This holiday season, when you kick your feet up to watch football, remember this: There are engineers out there. Not just on college teams, but in the pros, as well.
Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle, Eric Fisher, for example, is a mechanical engineer. So is James Develin of the New England Patriots. This year, the National Football League (NFL) also has three cheerleaders with engineering degrees, including a systems engineer, chemical engineer, and computer engineer.
Going back a bit further in history, the founder of the NFL, George Halas, was an engineer. At least five NFL Hall-of-Famers were also engineers. One former NFL quarterback was an engineering professor. And one family, well-known to football fans (the Matthews), has had two engineer-footballers.
We’ve collected photos of current and former NFL players, coaches, and cheerleaders who once wrestled with thermodynamics. From fullbacks to mechanical engineers, we offer a brief list. Did we forget anyone? Tell us in the comments section below.
Click on the photo of Bruce Matthews below to see who else made our list.
Bruce Matthews, son of Clay Matthews, Sr., spent 19 years as a professional lineman. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and earned a degree in industrial and systems engineering from the University of Southern California. “You know, I think playing football actually helped my grades,” he once told a USC newspaper. “My GPA was always higher in the fall, during football season, because my schedule was so tight.” (Source: Tennessee Titans)
Chuck, as the last slide mentions, many engineers don't fit the mold. It is a very interesting slide show. When I was at the University of Maryland in the 1970s I remember meeting the quarterback of the team who, I was told, was a Rhodes Scholar.
While many of these people do not "fit the mold", I did experinece a situation where you could tell who did what based on their looks. In the 1980s I was working on a large Army project. There the officers did look (had a body type) that matched their profession. The engineers we generally smaller and often wore glasses. I wonder if that was a part of the screening process.
Since you're familiar with the New York Giants, Rich, I should mention that another old Giant was an engineer. Reserve quarterback Randy Dean from the late 1970s, was an industrial engineer from Northwestern.
Any student on an athletic career path would be wise to get a backup professional education. A very small percentage makes it into pro sports due to an extremely wide variety obstacles. There are far more positions available for engineers, doctors, accountants, and lawyers than there are professional for professional sports players.
I agree. I have two sons who play high school basketball and they're thoughts are on becoming NBA players in the future. Although they play good basketball, my wife and I always stress academics as the real focus while they're in school. As you mentioned its quite difficult to become a pro athlete because of the strong competition among players. Therefore, chosing a career as a doctor, lawyer, or engineer is easily obtainable than becoming an athlete and can provide a comfortable lifestyle as well. As the slides depict, these remarkable athletes and cheerleaders have an engineering career to fall back on which truly makes them superstars in sports.
I agree. These remarkable folks are truly role models for today's kids. My wife and I always point out two our two teenage sons having aspirations to become NBA some of the players have law, physics, or engineering degrees. If something were to happen where they could not play their sport, they can still have decent careers to support their families.
Another good point. The body can only take so much pounding as it becomes older. A second career will allow the brain to continue to grow via problem solving tech/engineering problems. Some of the plays athletes execute requires a good amount of brain power: so having an analytical mind from engineering helps tremendously.
I agree mrdon. Actually, I was very surprised to learn the mental aspects of pro football - just look at the playbooks they have to memorize along with the ability to adjust to variations as a play unfolds...
Playbooks are technical and abstract in nature because of the various symbols used to represent players, positions, and movements. Engineers, as you know, deals with abstraction everyday in their work. Therefore, an athlete with an engineering background can interpret the abstraction to make a winning play. Good observation!
I'm an electrical engineer and I have to scratch my head on some of the elaborate plays the announcers show during the halftime show analysis. Yes, they do look like wiring diagrams or pcbboard traces.
Thanks. Sports is definitely a discipline based activity that helps the mind and body. Adding this type of conditioning along with a strong Academic background will enhance a high school student's career path with job options in the future.
I concur with making academics the real focus during the school year. Even if a student athelete is fortunate enough to become a professional athlete, time is not on their side. Injury or retirement in their 30's is a common outcome. A person should to continue to have revenue generating options for the next several decades of their life and a good academic degree can make this happen.
I certainly agree with you on this one Nancy. I mentor three high school students and you would not believe the things they are told by their parents, peers and friends relative to why they can't be engineers. I spend most of my time encouraging them and not helping with homework. In each case, their ability is completely adequate for the task at hand. I certainly applaud this write-up and slideshow. It shows what can be accomplished with effort.
bobjengr - I love that you are mentoring students. I am an adjunct professor at a local college and I can't tell you how many kids in my classes come from homes where they did not receive affirmation or encouragement regarding their education. Spending some time with these students - affirming their potential and encouraging them in their academic endeavors makes a huge difference for them. Your statement, "It shows what can be accomplished with effort" is the other half of the equation. I find that if you mentor students with a sincere desire for them to be successful, their response is typically to rise to the challenge. Often, ability is not the determining factor - it is the "want to" which can be cultivated in the mentoring relationship. Several of these students are on the school sports teams and did not think they could succeed academically - but with encouragement while holding them accountable - providing resources but not doing the work for them - they have found that they can.
What a blessing you are to those high school students!
Nancy- When I discuss work ethic with my students I always give them the "Silent Cal Treatment". I give them each a copy of his statement below. I have one student who is absolutely brilliant but CANNOT take a test. He freezes. Utter panic. This statement helped him overcome (partially) his fear of failure and made him realize that Yogie was right--"It ain't over till it's over."
Persistence—President Calvin Coolidge said it better than anyone I have ever heard. "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "Press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. Calvin really knew what he was talking about.
bobjengr - what a great quote! Very cool you shared that since I do something very similar with my students. The quote I use comes from Paul in Scripture: Philippians 3:13-14
"Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
I tell my students that their past does not dictate their future - notice Paul says "forgetting what is behind" and says instead "straining toward what is ahead." Paul also uses the slogan "Press on." It is indeed wisdom for the ages...
Thanks for sharing - I shall add the quote you shared to my toolkit.
Wishing you and yours a wonderful and blessed New Year as well!
Charles: Your thumbnail of Charles Johnson omits the fact that he was also concurrently in the US Army for a couple seasons. He would spend all week as a soldier and the take a plane ride to St. Louis for weekend football. As I recall, he seldom played because he missed so much practice time and Jim Hart became the QB. After Johnson's military obligation expired, the Cardinals had to choose who to retain as both Hart and Johnson wanted to start. They choose Hart, who became a probowler in his own right, but there were many Cardinal fans who longed to have Johnson as the man under center. He was an excellent player and a genuine good guy. At least that was how he came across in interviews at the time. Thanks for reminding me of some of my growing-up years.
Not just football, but sports in general have become very technical with major emphasis on engineering. Engineering not does only play role in the playing part, but also on illustration of the game as well, which helps in better understanding of it.
For example take technologies like hotspot and hawk eye have become an important part of sports like cricket and tennis. Hawk eye is a complex computer system used to visually track the trajectory of the ball.
Five years ago, optical heart rate tracking seemed like an obvious successor to the popular chest straps used by many fitness buffs, but the technology has faced myriad engineering challenges on its way to market acceptance.
Design engineers need to prepare for a future in which their electronic products will use not just one or two, but possibly many user interfaces that involve touch, vision, gestures, and even eye movements.
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