Over the years someone would see Landon Cohen in the newspaper, or maybe even on television, and think, "That guy … wait … is that the valet?"
Yes, sometimes Landon Cohen parks cars. And sometimes he plays in the NFL.
Cohen, amazingly, did both this month. And now he's one win from parallel parking a Super Bowl ring between his knuckles.
As most fantasies go, Cohen's January has been the definition of awesome. Four weeks ago, he and two lifelong friends were running their valet service in Spartanburg, S.C. One workout and a few phone calls later, the journeyman defensive tackle landed with the Seattle Seahawks, despite not having been on an NFL roster the entire regular season.
Seahawks tackle Jordan Hill went down with a knee injury on Jan. 4, and Cohen got a sleepy, midnight call from Seattle the next day.
"Landon was a very active player," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after bringing Cohen aboard. "We had our eye on him."
Cohen, 28, was inactive in the Seahawks' first playoff game against the Carolina Panthers, but played a healthy role (14 snaps) in their wild NFC Championship win over the Green Bay Packers. That included two crucial goal-line stands early in the game. And he even got in a lick on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
"It's been a nice little ride," Cohen said with a chuckle this week.
That's an understatement, but that's also Cohen: 6-foot-1, 300 pounds, even-keeled and pragmatic. He quotes the laid-back life wisdom of Bob Marley and says the Super Bowl is "big," but adds that he wants to do something "even bigger" in his life.
Cohen has learned to try to keep his emotions grounded. This is what happens when you get drafted out of Ohio (University, not State) in the seventh round by the Detroit Lions in 2008 and go through your rookie season on the first 0-16 team in NFL history. Or when you get signed and released by eight different teams in seven years – a career that has included stops with both the New England Patriots (2010 and 2011) and Seahawks (2011 and now). Or when you live your mornings in the YMCA, alternating between weight training and yoga and boxing.
And after all that? Then you spend the larger part of the past three years parking cars. That's what makes Cohen a fun NFL story this week: His existence on a Super Bowl roster is more a matter of sheer determination rather than blessed talent. Ask any NFL player, and they will say this is the truly admirable grind – having the mental strength to see a roster need and fill it. Maybe only for a week, or a month … or, if fortune smiles on you, an entire season. And when it ends? You work a normal job, like running a valet service.
There are a lot of NFL guys like this – annually blending in with mortals while awaiting the next opportunity to put on that NFL cape. In the rarest of opportunities, they get to step out of the phone booth and onto the Super Bowl stage.
"It's crazy," said Jeffrey Dawkins, Cohen's childhood friend and a co-owner of their Spartanburg valet business, The Valet, LLC. "A couple weeks ago, he was parking cars. Now he's in a three-point stance. Crazy."
It's crazy because Cohen has actually managed to juggle both pursuits. Unsure if he'd get another NFL shot after signing and getting cut by the Philadelphia Eagles in less than one day in 2012, Cohen started his own business. Sitting out the entire 2012 regular season, he launched an events-based car-parking service in his hometown of Spartanburg with Jeffrey and another childhood friend, Terence Dawkins.
Called "The Valet, LLC", the trio started out by soliciting partnerships and parking cars themselves. The ground-up venture eventually launched a website and began packing the schedule with anything and everything – parties, weddings, city events and private contracts. A little more than three years later, they've added nine employees and built a thriving business out of a hustling mantra: "We run fast and drive slow."
Cohen has been getting NFL work in bits and pieces, too, including nearly an entire 2013 season divided between the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears. He even signed on with the Buffalo Bills in 2014 but was ultimately cut before the regular-season opener.
Each time the NFL work ended, he headed back to Spartanburg to a focused existence: train in the morning and run the valet business in the evening, which included doing plenty of the work himself. That is, if he can actually get inside your car.
"Some cars I can't even fit in," Cohen said with a laugh.
Occasionally he'll get noticed or asked about the NFL, but it has never been something he'd flaunt or obsess over.
"I don't talk about football unless I'm playing," Cohen said. "If I'm valeting, nobody knows I play football until it comes out in the paper or something like that.
"If I'm valeting, I'm valeting. If I'm volunteering, I'm volunteering. I don't set myself up for disappointment. I kind of stay right there in the middle. Never get too excited, never get too down. It's been years of practicing living that way. But you get 100 percent of me in whatever I do. If I'm valeting, you got 100 percent of me, not 50 percent of me thinking about football."
And this week? It's all football. With the Patriots leaning heavily on a physical running game with LeGarrette Blount, defensive line depth should be at a premium. That gives Cohen a high percentage chance of being on the active roster Sunday night, in a similar rotation to the NFC championship.
That's as far ahead as Cohen is thinking. There are no preparations for bringing home a Super Bowl ring. And even beyond Sunday, there is no thought of whether this moment might be a foothold to a more stable NFL career.
"I just live my life, man," Cohen said. "Taking care of my little dog, Beyoncé."
See a need and fill it. Big or small. Parking cars or playing in the Super Bowl, that's what Cohen plans on doing. That said, his mantra might get a little tweak this week.
Run fast on Sunday. Drive slow on Monday.
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