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Letter to My Younger Self

Jan 17 2019
Photo by
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Photo by
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Ty Law
HOF Finalist
Jan 17 2019
D

ear 15-year-old Ty,

You gotta be the worst drug dealer in the hood.

Nah … in the history of hoods.

Seriously. Think about what just happened. You were riding around in the passenger side of your boy’s car trying to make a buck. A dude walks up to the car — a middle-aged guy, maybe 40 years old … a grown-ass man. You tell him you got rocks. Twenty bucks. You show him the goods — you literally hold the rocks out the window in the palm of your hand like a dumbass — and he straight up snatches them and walks away all casual like nothing even happened.

You’re like, “Hey! Hey! Come back here!”

But this dude stops in the middle of the street, stares dead back at you and doesn’t say a damn word. He just gives you this look — like, What, boy? Whatchu gonna do?

And the truth is … you ain’t gonna do s***, bro. And you know it. You ain’t no thug. You ain’t cut like that.

So you just take your ass home.

Now you’re sitting in your bedroom, mad as hell. What are you gonna do, call the cops? Tell them somebody stole your crack rocks? Please! And Lord knows you ain’t gonna go downstairs and ask your grandfather for help. Pap’s from a whole different generation, bro — hands permanently calloused from thirty years at the steel mill before it shut down and the drug epidemic hit Aliquippa. If he ever found out you were out there running the streets and acting foolish? Boy, it would be your ass.

So now you’re thinking maybe you should go out and find the guy who jacked you. Get your money. Your revenge.

But over what … twenty bucks?

Just take the L, bro. It ain’t worth it. Out on those streets, when it comes to confrontation … a lot of times it doesn’t end well, because nobody wants to be the first to back down.

Nobody wants to be the punk.

I’ll need you to remember that later this summer when you’re on the street corner and you get into it with one of the guys from the block. It’ll be over nothing — just a couple of dudes talking s***, getting carried away.

Aliquippa is everything. Those streets may be tough on you now, but that’s a good thing.

Next thing you know, you’ll have a gun to the back of your head.

You’ll be one finger twitch away from having your brains splattered all over Wykes Street. Your dumb ass will dare him to pull the trigger, but he won’t. He’ll just talk some s*** and tell you to get outta there.

You’ll be so embarrassed and pissed off that you’ll run home to Pap’s house, burst through the front door crying and go straight to his bedroom closet. You’ll grab one of his pistols and walk right back down the street, acting all tough, firing the gun into the air to let this dude know that you’re back — that you ain’t no punk.

Then you’ll hear a pop, pop, pop coming from the corner. You’ll hear the bullets whiz past you, like little bottle rockets.

While you’re firing up into the sky, this dude will be shooting straight at you.

Your athleticism is gonna help you out right here, bro. Because you’ll turn and bolt, and somehow you’ll make it home clean. Not a scratch on you.

That night, you’ll do some real soul-searching. It’ll be clear that the streets are no place for you. You ain’t cut out for that life.

Besides, if there’s anybody you should be trying to emulate, it’s not the dudes hanging on the corner and selling drugs and flashing their guns.

It’s Pap.

This man raised you because Mom was only 16 when she had you. Pap’s a good man. A real man. Somebody who does everything the right way. He’s the one who has shown up at every one of your football games, all the way back to youth football — back when people started calling you The Next Tony Dorsett. Remember? They started saying that because that’s your uncle and at the time you played running back, like him. But it really caught on in midgets when you were playing in a championship game at The Pit. You slipped a tackle in the backfield and lost a cleat, and damned if you didn’t run 60-something yards for a touchdown with one shoe on.

Well, I got news for you … you’re not going to be the next Tony Dorsett.

You’re gonna be the first Ty Law.

Courtesy of Ty Law

But it won’t be easy. It’ll mean going for a run at midnight when your boys are sitting around talking s*** and drinking Mickey’s big-mouths and Colt 45s. Making your allowance stretch as far as you can, because while everybody else is working their little summer jobs, you’ll be training. That will seem like a big sacrifice at the time, but let me ask you something: Would you rather have money to take a girl to McDonald’s tomorrow, or be rich for the rest of your life?

That’s what I thought.

So yeah, it will be a lot of hard work — but also, a lot of pressure. People in Aliquippa take their football seriously.

One night, after your high-school team loses a game it should have won, you’ll be walking home from the stadium and you’ll see your friend’s grandmother sitting on her front porch — a sweet old lady … one of those old-school, heart-of-gold grandmas. You’ll smile, wave and say hello, addressing her as ma’am, just like Pap taught you.

And she’ll be like, “What in the hell’s wrong wit y’all boys losing a game like that! G’on and get yourself home, boy. Get outta here!”

What do you even say to that?

The answer is … nothing. You just do as she says and get your ass home.

