, but outside people can think what they think. I could easily say certain things and be on the injury report, and then everyone would know what I’m dealing with. But really, who does that benefit?”
“You know …” he says, pausing for a fanciful laugh. “I’ve been all right.”
Every so often, Chanel, a former soccer star, will look at him and ask, “How much longer?”
Weddle says he absolutely won’t hang around past his expiration date. As much as he’s thrown himself into the game, he promises he’ll walk away from it just as decisively.
“After this, I’ve got two years left and I hope they want me for those two years. But you never know. So I just try to take whatever I can from these moments, in the now,” he says. “But I also think how miserable it’s going to be when I’m older. It’s just the facts. I already know I’m going have surgeries on my shoulder, my neck, both hips. Those things are going to happen sooner or later. But it’s what we signed up to do.”
He doesn’t think he’d coach beyond possibly working with his son, Gaige. Team building fascinates him, but he’s not sure a front-office job would be waiting if he takes a decade away to be with his kids.
You hear Weddle describe the way Gaige tries to beat him at every video game and every bowling match or the way his girls dressed up as a cowgirl, Cleoptara and a mascara-clad witch for Halloween, and his desire to become a full-time dad is apparent.
And yet, he has hard-wired his brain to fit a football life. Where will all that knowledge and purpose go if he leaves the game completely behind? Weddle wonders himself. You hear it when he describes the impending bye weekend he’ll spend in California at the house that took four years to complete.
“I’m sure I’ll already be starting to watch Green Bay,” he says. “It’ll be on my own time, not if we’re out at the pool or watching movies. But anytime you see a college game on or you’re watching Sunday football, you’re going to be thinking, ‘Oh, what does Green Bay like to do? Or if I was in that situation, what would I do?’ You can never turn that off. It’ll be interesting to see when I retire: will I ever just be able to enjoy the game?”
When he played with Takeo Spikes in San Diego, the veteran linebacker told him, “If you’re really a pro in this league, it never shuts off.”
Weddle agrees. He knows he’s a bit of a nut job, but he also wishes every player would “live, breathe and die football” as he does. He so enjoys Sundays — the rush of taking the field, the plays on which his study pays off, the euphoria when a teammate picks off a pass — that he’s sure the investment is worthwhile.
“You only wish everyone cared as much as you do,” he says. “But at the same time, I don’t look at them any differently. I still love them the same. You try to be a good friend and teammate, but you don’t always know the whole story. You don’t always know what’s going on when they go home. Some guys are committed to everything and some aren’t. That’s what separates the good and great from guys who are in for one or two years. At least that’s what I believe.”