Chuck Burton/AP (Inset: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Chuck Burton/AP (Inset: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

What the Heck Happened to Jordan Gross?

Jordan Gross was healthy, a Pro Bowler and a leader on a rising playoff contender. But the 34-year-old Panthers offensive tackle walked away from millions to enjoy the rest of his life. An update on him, plus Ray Rice reaction

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Strange scene at Panthers’ training camp Monday morning: A man who looked like Michael Phelps, maybe 6-4 and 235, watching Carolina’s fourth camp practice, wearing cargo shorts and a denim shirt, sunglasses and a goatee, not bothering anyone.

But this man looked out of place. He didn’t look like a football player. Too trim, a little too old. But a Carolina trainer, Ryan Vermillion, came to greet him warmly and then said to me, “He was supposed to meet us for our run at 5 a.m. but texted me and said, ‘Can we do it tomorrow?’”

That’s because Jordan Gross, former football player, was snoozing in a nearby state park in his Airstream trailer with his mixed-breed dog, Rosi. Gross is on his own schedule now.

Gross is 34. He was one of the best tackles in pro football last season, and he shocked Carolina’s world when, healthy, he announced his retirement in February. Now here he was, at Panthers training camp, one of those guys who just took a job with the Panthers radio network and Carolina TV station you’d think would be a hanger-on but who says, “If I’m going to be reporting on the team, I want to know what I’m talking about.” So that’s why on a July Monday, with a sparse crowd in house for a 91-degree practice at this lovely camp site, Gross was here to watch.

With Gross protecting his blind side, Cam Newton led the Panthers to the playoffs in 2013. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
With Gross protecting his blind side, Cam Newton led the Panthers to the playoffs in 2013. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Jordan Gross played so well in 2013 that the analytics website Pro Football Focus rated him the No. 3 offensive tackle in football for the season. His contract was expired, but had he decided to play another couple of seasons at 34 and 35, the Panthers or some tackle-needy team would have signed him to a deal worth at least $8 million or $9 million a year. Gazing out at practice Monday morning, Gross pondered the questions: Why’d you do it? Why right now, totally healthy?

“A year prior to retirement,” he said, “I restructured my contract. I could tell I was near the end and I wouldn’t want to play much longer. My strength wasn’t what it was. I don’t believe there’s really any natural 300-pound person. It was getting difficult in all phases of my job to retain strength. I decided to try to do everything I could to play one more season at the highest level I could—be healthy, lead guys, go all out to play at the highest level I could.”

Throughout the season, a surprisingly great one both for the team and for a tackle who knew he was done at the end of it, Gross brought his 8-year-old son, Teddy, to work with him when Teddy either didn’t have school or it was Saturday and Teddy could come and sit in the hot tub with the left tackle and a few of his mates. Before games, Teddy would be down on the field to experience the last year of his dad’s pro football career. That’s the way Jordan Gross wanted it—no one in the outside world or even the Panthers knowing he was playing his last season, no attention paid to it, just a man working as hard as he could to play at the highest level he could before he left the game.

“I never wanted to play longer than I should,” he said. “I never wanted anyone to be able to say, ‘He stayed too long.’ Instead of just hanging on and playing at a lower level, I always thought it would be better for people to say to me, ‘Why’d you retire? You were great last year.'”

“But the money,” I said. “If you played another two years, someone—Carolina or someone—would have paid you at least $15 million.”

“Oh, I thought about that,” Gross said. “Who wouldn’t? It’s really great, to have all that money. But how good would it be to play a year or two more and have that extra money, and you have a shot joint or a knee that doesn’t work anymore? I made a lot of money playing football already.”

He told the Panthers five days after the season. They didn’t try to talk him out of it. “How many people in sports get to call their own shot and get to go out the way they want?” Carolina GM Dave Gettleman said. “How many people get to go out going 12-4, making the Pro Bowl, playing at the highest level of their job, his team winning the division? The thing I’ll always remember is the way Jordan was at the end. On the last Thursday practice of the regular season, he and [guard] Travelle Wharton, who he played next to for so long, had a race down the field—laughing all the way. And the next day, Friday, they did it again. He just loved everything about the game, about his teammates, about competing.”

You know how I know I made the right decision?” Gross said. “I haven’t thought once that I did the wrong thing. Not once.

