Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif chose to opt out of last season so that he could put his medical training to use on the front lines of the pandemic in his hometown of Montreal. He also missed all of the team’s voluntary OTA sessions during the last three weeks.
So when he appeared in a Zoom conference call after the team’s first mandatory minicamp practice on Tuesday, Kansas City reporters had a lot of questions for him — including what it had been like to not wear a football helmet for over a year.
“It’s been a pretty challenging year, I think, for all of us,” he said. “For me personally, I went back to help [in a] long-term care facility in different capacities. Sometimes I was a nurse, sometimes I was an orderly, a resident — I was basically helping where help was needed. And it was tough. We lost a lot of patients — and we know that long-term care facilities were pretty badly affected.
“But looking back at this year, being able to watch the Chiefs on Sunday was kind of the thing that was keeping me grounded, you know? It was fun to watch my teammates, fun to stay in touch with them throughout the season — even though I wasn’t there. I don’t regret my decision. I think I was in the right place at the right moment — and I was able to put my medical training to use. But for sure: [when] watching a game on Sunday, I couldn’t be prouder of the guys.”
And he said that even though he had made a personal decision not to play in 2020, he was glad that sports continued.
“To me, it was never about saying we shouldn’t be able to play sports in 2020,” he said. “I feel like through the pandemic, [there were] a ton of things that divided people. Sports is probably one of the last things that brought people together. I think everybody did everything they could in order to make sports happen — and I think it was great for people. The fans needed it. Everybody went through ups and downs throughout 2020. Being able to watch the Chiefs — to watch your team — perform at a high level even though there’s a pandemic going on? It’s a great thing. It’s the tissue of our society.”
And Duvernay-Tardif made it clear that he had missed being a part of it.
“Football is in your DNA,” he admitted. “I remember throughout November and December — as we were heading into the playoffs — sometimes on Thursdays I would wake up and be like, ‘OK, is it a shell practice? Is it a full-speed practice?’ I kept asking myself those questions because I missed football. I mean... of course you want to play football! That’s why I trained so hard.”
But that wasn’t always easy. Gyms in Montreal were closed, so Duvernay-Tardif had to improvise.
“I built a little gym on my balcony and I worked out outside,” he explained, “because that’s all I was allowed to do through quarantine and curfew and so on for the last year. I had a pretty good setup. Don’t get me wrong: it was cold, but I had some heaters on the side and so on. I basically trained four times a week for the past year. So I feel in pretty good shape.”
Duvernay-Tardif acknowledged that being in good shape is not the same as being in football shape — and now that he’s back in the team’s facility, participating in football activities will be the only thing that will tell him whether he’s really ready to play. Just the same, he felt good after his first practice with his teammates.
“So far, I feel great,” he said. “Like you said: being away from the game for a year, of course, you get rusty a little bit. But at the same time, I’ve never benched, cleaned and squatted as much as I did throughout the past year. So I feel like I’m in great shape — and hopefully, it’s going to be able to translate onto the field this year.”
Now heading into his sixth NFL season, Duvernay-Tardif acknowledged that it was hard to know whether being away from the game would make for a difficult comeback — or whether taking the year off would help extend his career. But there was one thing he was certain he learned after a season away from the game.
“I realized how privileged I am to be able to perform in the biggest sports league in the world, you know? To be away from it for a year made me realize that football doesn’t last forever. So whenever you’re still healthy, you’ve got to work hard and make sure you can get back out there. Because that feeling of winning in Arrowhead Stadium in front of 80,000 people is just nuts — and I want to make sure to still be able to feel that.”