The average career length in the National Football League is just 3.3 years, so one may have assumed free agent Shiloh Keo—a member of the Houston Texans from 2011 to 2014—had put in his time and was out of the game for good.
As it turns out, all it took for him to get back in the league was a tweet. The enterprising safety tapped into his networking skills, which are rarely tested at the combine, and sent off a plea to Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
@sonofbum didn't want to pick me up huh?— Shiloh Keo (@kaleo10) December 2, 2015
Keo played under Phillips’ direction in Houston, where the coach held the same role. Despite the familiarity with each other, the Broncos signed safety Josh Bush. Phillips replied to Keo’s question as to why he didn’t get the call by explaining Bush was on the roster previously.
@kaleo10 Keo–Josh was with us in camp and first 4 games-u know how much I think of u–hope that little Keo is doing well— Wade Phillips (@sonofbum) December 2, 2015
The reasoning is sound, and football is a business after all. Keo was understanding if not a bit disappointed.
@sonofbum I hear ya, still the same system tho. Little man is doing great. Keep me in mind tho if things don't pan out— Shiloh Keo (@kaleo10) December 2, 2015
Less than a week later, his tweeting paid off. On Wednesday, Keo became the newest member of the Denver Broncos.
Keo’s become and unexpected success story: His third-quarter interception against the San Diego Chargers last Sunday helped the Broncos secure the win—and a first round bye.
“He was out of football. It didn’t look good,” coach Gary Kubiak told the Denver Post. “This kid keeps battling. I’m proud of him. He’s a great example of if you think you can play, hang in there and keep battling and there’s always an opportunity. He took advantage of his today.”
Keo’s go-getter approach might be unorthodox, but he isn’t isn’t the first out-of-work athlete to pitch himself for a job via Twitter: Vince Young has made his case for another chance basically every time a quarterback gets hurt, running back Stephen Jackson showed off his Photoshop skills by tweeting out a picture of his number styled like the Bat signal above Cowboys Stadium, kicker Connor Barth got himself back on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster with a tweet, and undrafted running back LaVance Taylor netted himself a shot with the Kansas City Chiefs by sending them a YouTube highlight reel (though he got cut just three days later).
And that’s just on Twitter. NFL LinkedIn must be an absolute mess.
The real breakthrough of the networking efforts of Keo and others is the promise it presents for average joes. Twitter doesn’t just give players access to coaches and general managers who might be looking to add talent to their roster: It gives everyone that access.
Everyone including me.
Chasing the dream
With opportunity knocking, I decided to freshen up my football résumé and take to Twitter to see if any team would take a chance on me.
My gridiron is the keyboard, my touchdowns are retweets, and my field goals are likes.
If I find my way onto the field, my route to the NFL will be an unconventional one. Technically speaking, I haven’t played organized football since middle school. I played both sides of the ball, lining up as a lineman on offense and a linebacker on defense—though that was primarily because we didn’t have enough players to field a full roster. That league was flag football, but given the recent restrictions on violent hits in the NFL, that shouldn’t put me at that much of a disadvantage.
There’s a four-year gap in my résumé from high school, where I opted not to play any sports because it’s a lot of work and I’m lazy. But I do have college-level experience, which is what most teams look for anyway.
During my time in college, I played two full seasons of recreational league football—during which our team’s crowning achievement was accidentally signing up for the competitive league and getting crushed by legitimate athletes.
Our first season, we won a single game—a forfeit because the other team had already secured a playoff spot and determined it was more of a hassle to actually show up and pound us than to just not even bother. I can’t remember anything from our second season, presumably because it went just as poorly and it was a sad time.
My highlight reel, if it existed, would consist of these moments:
- Hanging my head in defeat
- Waving my hand wildly to signal I was open even if I was entirely covered
- Trash talking a much larger and stronger man because he was balding and wore actual receiver gloves to a rec league game
- Feeling bad about doing that
I haven’t laid foot on the gridiron since those days, but I can say with assurance that I’m in better shape than I ever was in college, can run a 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds (unconfirmed, probably made up), and would be willing—if entirely necessary—to taunt a bald man again. I assume that part of football hasn’t changed in my absence.
There will be questions throughout this process; I expect that even interested parties will point out my time away from my game, my unfamiliarity with any NFL playbook, and my small stature (5’6″, a full, towering inch taller than professional footballer Trindon Holliday).
To those many concerns, I have one answer: Madden.
The iconic football simulation that has been a video game institution for over a quarter century now is about the closest you can come to playing coach, general manager, or even player. Every year, the folks at Electronic Arts trick over 5 million fools into dropping $60 on their glorified roster update, and you are looking at a certified fool right here.
How good am I at Madden? Well, just take a look at some of these real testimonials from actual opponents I’ve played against:
- “Your football knowledge was always competent.”
- “The only thing as average as your face is your Madden skill.”
- “You are bad at Madden.” (Said in jest, probably.)
OK, so maybe I wouldn’t put those folks down as references, but you get the idea. I have the virtual experience, it’s time to turn it into the real thing.
