With the Olympic Games currently taking place in Rio and the first preseason games of the new NFL year commencing over 4,000 miles further north, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the two events are unconnected. However, New England Patriots’ Safety Nate Ebner has made Olympic (and NFL) history by becoming the first active NFL player to represent his country in a Summer Games.
Ebner made his Olympic debut for the USA rugby 7s team in the second half of their first game, a 17-14 loss to Argentina. In the US’s second game, a 26-0 beat-down of host nation Brazil, Ebner scored a try and was dominant across the field. He was later yellow carded for a late tackle but was adamant he hadn’t slipped back into football mode. “Not really,” Ebner said. “You just let your natural instincts take over.” He went on to compare the two sports; “Sevens and football are very different games. Football is a violent game played right at one another.”
— USA Sevens Rugby (@USASevensRugby) August 9, 2016
Ebner was given special dispensation by New England last March to chase his Olympic dream, although he is no rugby rookie. Aged 17, he was the youngest player ever to represent the US in rugby 7s and went on to play both football and rugby at Ohio State.
The Patriots have been extremely supportive of their safety’s Olympic foray. At training camp, Bill Belichick and co were spotted sporting USA Rugby t-shirts with Ebner’s name and number on the back and the players were given a break from practice to watch the USA/Brazil match up. Belichick told the Associated Press that “we’re pulling for him to bring back something around his neck.” The USA are now out of the running for a medal in rugby 7s (in the first Games for the sport) but Ebner has secured his own piece of Olympic history.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) August 9, 2016
Of his Olympic experience Ebner said “To be a part of something this big and this prestigious, it’s an honour to be part of it and an honour to be here with this group of guys, who work so hard and are some of the toughest guys I’ve ever met.”
Ebner isn’t the only player with NFL links to appear in an Olympic Games but is the only one to compete in the Summer Games while simultaneously on an active team roster. In 1992 Dallas Cowboys running back Herschel Walker was part of the American Bobsleigh team during his NFL career, but this was, of course, in the Winter Games.
Other players have competed in the Olympics prior to appearing in the NFL. Marquise Goodwin represented the USA in the long jump at London 2012 before he was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2013. NFL players have won Olympic medals too. Michael Carter won silver in the shot put in 1984, just weeks before making his first NFL appearance with the 49ers and former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Bob Hayes won gold in the 100m and 4x100m track events in Tokyo in 1964. Hayes made his NFL debut the following year and is the only person to have won both an Olympic Gold medal and a Super Bowl ring.
Great Britain has it’s own Olympic / NFL story. Lawrence Okoye, who holds the British national discus record and placed twelfth at the London 2012 games, has been chasing his NFL dream since 2013. He has bounced around several practice squads including the 49ers and Jets. Okoye even made an appearance on the Amazon series ‘All or Nothing’, when he was released by the Arizona Cardinals after parking in the wrong space. He is currently signed to the Dallas Cowboys.
And if you’re watching the games in Rio, keep an eye out for ex-Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best, competing for St Lucia in the 100m sprint, which starts on 13th August.
Photo credit – Boston.com