Canadian Laurent Duvernay-Tardif leaned this year just how fleeting NFL success can be.
In May, the Kansas City Chiefs right guard became the first active NFL player to receive his medical degree when he graduated from McGill University. Afterwards, the six-foot-five, 325-pound Duvernay-Tardif celebrated the occasion by posting a photo on Twitter of him wearing a jersey over his gown with "DR Duvernay-Tardif" across the back.
Duvernay-Tardif and the Chiefs began the '18 campaign impressively, reeling off five straight wins and nine victories in 10 games under first-year starter Patrick Mahomes. But the five-year veteran's season effectively ended Oct. 7 when he suffered a broken right fibula and ankle injury in Kansas City's 30-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"It's crazy," Duvernay-Tardif said Tuesday. "There are just so many highs and lows . . . it makes you realize you're one play away from injury every snap.
"We were winning the game, it was just a formality of running the ball to take time off the clock and boom, you get rolled on and your season's over. I think when I go back to Kansas City next year I'm going to be way more appreciative of every snap, every opportunity you get on the field to win as a team, to travel, to play football in an awesome stadium. You've got to feel like it's a privilege and not be stressed about the gameplan or crowd, just enjoy it and play to the best of your ability. That's going to be my mindset."
Mahomes led Kansas City (12-4) to first in the AFC West and home field throughout the playoffs by becoming just the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 TDs. After dispatching Indianapolis 31-13 in the divisional round, the Chiefs' season ended with a 37-31 overtime loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC title game.
Duvernay-Tardif was activated for the contest, but didn't play. He could only watch from the sidelines as the Patriots secured the win with Rex Burkhead's two-yard run to cap an 80-yard, 15-play drive to open overtime.
The Chiefs appeared to have the game won when they intercepted Tom Brady with 54 seconds remaining and leading 28-24. But it was negated when linebacker Dee Ford was flagged for lining up offside, allowing New England to go ahead 31-28 on Burkhead's four-yard TD run with 39 seconds to play.
Had Kansas City advanced to a Super Bowl meeting Sunday with the Los Angeles Rams, Duvernay-Tardif feels he could've played. But he understands the Chiefs' sticking with Andrew Wylie even after Duvernay-Tardif was activated.
"At the start of the week I got some reps with the starters," Duvernay-Tardif said. "My reaction time and ability to break down the defence and anticipate was slower than usual just because I'd been away for so long.
"When it's a critical game like that, it's safer to go with the guy who's been doing it and built a chemistry with the other guys on the line."
The NFL's overtime format drew the ire of some fans, who bristled at Mahomes and Co. not getting the ball in the extra session. But Duvernay-Tardif disagreed.
"I felt like that game could've been won by the Chiefs way earlier," he said. "There were things we weren't able to take advantage of and that's what cost us the game, not the official's call or the rules."
If there's a silver lining to Duvernay-Tardif's season, it's he was able to practise late in the season with the Chiefs. Now he heads into the off-season feeling good physically and upbeat about being able to concentrate solely on training and not having to juggle med school studies.
"I was just in the gym doing some biometrics, some drills and cleans and I feel great," he said. "I've been physically good to go the last couple of weeks.
"It's good to feel I'm 100 per cent and able to use that four-week period I'd usually cool down after the season and take a vacation to really optimize and capitalize on my training and show up to OTAs in even better shape than I have the last five years."
The next phase of Duvernay-Tardif's medical education is setting up a residency but he said questions remain.
"I want a chance to meet with different faculties, different departments and see what's the best plan in terms of residency," he said. "Whether it's doing it part-time starting next year or full-time after I'm done playing football.
"I have to ask those questions to really make sure I give myself the best chance to be a good physician once this is all said and done."
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press