Put me in @coach
Obviously, Shiloh Keo has a considerable advantage over me on the football field; despite the fact that he attended Idaho and not a powerhouse football factory in college and has modest on-field production, he is still a more impressive physical specimen than 99.9 percent of the earth’s population.
During the NFL Combine, the annual test of physical ability that every college prospect is put through prior to the NFL Draft, Keo earned top marks at his position for bench press, three cone drill, and 20 yard shuttle.
But these aren’t the things that got Keo a spot in the Denver locker room—it was his tweets. And compared to me, Keo sucks at tweeting.
I am by no means the most prolific tweeter out there, but put me head-to-head in a tweet-off with Shiloh Keo and I’ll wipe the floor with him. Since joining Twitter in 2010, Keo’s amassed just 214 tweets. One of his best tweets, one that earned him the most likes and retweets, was declaring he said he gave up social media for lent. Your followers would rather you say nothing for 40 days and 40 nights than actually read your thoughts on things, Keo.
Gave up social media for lent, it was tuff but I made it— Shiloh Keo (@kaleo10) April 20, 2014
I’ve been on Twitter for nearly a year longer than my opposition, and I’ve hashtagged more trending topics than Keo’s even seen. My gridiron is the keyboard, my touchdowns are retweets, and my field goals are likes.
And guess what, Keo? I’m always scoring.
If this amateur can catch the eye of a coach, I should have no problem doing the same.
I started the same place Keo did—Wade Phillips. He has the upper hand considering their familiarity with each other, but no matter, I thrive on the underdog status. THRIVE.
@sonofbum Hey coach, you need need any more help on defense? I played linebacker in middle school, I would fit right into your scheme.— AJ Dellinger (@ajdell) December 10, 2015
I got no reply from Phillips. That was fine, though, because I had a new plan: Get in with one of Denver’s divisional rivals and show both Coach Phillips and his Twitter bud Keo what can be done with 140 characters.
@coach_shulaJCU I know you run quality control for the Chargers Defense. I'm the total package: Quality. Also control. 2-in-1. Sign me up?— AJ Dellinger (@ajdell) December 10, 2015
I officially struck out in the AFC West. Whatever, the Raiders and Chargers both play in garbage stadiums and are going to get moved to Los Angeles. Traffic sucks in Hollywood; I don’t want to be stuck in that anyway.
Next up, the NFC West, where head coaches are considerably more accessible. Seattle Seahawks head coach and noted 9/11 truther Pete Carroll is on Twitter, or at least some intern scouring the Web for proverbs to send out as Carroll is.
I did my best to appeal to him on a personal level.
Then I turned to Bruce Arians, the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals and hat connoisseur.
When I didn’t hear back from either of the bosses of these teams, I figured maybe I would have better luck sliding my résumé onto the desk of one of the lackeys who could push it up the chain of command.
In San Fransisco, I found wide receivers coach Adam Henry.
@coachhenry8 Usually when people throw things at me I'm like "Stop it." But if Colin Kaepernick threw a ball at me, I'd catch it. Sign me?— AJ Dellinger (@ajdell) December 10, 2015
In St. Louis, I turned to former NFL quarterback and current Rams QB coach Chris Weinke.
For whatever reason, I just couldn’t break through with any of these squads. “Maybe they have a more sophisticated method of recruitment and evaluation than random @replies on Twitter,” I thought, but immediately dismissed it I wasn’t about to let doubt seep in and squander my ambition.
@MarcelShipp Jets need another running back? I'm available. You should know: despite the position name, I primarily run forward.— AJ Dellinger (@ajdell) December 10, 2015
@DerekDooley The Cowboys are basically out of playoff contention, so what better time to bring on someone like me for a tryout?— AJ Dellinger (@ajdell) December 10, 2015
@RobbAkey I think your team name is deplorable but I would like a job and money. Do you have a roster spot available?— AJ Dellinger (@ajdell) December 10, 2015
@Patriots Are you looking for any players? I'm willing to cheat and stuff and then lie about it.— AJ Dellinger (@ajdell) December 10, 2015
Just when I thought my scattershot approach of blanketing NFL staffers with requests for a contract to professionally do a thing I had never even done well at as an amateur might have been all for naught, I had a breakthrough.
I found New York Giants athletic trainer Steve Kennelly on Twitter and browsed through his feed before firing off a pandering message to him.
Working with a young athlete? Work on their posture and position in the universal athletic position, then challenge it with load, speed, etc— Steve Kennelly (@SteveKennelly) December 10, 2015
Kennelly is into posture huh? I can posture real good. Load me up, Steve.
@SteveKennelly Giants have any roster spots open? I have excellent posture.— AJ Dellinger (@ajdell) December 10, 2015
To my surprise, he replied:
@ajdell Only if it were that easy! Thx.— Steve Kennelly (@SteveKennelly) December 11, 2015
No, thx you Kennelly. I know it won’t be easy, and I know that his Twitter bio specifically states “Tweets are my own and not endorsed by the New York Giants,” but I’ll be damned if that doesn’t sound like a try out invitation if I’ve ever seen one.
My bags are packed for New York. Go G-Men.
H/T Mashable | Illustration by Max Fleishman