I’m telling you, bro. Even the grandmas in the hood will get crazy over a damn football game.

But that’s good. It’s gonna prepare you for the next level, and eventually, the highest level. Because when coaches start using four-letter words and fans are throwing things at you, you’ll be like, Man, y’all ain’t got nothin’ on the grandmas back in Aliquippa!

When you start getting attention from colleges, everybody in town will assume you’re going to follow in the footsteps of guys like Mike Ditka, Sean Gilbert and Uncle Tony — hometown legends who stayed home to play at Pitt.

But as much love as you have for Aliquippa, it’s a tough place to grow up, man. You’ve seen some s***. And you’ll feel like you need to get up outta Pennsylvania, far away from the mean streets.

When you choose Michigan, you’ll hear a lot of hate from the hood. People will be like, Michigan? That boy’s good, but he ain’t MICHIGAN good….

Don’t listen to any of that s***, bro. If you take anything at all thing from this letter, let it be these three words:

Bet on yourself.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

No matter where you go, you’ll always have doubters.

Sometimes, they’ll be the people who are supposed to believe in you most.

When you get to Michigan, the depth chart will already be posted in the locker room. You’ll look for your name under the DBs. Nothing. You won’t find it until you get waaaaay down to the bottom of the wide receivers column.

You’ll be like, Wait, didn’t these DBs just get their asses lit up by Washington in the Rose Bowl???

You’ll feel disrespected by your coaches — the men who came and sat in Pap’s living room, talking you up and saying you’re gonna be a big part of their plan. Like, is their plan to redshirt you and stick you on the scout team, when you could have gone to almost any other school and played right away?

Man … f*** a redshirt, bro. You got a plan of your own, and it doesn’t include riding the damn bench.

So you’ll walk right into the DBs meeting room, take a seat … and the rest will be history. You’ll ride that chip on your shoulder to a starting spot as a true freshman and all the way to the All-Big Ten team as a sophomore and earning All-America honors your junior year. You’ll be one of the best cornerbacks in the country.

But I don’t want you to get caught up in all that right now. Because the toughest part about college won’t be anything you’ll have to deal with on the field.

F*** a redshirt, bro. You got a plan of your own, and it doesn’t include riding the damn bench.

The hardest part will be going home.

After you leave for Michigan, the street out in front of Pap’s house will become a popular place for drug dealers and gang members to hang out. It will make Pap uncomfortable. And by this time, he’s getting older. He can’t step up and regulate like he used to.

So you’ll take it upon yourself to jump in the used Chrysler LeBaron Pap bought you for $5,000, and you’ll make the four-hour drive home from Ann Arbor to raise some hell for him.

Sometimes you won’t get there until midnight, and people will still be hanging around. You’ll regulate, clear everybody out, make sure Pap’s all good, then turn around and drive back to Michigan. If you’re lucky, when you get back, you’ll have time to get an hour or two of sleep before you have to wake up for class or workouts.

I can’t even count how many times you’ll do this. But with Pap getting older, you’ll have to be the man of the house. Even if you gotta do it from 300 miles away.

On one of those trips home, you’ll be in the kitchen and you’ll notice a letter from the bank sitting on the counter.

That $5,000 Pap used to buy you the LeBaron? He took out a loan for it. He put his house up as collateral, and he fell behind on payments. He had to file bankruptcy.

Now, he’s in danger of losing the house.

This will tear you up, man. This is the house you grew up in. The house Pap paid for with the money he made breaking his back at the steel mill all those years.

Where’s he going to live now?

What’s he going to do?

How are you gonna help him?

By the time you get back to Ann Arbor the next morning, you’ll realize that there’s only one thing you can do.

You gotta leave college early and go to the NFL.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Your coaches will not like this idea. They’ll try to talk you into staying.

The NFL projections will have you going anywhere from the third to the seventh round. Your coaches will break it down for you and say that even if you went in the third round, you’ll make what … maybe $300,000? Then you’re gonna buy a house and a car and whatever else, and you’ll have maybe $100,000 left?

That’ll kind of backfire on them, because you’ll be like, S***, 100 grand? That’s a wrap, then. I’m out!

Then they’ll say something that’ll really piss you off.

They’ll tell you that if you stay for your senior year, you might sneak into the third round of the draft. That’s it. They think that’s the best you can be — a third-round pick.

Maybe they’re just saying that because they want you to stay. But you’ll take it as a sign of disrespect. Like they don’t believe in you. You were expecting their support. You thought they’d have your back. But they don’t understand your situation … and they don’t know Pap.

So you know what?

F*** ’em.

Bet on yourself, bro.

Because when you see those NFL projections, you’ll look at all the corners they have ranked higher than you, and you’ll know that you’re better than every damn one of them. You just gotta show teams that when you work out.