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Then Gross had to decide what to do with his life. He’d made lots of contacts in the Charlotte business community. He got asked to join some big companies and train to be something big in business–and he thought long and hard about it. He would have to do something big and challenging and rewarding, wouldn’t he? But he wasn’t sure he wanted to invest all the time and the long hours and the time away from his family in a Fortune 500 executive job. He’d saved his money and didn’t live an extravagant life. Gross, who studied speech communication at Utah, married his high-school sweetheart from Idaho, and they had two children, and for the time being, he decided he’d take a job doing radio on the Panthers’ radio network and a TV host job with the Panthers during the season. He decided to look into an RV or Airstream trailer (he chose the Airstream) and go on a long trip with his family at the end of the school year for his kids, and they did a trip to the Oregon coast and slalom-waterskied in McCall, Idaho, near their off-season home, and camped.

And when it was time for football to start, Gross hitched up the Airstream to his truck and drove east so he could begin to learn his new job—the media gig covering the Panthers. He and Rosi drove from Idaho to the Outer Banks to see the other coast, and then, instead of staying at home in Charlotte, he decided to camp out in a campground in the Airstream near Wofford College and the Panthers’ summer home. By day he is here, watching practice and talking to the coaches and players about the team. While he’s at practice, Rosi stays in the air-conditioned Airstream. When Gross returns after practice, they do trail runs or take long walks.

His former teammates are just like people who haven’t seen him in a while—amazed at how he looks.

“You look like a stick person,” center Ryan Kalil told him.

“You look unhealthy,” running back DeAngelo Williams told him.

Gross went from a playing weight of around 305 to his current weight of 235 in about six months. (Streeter Lecka/Jeff Siner/Getty Images)
Gross went from a playing weight of around 305 pounds to his current weight of 235 in about six months. (Streeter Lecka/Jeff Siner/Getty Images)

Maybe, though, Gross looks like how a 6-foot-4 man who runs trails and eats normally should look. He’s not dieting or trying to lose weight. He’s just not training to be a football player anymore.

As I stood on the sidelines of a padded practice in the sweltering South Carolina summer Monday morning, I wondered how Gross felt. Did he miss it? Is he happy he’s not putting his body through a 12th professional season of this?

“You know how I know I made the right decision?” he said. “I haven’t thought once that I did the wrong thing. Not once.”

There is a white line on the sideline of NFL fields. It’s here, too, on the sideline of the Panthers’ summer home. That’s where Gross and I were Monday morning, watching the offensive linemen go against the defense, bodies flying and coaches coaching and whistles blowing.

We didn’t speak for a few moments, just watching the practice. Gross stood there, watching. Content. A minute went by. Two. He nodded out to the field, to the sweating men.

“It’s good,” he said. “I don’t want to be on that side of the white line anymore.”

* * *

Now for your email, much of it centered around the Ray Rice news story I wrote in the wake of commissioner Roger Goodell’s two-game suspension and $529,000 fine of Rice last Thursday for his February domestic violence incident with then-fiancée Janay Palmer.

I am going to run three emails that I believe reflect the outrage of the readers—both with Goodell and with the way I wrote about the suspension on Friday morning—and then I will respond.

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145 comments
Fabriciohfaria
Fabriciohfaria

LOL @ Peter King trying to save Goodell's face back in July by declaring they had SEEN the video  (And suggesting between the lines that it was not so bad or no what we thought it was) and now HAVING SEEN the video may be the reason Roger Goodell will lose his job..


Talk about backfiring... You tried to help Roger.. no you've got some explaining to do...

Mike N
Mike N

Spitting in Phil Taylors face last year is a choir boy?


Sorry Pete, the signals for Rice to explode were already present!

BobDobalina
BobDobalina

Peter King, you have some explaining to do....

ProfessorGriff
ProfessorGriff

Jordan Gross's size is pretty easy to decipher - no steroids and he's likely not eating the 10,000 calories a day needed to maintain a 300LB physique.

donkjornes
donkjornes

Training to play football does not make you fat. If anything training to play football as a child made me skinnier.

In fact every sport I ever played that involved working out and training made me skinnier and in better shape. Accept weight lifting however that only made me bigger in my arms and broadness of my shoulders etc. This guy stopped training for football and lost his belly?!??!?!

DannySchick
DannySchick

Now that is a person that all kids can look up to. He is truly an inspiration to all. He did not let money get in the way of doing what he felt was right. He went out at the top of his game. He put family, health and peace of mind ahead of money. He is still married to his HS sweetheart and is a really down to earth person. Never in trouble and just a great guy all around. We need more of him. May he have a long and healthy and happ life.

