A Diesel-driven dream

Mike Daniels did everything he could to earn his way to the Super Bowl.

He worked out ferociously in state-of-the-art gyms, inside and outside his home and, as the Big Game drew closer, in austere conference rooms and hotel hallways; with his coaches, personal trainers, and wife Heavenly. He used yoga, acupunture and cupping to get his body right.

And, activated from the practice squad on Saturday, he suited up and joined the Bengals on the field.

Who Dey think they’re gonna count him out? Nobody!

We’re conditioned to measure athletic success on scoreboards and, in that respect, his story might hurt your heart a little — a guy in the twilight of his career who comes thisclose to winning a ring.

But, I think Mike Daniels might be just the hero every Pop Warner player in the country needs to see.

At 32-years old, the former Packer has battled back from major injuries during his 10 years in the league. Drafted by the Packers the year after they won Super Bowl XLV, Daniels made an immediate impact. Ironically, he recovered a Matt Stafford fumble and ran it back for a touchdown his rookie year.

He gave the Packers and the Northeast Wisconsin community the best he had during his seven years with the team, earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2017 and could have retired proudly when the Packers terminated his contract in 2019. But, he soldiered on, played a year in Detroit and then signed with the Bengals as a free agent in 2020, and as an unrestricted free agent in 2021.

He owes his decade in the league to honest hard work, the kind of effort that happens in quiet places after everyone else has gone home and, sometimes, at home again after that.

He posts snippets of his workouts on Instagram and I watched with fascination and admiration as he shoved aside tables and executive chairs to work out in his hotel during Super Bowl week. At the time, he wasn’t even listed on the Bengals active roster. I’d like every athlete who ever rode the bench to read that sentence again.

Mike Daniels worked out like a fiend so he’d be ready to play in the Super Bowl even though he wasn’t even added to the active roster until the day before it.

That’s the kind of athlete I want on my team. That’s the kind of human I want to be.

We like to think of the Super Bowl as a festival of glamour and show. But the path to it runs through some very quiet places where determined people work as hard as their bodies allow.

I’m not sure what’s next for the guy his Packer teammates called Diesel, but I’ll be rooting for him wherever he lands.

And I want to thank him for the inside look into the kind of effort it takes to play at least a decade in the NFL.

These aren’t great pictures because they’re screen shots but this is Mike Daniels working out in his hotel room in the days leading up to the Super Bowl before the Bengals even activated him to their active roster.
Another workout, another screen shot but I like this one because it shows how intensely he worked in those various non-descript hotel rooms. (It also shows you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to get a good workout.)
Mike and his wife Heavenly have five kids and they still find time to workout together.
In addition to acupuncture and cupping, he is a regular yogi.
He recovered two Matthew Stafford fumbles during his rookie year, including this one, which he returned 43 yards for a touchdown.

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