Opportunity doesn’t just come knocking, like they say it does. You gotta create that s***. Anyone who’s ever gotten out of Aliquippa knows that.

So you’ll go back to that mindset you had in high school of a kid trying to make it. Midnight runs. Non-stop training. Put in the work, bro. Earn that s***. Because when you work out for teams, and you show them what you’re made of … they’ll see. They’ll understand that you are better than the rest of the corners in the draft. And all that hard work will all pay off on draft night when you get picked by the New England Patriots.

In the first round.

Twenty-third overall.

That’s right. They were all wrong — your coaches, the people who make up those NFL projections … everybody.

Everybody but you.

Courtesy of the New England Patriots/David Silverman

Honestly, your story could end here and it would be one happy-ass ending — a kid makes it out of the hood, becomes a millionaire and not only saves his Pap’s house, but buys him a new one and takes care of his family. The end. That’s a wrap.

But you’re gonna play 15 years in the league, bro. There’s so much more to come — more than I could ever tell you about in one letter.

So let me hit you with some CliffsNotes.

New England is … well, it’s basically Boston. And the fans are no joke. They won’t give a damn that you’re a first-round pick. They’ll boo the s*** out of you. And you know what? You’ll love them for it. They’ll constantly remind you that you gotta earn every last bit of respect in this league, and you gotta earn it every day.

In your second season, you’ll make it to the Super Bowl … and lose. Five years later, you’ll make it back.

That’s the year that your team will have the greatest quarterback in the history of football.

“We got this, kid. Just don’t mess it up for us.”

And nobody will even know.

Number 12 — a skinny little pretty-boy named Tom. He’s the backup quarterback. You’ll know about him because he’s a Michigan guy, like you. You’ll actually sell him your house when the Patriots draft him. You’ll even give a discount to your fellow Wolverine. You gotta pass on the wealth and take care of the young bucks, you know?

Well, when the starter, Drew Bledsoe, gets injured early in the season, Tom will take over. And since your defense is stacked and this dude has barely played a down in the league, you’ll basically tell him, “We got this, kid. Just don’t mess it up for us.”

But I’m telling you: Pretty boy is a competitor.

You pick him off in practice, and he’ll come right back at you the next play. You and the guys on defense will dance in his face and celebrate and taunt him and talk about his Mama … you’ll be ruthless. It’ll be damn-near comical.

But he won’t ever back down.

One night, you’ll be out at a team dinner at Abe & Louie’s in Boston. You’ll be talking about what’s gonna happen when Drew comes back. And Tom will speak up and say, “He’s not getting his f****** job back!”

So yeah … dude’s pretty cold, and he’s got some swag to him.

But as it turns out, he can kind of ball, too.

Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

You’ll make your mark on that Super Bowl before the game even starts. You’ll be playing the Rams, a team with an offense people call “The Greatest Show on Turf.” This team has weapons, bro. You will have experienced that firsthand when they beat you in the regular season. You ran a zone defense, and they tore it up.

You already lost one Super Bowl. You ain’t trying to go that route again. So the week of the Super Bowl, you’ll step up in the defensive meeting and tell your coaches, “We gotta get up in their faces this time. Let’s man them the f*** up!”

The Aliquippa in you is just gonna take over.

“Put me on Isaac Bruce. I’ll wear his ass out!”

And then it’ll be like a damn movie, bro. One of your teammates, Otis Smith, will stand up and yell, “I’ll take Torry Holt!”

Then Terrell Buckley. “I got Az Hakim!”

Your teammates will rally around you. The whole defense will start hollering, and coach will look at you like, “O.K., if this is how you guys wanna play it, let’s go!”

Come game day, you’ll suffocate the Rams’ receivers at the line of scrimmage. Nobody will get off the line without getting popped. Torry Holt will come up to you after the game like, “Damn, bro, y’all evolved. We wasn’t expecting you to play us like that!”

You’ll have a pick-six in that game. Your family and friends will be there to see it. It’ll be one of the best nights of your life. You’ll be on top of the world.

There will only be one thing missing.

Pap.

This is tough for me to talk about, even now … but in 1999, a couple of years before you win that Super Bowl, you’ll be down in Miami getting ready to play the Dolphins. You’ll be excited because after the game, you plan to go home to Aliquippa to see Pap.

You’ll walk out of chapel the day before the game and you’ll get a call from your cousin. She’s crying.

Pap passed away.

This will rock your world, bro. It will be totally unexpected. For a long time, it will be tough just to get used to the fact that you can’t pick up the phone and call your grandfather or go home and see him. It’ll hurt for a long time.

I don’t have any advice for you on how to deal with that pain. The only thing I can say is that Pap wouldn’t want you to sulk. He’d want you to remember the things he taught you and keep on making a name for yourself.

So make him proud, bro.