PeterPotts
PeterPotts

God bless him, and I wish the best for him in every way. 


But c'mon America how is it that I did a search on comments on here and only get one reference to steroids or hgh?? This is a feel good story because Gross clearly has his priorities right, because he realized that he rolled the dice, won.... and had the good sense to stop rolling while he was ahead.


But for there not to be even the slightest mention of the fact that something not quite on the level could have gone into the change that his body underwent is delusional.

PetePjJohnson
PetePjJohnson

I think he did the right decision and retire on the top of his game, healthy and can enjoy life with he's family. Not every player that retires from the game, gets to do so. Hats off to you, Jordan Gross.

MelanieD.Raney
MelanieD.Raney

What a cool, centered guy. He is a real life teaching moment himself! Value your health, children and family first.

Pretty simple. 

HugoSLaVia
HugoSLaVia

He'll live, healthily, to dance on the graves of most of his affaleete buddies.

dbwarbler1
dbwarbler1

finally, someone who lets family and friends beat money and fame.

Lolag
Lolag

Now that truly is an inspiring athlete, health before money.  Congratulations Jordan Gross!

MikeDulong
MikeDulong

Now that is an inspiring story! We hear so much of the bad about athletes. Here is a man who walked away from millions, but is satisfied not chase the almighty buck anymore. His family is more important! He is content and has gotten healthy in the process. He is a true role model to both young and old. At 56 years old I am very impressed. Good for you Jordan Gross! God bless you!

ZavierCugat
ZavierCugat

Good for him.  I hope he is happy and healthy and never looks back with regret.  

CarolynGreaterWorksDavis
CarolynGreaterWorksDavis

Very smart!!! Now he truly has time for his family and loved ones and still enough money to live comfortable!!!

KevinT.Thrun
KevinT.Thrun

Barry Sanders did a similar thing walking away before he became the leading rusher of all time. We as "fans" wish these players we enjoy watching play football would stay. But sounds like a very good decision for Jordon Gross.We of course wish him well..... Job well done.

Bibliophile
Bibliophile

Very smart move, getting out before he damages himself.  A former classmate of mine and football player may have died of a drug overdose stemming from painkiller addiction, it's strongly suspected.  Even if not in his case, that level of pain & suffering due to knee, head, spine, etc. injuries are well known but under reported,  the concussions alone are swept under the rug by the sports industry.   Forget the painkiller addiction that may follow.  

kwa612
kwa612

Gotta think alcohol played a big role in this.

Joe Goodof
Joe Goodof

A wise ex footballer.... credit him with good thinking....football is a dangerous past time....a ton of claims for "help".... from slightly or  severely disabled ball players....quit while ahead.

wpfravel49
wpfravel49

Good for him!  John Frank of the 49ers quit football in the late 80s after playing only 5 years (and 2 Super Bowl rings) and became a doctor, which I think was his real passion.  I respect a man who can turn away from what most would think is a dream job to do what he really feels like doing and what he feels is right

Yipicya
Yipicya

Peter King is now and always will be an apologist for the Ravens (and Patriots).  Listening to him talk about Baltimore is like listening to Chris Matthews talk about the tingle in his leg over Obama or Rush Limbaugh talking about himself.  It's so over the top, so pathetically ridiculous it's not worth the pixels it's on.  

Just confess your man-crush on Ozzie Newsome and get on with the lame-o coffee takes.  You are an embarrassment to Bobcats everywhere.

dfromson
dfromson

I don't understand the outrage over the article written last Thursday. Personally, I can't stand how short the suspension is but I don't limit my reading to writers with whom I share exact opinions. It's not like King posted a strong defense for Rice's actions. King wrote about the reasons why the actual decision was made. I don't like the reasons for the short suspension but I certainly don't blame King for the fact they exist. Everyone needs to stop seeking out the stories that confirm their preconceived opinions.

MarcusScott
MarcusScott

All this talk about Ray Rice. If his wife not pushing the issue, forget it an move on

john21221abcdefghijklmnop
john21221abcdefghijklmnop

I think Jordan looks great and there's nothing wrong with wanting to enjoy your life.  Why should he keep playing until he ends up with brain damage and not be able to remember what happened yesterday.  He played while he wanted to and for him it was time to stop.

