Cruel Reality of the NFL

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Mario Fannin leaves a Broncos scrimmage on a cart

The NFL isn’t always the fantasy land that fans—and players—make it out to be. From crushed hopes to let-down fanatics, premature departures, injuries, trades, being released and even arrested, there’s much more to the National Football League than big stars and huge careers.

One prime example is the young, oft-injured Denver running back Mario Fannin. As a member of the National Title-winning Auburn Tigers team in college, Fannin knows success, but after being drafted by the Broncos in 2011 with guarantees of a budding career, he’s yet to see any playing time—or even the hope of playing time—at the start of his second season through no fault of his abilities.

Fannin’s surprising speed for his size, catching ability, and tough running style singled him out as a great fit for an offense even John Elway admitted needed his talent. As a rookie, he impressed coaches in camps and was poised for a strong roster spot until he tore his ACL, dooming him to injured reserve for his entire first season in the NFL as he recovered from surgery.

Seemingly fully recovered in 2012, Fannin hit the camps hard to prove he hadn’t missed a beat in his season off, despite Denver drafting Ronnie Hillman with expectations for him to accomplish what they sought from Fannin last year: catch balls out of the backfield, back up the starting runner, and add quickness to the roster. With new quarterback Peyton Manning at the offense’s helm, Fannin was optimistic about the coming 2012 season during training camp as he looked to overcome his competition. Running backs would be more prominent features than last year, proving 2012 to be a better opportunity for him.

And then came a scrimmage game in early August, and a finally healthy Fannin tore his Achilles tendon against his own team, sending him once again to injured reserve.

Everyone knows that injuries are a constant risk in football, but it’s not always ailments to the players themselves that can make a difference in play. Occasionally these off-field issues put the sport in perspective for the player as a person, family member, or citizen and knock the sport down the list of priorities, though it may not always seem fair.

Lonie Paxton was the first surprise cut of 2012

Such has been the case with Broncos long snapper Lonnie Paxton, who was cut in late August just before the end of preseason.

While long snappers often go completely unnoticed in the NFL, their names occasionally become part of fan and critical conversation, though typically when they fail to perform like they’re expected to. In Lonnie’s case, he became a player of mention when he had to miss a playoff game in 2011 to attend to his wife, who was suffering from complications in childbirth with her and Lonnie’s child, causing the team to sign a veteran snapper and sparking general concerns and prayers from many football fans across the nation.

Paxton was well loved by his Denver community as an active participant in bettering lives for those in the area; most notably through the bowling extravaganza he threw on draft day to benefit the Active Force Foundation. Paxton was a fan of not just the Broncos, but Denver as a city and community and hoped to remain there for the rest of his life.

But after just three seasons, the Broncos cut him from the squad, leaving him without a team. While it’s unlikely he or Fannin are permanently unemployed, their stories show the sometimes unfortunate circumstances that can befall any player, whether he’s talented but unhealthy, as Fannin, or important to the city, like Paxton.

By Charlene, Bronco Planet Blogger