JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Yes, Broncos linebacker Paris Lenon actually did play in the XFL. No, he did not have a crazy "He Hate Me" type nickname.
"I have entirely too much pride for that," Lenon said.
Every player in the Super Bowl has a fascinating story of how he got there, but Lenon's tale might beat them all.
Since 2000, Lenon has spent at least some time with (deep breath) the Panthers, Packers, Seahawks, Packers again, Lions, Patriots, Rams, Cardinals and Broncos.
He also spent a season with the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe and the Memphis Maniax of the XFL.
Do you remember the XFL? If you don't, I swear this is all true: It was a league that was founded by WWE head Vince McMahon, had player nicknames on the backs of jerseys and had relaxed rules and some interesting innovations. There wasn't a coin toss before the game but instead two players would race to the ball placed at midfield and whoever came up with it got the kickoff option, which led to some injuries before the games even started. The league's first season was 2001, and dismal TV ratings meant there wasn't a second season.
"It was different," Lenon said. "But I enjoyed my time there. I learned a lot."
It's not like Lenon had much choice. He was signed by Carolina in 2000, but cut less than two months later in early June, well before training camp. That usually means a player's career is dead. Lenon took a job in the United States Postal Service's automation department after that. He wasn't in a position to turn down the Memphis Maniax in a league run by a wrestling promoter.
"I had been released and heard about this new league," Lenon said of how he ended up in the XFL. "I had an opportunity to go to NFL Europe, and then I heard about this league in the U.S. and I preferred to stay home. I don't like flying far."
He finally stuck with the Packers after his XFL experience, playing four seasons in Green Bay. He really started to make a name for himself with the Lions from 2006-08, starting every game those three seasons and averaging well over 100 tackles per season. And for those who know your NFL history, you caught that Lenon was part of the 2008 Lions, the only 0-16 team ever.
He played a year with St. Louis after New England cut him before the 2009 season and then three years with Arizona. Lenon was 35, out of a job and on the verge of being done with football late last August when the Broncos had some linebacker issues and called him. Despite joining the Broncos on Aug. 20, a little more than two weeks before the season started, he stuck on the team.
With four games left in the regular season the Broncos tried shaking up the defense by putting Lenon in the starting lineup. He has started every game since and the Broncos are 5-1 and in Super Bowl XLVIII.
"Everybody has different paths and different experiences; we’ve just been pleased to have him," Broncos coach John Fox said. "He’s been a productive player for us and a good teammate to the rest of the team."
Lenon had played in just one NFL playoff win before this season. That was during the 2003 season with Green Bay. He hadn't appeared in a playoff game at all since the end of the 2004 season.
Now he's on track to start in a Super Bowl. It would be tough for any player on either team to top Lenon's story of football survival.
"I'm very appreciative to be here," Lenon said. "Anytime you go through tough situations, it makes you a tougher person."
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