It might have been easier, Brian Finneran says, if on the day he was cut by the Seattle Seahawks, Coach Dennis Erickson and receiver coach Milt Jackson hadn't both told Finneran the same thing.
Don't quit football just yet, they said. You're good enough to play in this league. You've got good hands. You've got a good head. Work on your speed, put on a few pounds and you've got a future. So go get 'em and good luck.
Finneran is a 22-year-old wide receiver, a former prep star at Santa Margarita High in Rancho Santa Margarita, the 1998 Division I-AA player of the year after leading Villanova to its first undefeated regular season.
But Finneran is much more. He is a husband to Erin and a father to 4-year-old Conor and 2 1/2-year-old Brynn.
Besides getting his degree in business management at Villanova, Finneran became the father of a son before his freshman season started, married Erin, his high school sweetheart, then became the father of a daughter before his junior season.
So those words that Finneran heard in Seattle on the day he was cut--he made it to the last cuts, which meant he was so close to job security--were words both pleasing and horribly confounding.
"In a way, it would have been easier if they'd told me I wasn't good enough to play in the league," Finneran says. "Then I would have known and I would have gone out and gotten a job and we'd settle down. That would have been easier."
Finneran is sitting in the living room at the home of his parents, Joe and Burda Finneran, in Mission Viejo. Mostly Brian, Erin, Conor and Brynn are living with Erin's parents, Bernard and Kathy Fallon, in Laguna Niguel. Brian and Erin stay in her old bedroom. Conor and Brynn stay in her sister's old room. On weekends the group moves over to the Finnerans'. "To give my parents a break," Erin says.
Most of the Finneran's possessions are in storage back in suburban Philadelphia,where the family made a home in a small apartment near campus while Brian juggled school, football and parenting.
Erin put her own plans of earning a nursing degree on hold so that she could work as an emergency medical technician and waitress to support the family while Brian played football. Erin worked nights and Brian would rush home to take care of his children, to be a dad while his teammates might be taking a date to the movies or getting together for a beer.
Neither family had been overjoyed by Erin's pregnancy before Brian left for college and they were concerned when she became pregnant again. But as Burda Finneran sat waiting for her son to come home from a weightlifting session and right before Erin arrived with her two grandchildren, the proud grandmother smiled and said softly, "Brian's been a wonderful father and Erin a wonderful mother. I don't think I expected this."
Finneran wasn't invited to the NFL combine last winter, that one-stop shopping market in Indianapolis where 385 players, by invitation only, were tested physically, psychologically and for intelligence. As the I-AA player of the year, Finneran expected an invitation. As a 6-foot-5 receiver who caught 96 passes for 1,389 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, Finneran thought he belonged at Indianapolis.
Finneran wasn't drafted either and instead signed as a free agent with the Seahawks. He had other free-agent offers from the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens, but the Seahawks offered the biggest signing bonus, $7,500, as opposed to only about $1,000.
"People tell me I made a mistake going with the Seahawks," Finneran says. "They say I should have gone to a team with an offense that would need more of a possession receiver. But I did what I thought was best."
And that difference in signing money mattered. Erin wants to return to college and get that nursing degree. She had hoped to enroll this fall but has postponed that plan. Again. In fact she is planning on going back to waitressing, for what Finneran is hearing now is that he should push to play in NFL Europe.
So every day, he goes to a gym, any gym that has free space, and does weight training. Then he runs, anywhere he can find a free track.
If it is a really good day, Finneran finds somebody to throw to him. Sometimes it's Trevor Yankoff, who was a senior quarterback at Santa Margarita when Brian was a freshman. Sometimes it's Brian's twin brother, Brad, who also played at Villanova, and who is working at a job. And sometimes it is Erin.
"But I have to run the balls back to her," Brian says, laughing. Erin glares.
It is not ideal.
"I want to be playing, I want to put the pads on," Brian says.
Life is on hold. Conor asks his mom when they will have their own house again, when he can get his toys out of storage. Erin never thought it would happen, but she actually misses the cramped apartment with the ugly orange tile back at Villanova because that apartment was her own.
But then a Dallas Cowboy scout, Jim Garrett, tells Talley that Finneran should hang in. Baltimore Raven quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who worked out with Finneran at a facility in Florida last spring, calls Finneran and says, "You can make it. You should have come to Baltimore. I would have helped."
So Brian and Erin hang on. Another year, Brian says.
"I'll stick with it through camps next summer. After that, that's it. I'll have to get a job. But I want to give this everything I've got right now. If people think I can make it, I want to try."
Erin nods. Brynn and Conor come running into the room.
Remember this family next time you want to cast athletes as selfish. Because so many are not.