Hearing from a Star

Having a very successful professional athlete talk about his career and personal life is an invaluable experience for our students. When that athlete happens to come from an NFL championship “home” team, all the better.

That’s just the experience Nichols students enjoyed recently when Rob Ninkovich, the recently retired star linebacker for the New England Patriots, came to campus. Rob met with the football team in the locker room, Sport Management majors in an upper level course, and—in an open session—anyone else from the Nichols community who wanted to hear from him.

Rob’s football history proved an education in itself. He shared that he went from community college to Purdue, an unusual step in big-time college football. And he talked about calling the Purdue coach 30 times, until the latter finally called him back to say, “Quit calling me.”  The coach later relented and allowed Rob to prove he was worthy of being on the team. It was good for students to hear that persistence and a solid work ethic will help overcome obstacles.

To the football players, Rob talked about the importance of working hard and doing your best for the team. The questions from the Sport Management class ranged from how he came to his current role with ESPN (Rob shared his fear when that red light in the studio went on for the first time) to how he feels about up and coming Patriot Chase Winovich wearing his old number (50).

Along the way, Rob provided his share of take-away one-liners:

“Don’t hit the snooze button.”

“Hold yourself accountable.”

“The pain of regret lasts forever. The pain of sacrifice is temporary.”

For me, Rob’s appearance was truly a highlight of my time here at Nichols. He is engaging, honest, and down-to-earth. I love the fact that he graciously gave his time and shared his stories. And I must admit that I have an affinity for players on the defense, although I didn’t tell Rob that I have four #54 jerseys (celebrating Tedi Bruschi), and none with #50.

As you can see, I’m a big fan of the NFL, and the Pats, although they weren’t always my team. With my family from the Pittsburgh area, the Steelers are also near and dear to my heart.  I used to watch Steelers games with my “Pappy,” who would school me on the statistics of the players, including Franco Harris (a Hall of Fame running back who played 12 years) to defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene. I would have loved to talk with Pappy about one of my all-time favorite players, “The Bus” –Jerome Bettis, a running back for the Steelers.

But on this day, Rob Ninkovic proved more than a winning substitute.

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