David E. Klutho /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

Winning that Super Bowl will be just the beginning. You won’t make it back in 2002, but you’ll win it again in 2003. In 2004, about halfway through the season, you’ll break your foot and be done for the year. But your teammates will still go on to win another Super Bowl and solidify the dynasty — three championships in four years.

Besides the injury, life will be good. You’ll be rehabbing your ass off, trying to come back for the next season for another Super Bowl run.

But the NFL is a cold business, bro.

Your foot injury will be pretty nasty — broken bones, torn ligaments … it’ll take a while to recover. That offseason, you’ll be at the airport trying to catch a flight home to Florida when you get a phone call from your head coach’s assistant. You’ll post up on your crutches in the middle of the concourse to answer it.

The Patriots are going in another direction.

You’re getting cut.

Deep down, you’ll understand that it’s just business. But it’ll hurt. You’ll feel like you’ve been kicked out of a family.

Over the next few years, you’ll spend one season with the Jets — where you’ll lead the league in interceptions — and a couple with Kansas City. But it won’t be anything like you had it up in New England. That place … that team … that whole franchise … it’s special, bro. You’ll be dying to get back there.

The NFL is a cold business, bro.

In 2008, you’ll have that chance.

It will actually start with Tom Brady. It’ll be a few weeks into the season and you’ll still be a free agent, and Tom will facilitate conversations between you and Bill Belichick — the same coach you won three Super Bowls with — to bring you back.

Coach wants to meet up … but this is 2008, bro. This is the future. Everybody’s got a cell phone, and most phones got cameras on them. It’s wild. So you can’t meet up with coach at a Denny’s or some s***. If someone snaps a photo, the Boston media would be all over that in a heartbeat.

So you’ll meet coach in the back of a restaurant parking lot near your place in Rhode Island. It’ll feel like you’re doing a damn drug deal. You’ll chop it up for a few minutes, talk contract details, throw around some numbers, and then he’ll head back to Foxborough to work on a deal.

You’ll be doing backflips, bro. You’ll hit Tom up and tell him it’s basically a wrap, and he’ll be all excited and ready to announce to the team that you’re coming back once it’s finalized.

Tomasso DeRosa/AP Images

Later that day, you’ll get a call from Coach Belichick.

“We can’t do it, Ty”

“What do you mean?”

“I checked the books. We can’t make those numbers work.”

Now, I need you to listen to me close right here. See, when people get older and they’ve had time to reflect like I have, most say they have no regrets. Like, if they could go back, they wouldn’t change a damn thing, because it’s all part of their story and it made them who they are today and this and that. For the most part, I’m like that, too.

But if I could go back to that phone conversation with Coach Belichick, I would say, “Well, tell me what you can make work and let’s do the deal.”

But you won’t do that.

Instead, you’ll get pissed off. It won’t be about the money, it’ll be about the principle. The whole thing will just rub you the wrong way.

So what will you do?

You’ll call up your old DBs coach from New England, Eric Mangini. He’s moved on to become the Jets’ head coach, and he’s waiting for your call. It’s a Tuesday. You’ll drive to New York that night, take a physical on Wednesday, sign that same day and suit up for the Jets for Thursday Night Football.

Against the Patriots.

In Foxborough.

You’ll win that game, too. And for a moment, you’ll feel vindicated. You’ll shake Coach Belichick’s hand after the game. And even though there will be no hard feelings and you’ll have a great relationship with him afterwards, a little part of you will feel good that you stuck it to him in that game.

A couple of years later, when your career is over, you’ll hold off for a long time on filing your retirement papers, hoping to get another call from Coach Belichick, asking you to come back and sign a one-day contract — maybe even get a few more plays in a Patriots uniform before it’s all over.

But that call will never come.

Your ego will be one of the things that makes you great. Your confidence will lead you to accomplish some incredible things in life.

But that day, on the phone with coach?

Your ego will get in the way.

Just take the deal, bro.

And go home.

Winslow Townson/AP Iamges

Whenever you play on Monday Night Football, during player introductions, you’ll always introduce yourself the same way.

Ty Law, Aliquippa High School

At the end of the day, your time at Michigan will shape you. Your time in New England will shape you. But Aliquippa is everything. Those streets may be tough on you now, but that’s a good thing. You’re a Quip through and through, bro. That community will be the foundation for the football player and the man you’ll one day become.

Be proud of that.

You’ll have a lot to be proud of. Fifteen years in the league. Four Super Bowl appearances. Three championships. Five Pro Bowls. You’ll even have five beautiful kids, become a successful businessman and find yourself on the Hall of Fame ballot one day. You’ll have everything you’ve ever dreamed of, and even some s*** you could have never dreamed of.

So get up off the streets and stop being foolish.

Bet on yourself, young Quip.

Believe me. If you do, you’ll win.

– Ty

Ty Law
HOF Finalist