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Colin Dunlap: Mendenhall Retirement Not A Surprise

By: Colin Dunlap
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(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

dunlap-head-shot Colin Dunlap
Weeknights, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Colin grew up in Sharpsburg and...
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Good for Rashard Mendenhall.

How many people on Earth — especially at a relatively young age — have the opportunity to wake up and do exactly what they want with each day, all while locked in the safety net of financial security?

I don’t know the answer.

But, here’s an educated guess – it isn’t many.

If there were so many, there wouldn’t be traffic jams each weekday morning — Route 28, the Fort Pitt Tunnels and the Parkway East wouldn’t be packed with people during rush hour wishing they were somewhere else day after day.

On Sunday, Mendenhall announced his retirement from the National Football League. The running back (originally selected by the Steelers in the first round of the 2008 Draft) is just 26, played five seasons for the Steelers and last season for the Arizona Cardinals.

Mendenhall discussed his decision in an article published in The Huffington Post, saying, “I feel like I’ve done it all. I’ve been to two Super Bowls; made a bunch of money; had a lot of success; traveled all over the country and overseas; met some really cool people; made lasting relationships; had the opportunity to give back to causes close to my heart; and have been able to share my experiences and wisdom with friends, family and people all over the world.”

Mendenhall earned $12.55 million dollars in his initial contract and then $2.5M in a one-year deal last season — and then he walked away, seemingly of sound mind and body while he still has a lot of life to live.

Again, good for him. Who wouldn’t want to be him?

He was a free agent into this offseason, but according to Mendenhall, he’d like to write books and explore other things outside of the realm of football.

You get one chance to live this life. Rashard Mendenhall is one of the few lucky enough to play both puppet and puppeteer with his life for a time, so I can’t find it within me to find one thing critical to say about him.

Last month, Mendenhall penned a column for the Huffington Post wherein he wrote with introspective prose about a vision he had of himself swimming toward a statue of the Blessed Mother.

As I opened the topic of his column up for discussion on my radio show just after the column was published, I was a tad bit surprised by what I was met with.

Many poked fun of Mendenhall.

Some likened him to Ricky Williams and questioned not just his commitment to football, but whether or not he might have been under the influence of drugs as he composed it.

The final graph of the aforementioned column was as follows …

“And as I write this, today is the day that the journey is over and I am fully at peace. Eagerly looking to a new way, which lies ahead.”

Seemed like the writing was clearly on the wall from where I could see. It appeared obvious Mendenhall was headed, in short order, for retirement as I read those words. That’s why it would have surprised me more had I read he was continuing in a life of football rather than electing to walk away.

Certainly here in Pittsburgh, Mendenhall will be remembered as a running back who never lived up to his potential as the feature back of the future. He will also be remembered for putting the ball on the ground in a momentous situation. Both recollections are true, as he had a 1,200-yard season in 2010, but never could find that continuity it took to elevate to a trusted feature back in the NFL.

And then there was that fumble against the Packers in Super Bowl XLV. On the first play of the fourth quarter, with the Steelers trailing 21-17, Mendenhall fumbled away what turned out to be his team’s chances at a title, putting the ball on the turf on the Packers’ 33 in a drive that looked destined for a score.

Even in the aftermath of that game, Steelers fans should have understood this was an NFL player with an atypical way of approaching his craft.

He didn’t appear enveloped in sorrow or enclosed in disappointment about the loss.

In the postgame, Mendenhall said: “It was a good year, but this is not the way you want to finish it. At the same time, it is a blessing to have this opportunity. We didn’t take advantage of it.”

Such a statement didn’t fall in line with what would have been expected from most players in the NFL, as they would have acted like frittering away such a chance was the end of their world.

That’s why Mendenhall walking away the way he reportedly has shouldn’t surprise any of us.

This is a man who simply played football for awhile as a job.

Football was something Mendenhall did; it never appeared as if it was something Mendenhall was. And it appears even more that way today as he’s said goodbye to the game.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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