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An inside look into the worst day of the year

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It’s clean-out day.

General exterior view of Arrowhead Stadium Photo by Dave Kaup/Getty Images

Every team but one will experience this day feeling bad. It’s like a morgue—quiet and sullen, terrible. No one is happy about it; no one wants to do it.

Exit physical day. Coach meeting day. Locker clean-out day. Goodbye day.

For many years of my career, I was blessed that this day came in the playoffs, but in my mind, that only made it worse. Only three out of 12 years did I have to experience this out of the playoffs. That was cleaner and came with less of a sting. Once you get into the playoffs, you feel like you have a chance to do anything and the abrupt end of it all tends to hurt more.

There is quite a bit of work to be done on this day due to the fact that you may not see some of these players again for three months. Every organization does it a bit differently, but here is the summary of what happens in every one of the buildings around the league.

Every player must have an exit physical of some sort. All injuries for the year for each player have been summarized and tallied. Some players sign off and simply say that they are “good to go.” Some need to be seen by physicians for ongoing injuries. Some players want to be seen for things they haven’t previously reported or minor issues that they just want checked out and put into their medical records. Many times, a player may not be limited by the condition—they just want it to be recorded.

As with any day that involves full team medical physicals, there is a mountain of paperwork that must be filed and sorted. Electronic medical records have simplified this, but it is still an ominous task. I always tried to have this prepped and ready to go two weeks ahead of time, making changes as I needed to.

X-rays, MRIs and baseline concussion testing all happen on this day. Visits with orthopedic physicians as well as internal medical physicians must all take place if necessary.

All players that are scheduled to be free agents need to be seen by physicians, so their updated medical status can be known prior to free agency – typically the second week of March.

All players that are scheduled to go to the Pro Bowl have another pile of paperwork and need to be seen on this day to finalize that process as well. They get rushed to Orlando this week if they are healthy and playing.

This is the day or week that all offseason surgeries are scheduled. Players will request medical imaging be sent all over the nation, getting second opinions for themselves and their agents. Some will decide to have surgery locally, while some will travel to do it with other physicians.

The long and short-term rehabilitation schedule is created. Players that are on injured reserve that have been working all year will continue to do so until cleared. Some players stick around a couple of weeks to work on maintenance issues from the long season.

Players will typically have meetings with position coaches, the head coach and the general manager. Other departments have check-ins as well – equipment, video, football operations, player engagement and strength and conditioning. The day is long due to the fact that every player on the roster, injured reserve and practice squad all have to be seen by every department.

Locker room clean-out is like moving out of a house all in one day with 65-plus people. Trash bags and boxes are everywhere—players taking things and throwing them out. Some individuals find it a decent chance to get anything players don’t want to keep.

I have seen the entire range of emotions on this day. Some players just want to get it over with and leave town. Some stick around and get emotional, knowing that they could be moving on or seeing people for the last time. Some just don’t know what to do with themselves. Think of having the most scheduled and regimented life for eights months in which you have been told what you are doing every hour of the day and then suddenly you don’t. It can be a difficult transition for some.

By the end of the day, everyone is exhausted from the season and the process. For many, this will be the first time in weeks that they get a decent night’s sleep. The parking lot is almost empty and will remain that way for several months. Only the coaching and support staff remain during these times. Very few players are around for the next month or so. The building becomes eerily quiet and large with everyone out.

The workload goes from a ridiculous number of hours per week to a more normalized 35-to-40-hour week. It’s a time to catch your breath. Vacation time is scheduled, weekends fill in a hurry. There is a chance to actually see your family and friends now.

With the league now having essentially one major event per month, the downtime is limited. The Scouting Combine is merely weeks away in February and everything will begin again with draft prep soon enough. Free agency hits in March, players return in April, draft in late April, minicamps and OTAs in May and June.

It jumps back on you in a hurry.

It’s obviously never fun to end the season with a loss, but only a select few get to do it the other way. It is a different feeling to see people leave when you have spent so much time together over the last eight months or so.

For some, its goodbye for now and for others, it’s just goodbye.

Rest assured, there will be a full, new crop returning soon, so it’s time to do something to take your mind off football for a while.

Everyone has all earned it, no matter how the season ends.

Aaron Borgmann is the founder of Borgmann Rehab Solutions. He spent 12 years in the NFL as an assistant athletic trainer and physical therapist before joining Arrowhead Pride.