Hall of Fame offensive tackle Willie Roaf is asked what he misses about the NFL. His response is quick and definitive.
"I miss the mental part of it," Roaf tells Bleacher Report. "It tests you, and I loved that. I loved being pushed the way the NFL pushed you.... You can't really find a substitute for that once you retire."
Roaf has tried his best to compensate with frequent trips to the gym. He's kept busy with a business venture called Frame Your Game, which makes patented license plate frames in the form of baseball caps and football helmets.
Roaf is happy, but like many former players, especially the great ones, he badly misses the NFL. And boy, was Roaf a great one.
He played for the Saints (1993-2001) and Chiefs (2002-05), who both lost Sunday in their respective conference championship games, and though his last NFL game was in 2005, he remains one of the legendary figures in the sport.
When looking back at past postseason stars, few shined as bright as Roaf. He didn't throw for multiple touchdowns in a playoff game, or rush for 150 yards, or record multiple sacks. What he did was block. And he did it with precision and power.
Roaf played during a time when offensive line play was more brutal, when the physicality of the rushing game was more pronounced.
If you don't remember Roaf or how good he was, think of it this way. As good as the offensive linemen are today, they are planetoids in comparison to the sun that was Roaf.
He made 11 Pro Bowls, was named a first-team All-Pro four times and made the All-Pro second team five times. Remarkably, one of those second-team All-Pro years came in his 13th season.
What made Roaf special wasn't just his size at 6'5" and 325 pounds—though that was obviously a big part of it. He enveloped pass-rushers. But Roaf was also remarkably quick, and that allowed him to take on not just powerful rushers, but the faster ones as well.
Roaf was so good he made the 1990s All-Decade first team and 2000s All-Decade second team, selected by members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. He was part of the golden age of offensive tackles that included Hall of Famers Gary Zimmerman of the Vikings and Broncos, Walter Jones of the Seahawks, Jonathan Ogden of the Ravens, and Jackie Slater and Orlando Pace of the Rams.
"We had some amazing guys in the league then," he says.
Roaf also went against the best. Once, Reggie White, a Hall of Fame defensive lineman, approached Roaf after a charity basketball game and told him how tough he was to go against. Roaf also once shut down Kansas City's Derrick Thomas, a Hall of Fame linebacker and defensive end.
Roaf was a Pro Bowler and All-Pro during every year of his stay in KC from 2002-2005.
Roaf has watched both of his old teams for years and was certainly disappointed they lost. What Roaf also knows is the chances are good both teams will be back in the playoffs next year, making another run.
Roaf says retirement has been good to him. His business is thriving, and the aches and pains of years in a violent sport, while persistent, haven't been too bad. He's had post-career back surgery, knee surgery and some meniscus issues, but overall, nothing terrible.
Was it worth playing in the NFL despite the physical toll it took?
"Oh yeah," he says, "very worth it. Some of the best times of my life."
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