Quarterback for Life

After succeeding on the field, Sage Rosenfels is a leader off the field.


You know what a football looks like. But do you know how it feels? Or, more accurately, how it’s supposed to feel? Why quarterbacks monitor the ball’s weight, elasticity and texture with such zeal that in January the league’s most famous QB caused an uproar that nearly overshadowed the sport’s biggest game?

That’s why Sage Rosenfels is on your TV this night just days before the Super Bowl, appearing on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show,” a talking-head forum normally reserved for the topic of the day inside the Beltway. But like politics, football in America inches close to religion. And Tom Brady, the patron saint of New England football, stood accused of a minor heresy after footballs the Patriots’ quarterback used in a playoff game were found under-inflated below a limit allowed by NFL rules.

It blew up into a scandal called “Deflategate.” Were the balls intentionally under-inflated so they would be easier to throw in the New England cold? Why would you risk being labeled “a cheater” over a few ounces of air pressure?

Rosenfels is telling you that a quarterback isn’t crazy. Temperature, malleability, air pressure, these aren’t quibbles. They’re important. The details matter. Because if a ball feels wrong in the hand, it means a pass could be off by a matter of inches. These inches are the difference between wins and losses. And wins and losses in professional football are everything.

A 10-year-career as an NFL quarterback gives Rosenfels a unique perspective, and as he transitions to life after football, his future job prospects hinge on him making you understand why the details matter. “I think quarterbacks do have the most insight of any of the players that played football,” Rosenfels said. “We have to understand every position on offense and every position on defense. We have close relationships with coaches, with offensive coordinators, and general managers to understand the structure of teams and see things from every angle.”

Rosenfels learned those angles as a quarterback with five NFL teams. Mostly as a back-up behind Super Bowl winning signal-callers Brett Favre and Eli Manning, he appeared in 45 games and threw 30 touchdown passes before retiring in 2012. “I was really lucky to play as long as I did,” Rosenfels says by phone from his home in Omaha. “I did move around a lot from team to team and that was challenging, but being able to live in that world is something I’ll always cherish. Most of my memories about my playing career don’t have to do with games, but with memories with my teammates.”

And now that his playing days are over, Rosenfels again is fighting for his spot in the game. The former Iowa State quarterback is working his connections to get a foot in the door as a broadcaster so he can put his vision of the game to use. Last summer, Rosenfels was one of several former players to be invited to a “broadcasting bootcamp,” put on by the NFL Network. He did a simulated game broadcast with NBC’s Kenny Albert and served as a studio host alongside Fox NFL Sunday host Curt Menefee.

It was part training and part job interview. After the end of the boot camp, he got a chance with the NFL Network to serve as a training camp analyst, breaking down strengths and weaknesses of teams before the start of the season. Rosenfels found more opportunities last fall when he did between four and six interviews per week on radio stations in Minnesota giving his views on the Vikings. He was a color analyst for Iowa State’s game against Texas and is searching for some more television opportunities that would give him a balance between being on the road and family life.

Rosenfels moved to Omaha after his playing career ended to be near his three children, ages 13, 10, and five. It’s clear that while he eventually wants more work behind a microphone, at the moment he considers being Dad his primary job. “Right now, it’s whatever fits easiest with my kids’ schedule,” Rosenfels said. “It’s nice that I don’t have to go off and work a full-time job and can give them extra attention and extra love. Right now, it’s whatever I can get into that works around their schedule.”

The rewards of a decade-long NFL career mean he can afford to be patient and seek out the right opportunities. But Sage Rosenfels is again brushing up on his skills and fighting for his spot in a competitive market. Waiting to parlay his unique experience into a chance to make fans better understand the pieces that make up our nation’s most popular game, and why the details matter.

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