Farewell, Steve Weatherford

A year ago this month I was working on a cover story for Muscle & Fitness about NY Giants punter Steve Weatherford, the man the magazine had named the Fittest Man in the NFL. In the course of doing the story, I had trained with Steve, observed him with his family, and followed him to a new-age clinic where he recovers in a liquid nitrogen-cooled tank. The writing was all done and we were just putting the finishing touches on the piece. The photos were amazing. Everyone in the office who walked by and caught a glimpse of the layout said some variation of the same thing: “He looks better than any of our models.”

As we were wrapping up, my boss surprised me with some bad news. Steve wasn’t the cover anymore. Nothing wrong with the photos or the story, he said. The higher ups simply got ahold of another idea at the last minute and were insistent on running with it. My boss said he’d call Steve to let him know. I said I wanted to do it. I had gotten to know Steve pretty well in the two years prior—he had done some smaller pieces for M&F and the other magazines at my company—and I had gotten to know him even better while writing the story. He called me a friend and I was happy to say the same—everything I learned in journalism school about not getting close to subjects be damned.

He picked up after one ring; if his hands aren’t preoccupied holding one of his kids or a dumbbell, you know from social media that he’s usually on his phone.

“They took you off the cover,” I said. “I don’t know why, but they did.”

He let out a long sigh and only said, “Oh man…”

There was silence as it sunk in. He had been reading M&F since he was a kid. He made no secret that it had been a lifelong dream of his to be on the cover. In the lead up to the cover shoot, he had dialed in his diet to an absurd degree. He’s known for being year-round shredded, but the condition he achieved for the shoot was otherworldly. In addition to dieting for weeks, he had taken time out of his schedule to be observed, interviewed, photographed, and videotaped. And I was the one who got to tell him that the cover wasn’t happening because someone changed his mind on a whim. It made me sick.

“That’s disappointing. But they’re still running the story?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“So then I still get to be in Muscle & Fitness. And that’s pretty cool, isn’t it?”

(You can read that profile HERE.)

I reminded him that he’d been in the magazine before—and a bunch of others. The cover had been his goal.

“Well, we could try it again next year,” he said. “And I’ll be in even better shape. This is a big dream of mine, and I don’t give up on dreams. I just have to wait a little longer, that’s all.”

We exchanged a few other pleasantries and then he was off. I looked at the phone and didn’t know what to think. I’ve had people ream me out over much less. Yet Steve was able to process what would be crushing disappointment for anyone else and flip it around to find the positive in the span of about 10 seconds.

I’m thinking of that story now as Steve just got some more bad news—and this news much worse than losing out on a magazine cover: After four years together—and a Super Bowl championship that he was an integral part of—the Giants cut him. As is usually the case on NFL cut day, the new guy is younger and cheaper. A strict business decision. Not much more to it.

I called Steve yesterday to see how he was handling the news. I doubted he was taking it as well as he took the news about the cover. I wanted to know for sure if the VIDEO he posted with his family—in which he praises John Mara and Tom Coughlin and ends with his family yelling “Go Giants!”—wasn’t just him putting a happy face on things.

I feel like a douche for ever doubting him.

This time he picked up and said, “Matty!”

“Hey man, how you doing?” I asked.

“Living my dream,” he said. “Not sure why I keep getting all these calls from people. No one died.”

When he was called into an office to talk to Tom Coughlin, Jerry Reese, John Mara, and Tom Quinn, Steve says he knew what was coming. When Coughlin started to talk about necessary personnel moves, Steve stopped him and said that’s not what he wanted to talk about on his last day as a Giant.

“I just wanted to use that time to express my gratitude for some of the greatest years of my life,” Steve said.

Coughlin, never one to lavish praise on any player, declined to talk about Steve’s replacement, Brad Wing, when he addressed reporters, saying it was “Steve’s day.” He called Steve “just an exceptional human being—not only what he has contributed to the New York Giants on the football field, but what he has done in the community, what he represents, the enthusiasm, the passion and the way that he had a unique ability to touch people in all parts of life… Steve had a very unique ability to come into a room and be the light of the room.”

The ultimate hard-ass waxing poetic about his punter. Is there much more you need to know?

As for the future, Steve told me, “I don’t know if I’m going to play. If there’s an offer I’ll look at it, but right now I’m just thinking about spending time with my family. I didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in the NFL. It’s been a wonderful blessing and I’ve loved every minute of it, but what I really always dreamed of was being a great husband and father. So yeah, I’m still living my dream.”

Every athlete is taught to aspire to the virtue that no man is bigger than the team, but we’re constantly reminded how many of them only care about themselves. It’s funny to think that by putting everyone else first, Steve has built a legacy with fans that the me-first divas would kill for. But you can’t fake personality and you can’t hire some marketing guru to turn you into good person.

For Giants fans, it’s tough to lose a guy who was so easy to root for, someone who in turn made you feel good about rooting for him. But by exiting NY more gracefully than any athlete in recent memory, he’s given us one more gift—a walking example that the life you have is a product of your attitude. Nothing more and nothing less.

As a Giants fan and as a friend, I can only say thank you, Steve.