As I stood near the 45-yard line in Seattle, I had no idea my life was about to change.

It was the 2015 NFC Championship game against the Seahawks, and we were 2:09 away from going to the Super Bowl. All we had to do was recover this onside kick, and even though I had never been on the field for an onside kick in my life, I felt I was prepared.

I looked over as one of my teammates gave me one final check.

“Do you know your assignment?”

I nodded back to let him know I was ready. My role on the play was simple - block for the guy behind me. Waiting a few yards back was Jordy Nelson, who had the best hands on our team. It probably seemed strange for a third-string tight end to be on the field for one of the biggest plays of our season, but I knew that my hard work had prepared me for this moment. I was 6’3 and 245 pounds, and with my size and strength I was going to give Jordy plenty of room to catch the ball.

That was the plan. When the ball was actually kicked, all the plans went out the window. And as most of you remember, I made one of the worst decisions of my life in trying to catch that football.

 
 

Even when I knew my assignment and knew I had to block, when the ball was kicked, my natural instincts of jumping and catching began to kick in and there I went. The same thing that got me to the NFL was the thing that failed me, like my ability to jump and catch the ball.

The ball came toward me faster and higher than it initially appeared, and it ricocheted off my helmet. My first instinct was panic, as I saw everyone pounce on top of the football. I was too far away to grab the fumble myself, and then I saw as the referee gave the signal: Seahawks ball.

I could hear the crowd roar, and then I looked at the scoreboard as they showed a slow-motion replay of the fumble. I'll never forget looking at myself on the jumbotron, watching the most humiliating moment of my career being played out one frame at a time.

Most athletes will say that when you're playing in a game, you don't think about the ramifications of what's at stake. You're not thinking about your legacy, or contracts, or anything like that. You’re just focusing on the play. This was different. I understood the magnitude of what happened almost immediately.

When I got back to the sidelines, I was inconsolable. My teammates tried to pick me up and encourage me, but I was so far in my own head already that I couldn't internalize anything they were saying.

It wasn’t just me either. All of a sudden our defense had to run on the field to try and stop Seattle, but you could sense the entire team was deflated. It was such a devastating moment, that to try and play defense at that point was nearly impossible.

Sure enough, four plays later, the Seahawks scored to take a 22-19 lead with 1:25 left. Aaron Rodgers led our team back down the field to tie the game in the closing seconds, but I wasn't out there for that drive. And to be honest, given how shaken up I was about everything, if I was a Packers coach I wouldn't have put me back out there either.

Mason Crosby's field goal at the end of regulation gave me a sense that maybe my fumble wouldn't cost us the season, but that turned out to be short lived. Seattle won the coin toss, and on the opening drive Russell Wilson found Jermaine Kearse for a 35-yard touchdown to win the game.

I felt like I had ruined the season when I fumbled the ball, but now it really was over. We had led for almost that entire game, and we had made everybody in Green Bay believe we were going to the Super Bowl. Then in a matter of minutes, just like that it was over.

That is, it was over for everybody else. The season was over, but my inner turmoil was just beginning. And if it wasn't for my faith in God, I have no idea what my life would be like at this point.


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Thomas Hager