By: Aly Cohen

PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) — There are times in life when things go our way, and more times that they do not. Subconsciously, the way we react to and deal with most situations we face is based on external influences; the people who are in our lives and the environment that surrounds us.  The same holds true for Kansas City quarterback, Tyler Palko, as he credits his parents, a few coaches and teachers and his close circle of friends for helping him prepare for adversity.  However, an introspective look provided an unexpected and uncommon notion, prefaced with the fact that this was in no shape or form coming from a place of narcissism.

“The biggest influence in my life throughout this whole thing has been me. I really learned a lot about myself.  You learn to trust yourself, how not to waiver on the decisions that you make and how to become a man.  I’ve had tools put into my tool belt so to speak to handle the situations.  You feel that there’s a sense of comfort that you come across when you’ve handled adversity, and handled good and bad things in your life.  There’s a sense of calm,” he says.

Palko’s on the field accomplishments range from being ranked in the University of Pittsburgh’s top three in school history in yards passing, yards in total offense and touchdown passes, with 8,343, 8,429 and 66 respectively, to being named the Associated Press 2001 Pennsylvania Big School Player of the year at West Allegheny High School.  He has really come a long way though, and not just in terms of his nomadic lifestyle.

“I think you can learn stuff from everyone.  That’s why I don’t really pass judgment on too many people.  People have a lot to offer, even if you ultimately learn how you don’t want to act.  You just have to be open-minded about things and that’s something that I wasn’t always growing up.  I’ve learned a lot and gotten a chance to see the benefits of that and I’m glad I did,” Palko admits.

He’s been with six teams in the past five years, including New Orleans, Arizona, California (United Football League) where he would not make the regular season roster, Montreal (Canadian Football League), Pittsburgh and Kansas City, since he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, where he double majored, earning his degree in three and a half years.  Tyler comes from a good family and has witnessed first hand that there’s no golden ticket.

His parents had him and his brother, Luke, at an early age, and they had to work hard for what they had.  He  compares many of his philosophies to a schoolteacher’s duties and responsibilities.  His dad, Bob, is a teacher and the head football coach at West Allegheny High school.

“You just have to understand that it’s professional sports, it’s not like life, where you can just go get a job as a teacher and be a teacher for 30 years and retire and move to Florida. This is professional sports, the most competitive business in the world,” he said.

Which brings us to the stuff that only select people in the world can understand — those who are living and have lived it.  Everyone fights for something in their own respective career paths, and Tyler’s happens to be in professional sports.  Growing up he didn’t get cut, didn’t get fired, wasn’t second string.  He worked hard for it all, but it wasn’t until entering the National Football League that his determination was truly tested.

“I was fortunate to get fired after my first training camp, so I know what it feels like, and I’ve been cut, fired, probably over 10 times,” Tyler said with a bit of a grin.

At 28 years old and after five years in the league, and not a start at quarterback, his mentality hasn’t changed, and he’s not ready to question his longevity as an NFL quarterback.

“Everybody has to take a different road to get where they want to go, and if I didn’t want to be a backup I could have quit and went on to do something else, but if this is the way I have to achieve my dream, then I’m cool with it,” he said. “There are a ton of reasons why you might get cut, but I don’t ever worry about it because if you go in with a mindset that as long as you give everything you have and someone is better than you, then you can live with it. I go in with the mentality that I’m going to work as hard as I have to work everyday and do the things that I need to do to keep a job and if that’s not good enough, then it’s not good enough.  If you have that mentality, then there’s really nothing for you to worry about. You’re not guaranteed tomorrow, so you pretty much just have to take care of business and make sure that day is successful.”

That’s not to say there aren’t times when Palko, who’s extremely logical and realistic about football and about life and about the two intertwined, gets frustrated.

“You basically put your life on hold to live this dream out and sometimes things don’t work out.  The thing you learn is that just because you work hard, just because you’re passionate about something, doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a spot on a team or guarantee you anything in life,” he says matter-of-factly.

Hard work is the only thing that Tyler has ever known, and he doesn’t need that guaranteed spot to push him, because he doesn’t play sports to be in the spotlight.

He’s not into the whole social media deal and doesn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account, not because he’s impersonal, but really just the opposite.  Tyler is humble in that he truly doesn’t think he is someone who people would want to tune into.

There are several people who would beg to differ, but it almost seems like the clever approach to it all.  He doesn’t get caught up in what people have to say about him, good or bad.  If someone sends him an article or email, he’ll take a look, but he said with 100 percent honesty that he really doesn’t pay attention to that stuff.

On the other hand, his college roommate, a guy who he calls family, and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, has over a million followers on Twitter, and Tyler has plenty of good things to say about him.

“He’s still the same 18 year old that came into Sutherland Hall when we moved in as roommates in 2002 at Pitt.  He hasn’t changed.  He’s a heck of a talent and a heck of a football player, but the thing about Larry is his consistency.  As good of a football player as he is, he’s more of a great dude.  He has his head on his shoulders and everything he projects, it’s real, it’s not fake,” Tyler says braggingly about one of his closest friends.

The two have lived together in the offseason and of course daily workouts are included in the arrangement.

“We’re both fortunate enough to have each other in our lives.  All the time we put in the offseason, when one of us succeeds, we both succeed.  That’s the way I look at it and I honestly feel that way.  I have a big part in his success and he has a big part in my success and me staying with it.  We won’t let each other quit,” Palko says.

From the best wide receiver in the league to his actual brother, who is currently the head Midwest scout for the Arizona Cardinals, to his childhood neighbor, Chris, Tyler has welcomed many life lessons.

Chris has been in Tyler’s life for several years now, and together they founded the TC House, whose mission is to be a source of information and a platform to help young adults with Down Syndrome become independent and realize their potential.  They are currently raising funds to build a house in Imperial, PA that will serve as a resource for those who need it.

Tyler has been able to understand a meaning to life beyond that on the field, as Chris, who was born Down Syndrome, has reminded him time again.

“If you’re having a bad day or something happened or you got fired, he genuinely just wants to come up and give you a hug because he hasn’t seen you in forever,” Tyler said.

Then there are times when Chris may be just as tough on Tyler as he is on himself.

Palko remembers, “I ended up throwing an interception to lose the game in college.  After the game he came up to me and without hesitation said, “You threw it to the wrong guy, what happened?” and you just realize his purity and honesty, how he sincerely wants you to do well and win.”

There’s no doubt that Tyler purely, honestly and sincerely–just to drive home the point–wants to do well and win too.

“I’m the backup this year, I got a chance to win that position battle. I’m going to keep pounding the rock and see what happens with me, because I believe in my ability and my talent and now you kind of just have to wait for an opportunity.  You literally live week to week.  You prepare Monday through Saturday, then Sunday we play and after the game you take a breath, hang out, get some food, do what you need to do and start it all over again on Monday,” he said.

The only thing is, this conversation took place nine days ago, before Tyler had any idea he’d be starting just a week later, and this Monday won’t be quite like any in the past.  This Monday Tyler will start in the first NFL game of his career, on primetime television, against the 6-3 Patriots led by one of the top QB’s in the league, as the Chiefs’ (4-5) first stringer, Matt Cassel is out with a hand injury.

“Tyler is the hardest working, most dedicated person I have ever been around. He has waited for this opportunity his entire life. I’m just happy I get to witness my best friend live his dream,” Fitzgerald said.

Hope the best for Cassel, but root for Tyler, because he doesn’t ask for it, but deserves it.  Also, check out, follow it and learn about his foundation, because he’s not tweeting about it.

Aly Cohen
The Aly Way

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