As for Rice- I don't believe this was a one time thing no matter what his 'wife' is saying now.  In that video she hit the floor and stayed there for much longer than I expected having heard the stories.  The NFL made a huge mistake in giving him a slap on the wrist after having given much harder punishments to other players for much less. 

russilini02
russilini02

HE LOOKS GREAT WITHOUT ALL THE STEROIDS....more offense and defensive line man should quit the game, get off the roids and live healthy...god bless 

Gneutron
Gneutron

I'm confused, what did this article have to do with Ray Rice the wife beater? Maybe I was wrong but wasn't it about Jordan Gross? You have my respect BTW Jordan!

Bostonctychamps1
Bostonctychamps1

So, according to the NFL, using marijuana is worse than beating your wife.  He only pushed her.  He knew nothing about the murder.  Hmm, doesn't this make him a repeat offender?  He should spending time with Aaron Hernandez.

AnthonyCameronNajera
AnthonyCameronNajera

All reports of the elevator tape say that he did not hit her! He pushed her away from him. She fell and hit her head on the railing. So everyones reaction so far has been based on completely made up information.

AnthonyCameronNajera
AnthonyCameronNajera

The biggest problem is we keep defining this incident as Domestic Abuse. This is not a case of domestic abuse. Domestic Abuse is an ongoing problem, this was a one time incident. And as laws are changing all over this country on this issue, he was simply defending himself. He has that right. We need to stop portraying anyone in these incidents as a victim. He wasn't a victim, and she most certainly was not a victim. A person should not lay their hands on another person in violence. Regardless of race, religion, or especially sex.

MadDoser
MadDoser

HEY IDIOTS WHO ARE COMPLAINING ABOUT PK:  STOP READING HIS ARTICLES!! You all come and fill these comment boards every week with vitriol and yet here you are reading his articles every week.  That just seems pathetic.

Postulation
Postulation

Why does the NFL have the right to view the entire video, but not the public?  Its fairly clear that PK is alluding to some physical altercation that the Fiance either started or was actively participating in.  Why is this not made available to the public?


BTW, I am not defending Rice or the NFL.  IMO, they should have given him a longer suspension.  I am just curious about who is legally entitled to see the video.

mazinmets23
mazinmets23

It's common sense, people. Why would Peter King rip Roger Goodell and the NFL when he needs them for his job. It's his livelihood. He needs that next Roger Goodell interview, if he bashes him - Goodell may not talk to him. The NFL could shun him. In life, some people cater to those above them and give in, Peter is just one of those guys. He won't stand up for what is right, he gives into the power. This is fine, but being able to truly stand up for what is right (especially when you are a writer who can reach millions) is what separates the real MEN from the boys like Peter.

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

I guess I have a problem with Internet-based lynch mobs. Reminds me of the hysterical commentary on the Joe Paterno story. Heck, let's just pile on. Forget nuance and our legal system. After all, we all would do the right thing in all circumstances.

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

I don't think there is anything PK could have written after his first story on Rice that would have satisfied many, let alone most, people. I'm sure he wishes he could take a mulligan. He could have piled on with righteous indignation like everyone else - would that have satisfied everyone? Guess that's why he makes all the big bucks. After all, I'm sure you would have all written the perfect story.


I did like his article on Jordan Gross. Great to see a guy who knows when enough money to be financially independent is really enough, and it's great to have good health as you get older. I bet there's a lot of guys that wish they had made that decision now they are in their 50's, 60's or 70's.

HeatherKirby
HeatherKirby

I agree. He is a great guy. He deserves nothing but love and happiness with his family.

CarolynGreaterWorksDavis
CarolynGreaterWorksDavis

p.s. You will always find people who didn't do anything with their life blame it on drugs or alcohol or something else negative!!!

MelanieD.Raney
MelanieD.Raney

@kwa612 So? What if it did? That only makes him even smarter for getting out and putting himself and family first.

LScottSmith
LScottSmith

@kwa612 No, the guy's brain was still functioning sufficiently to realize that he couldn't afford to lose the other half of it to CTE. As a tackle, he probably suffered brain trauma every game. Just think about the thousands of players to whom the NFL are now paying for such injuries. Why go to the grocery store at age 45 and need a GPS device to find your way home?

CookieBoy888
CookieBoy888

@dfromson Totally agree mate. The suspension was lousy, PK agreed with that, he just outlined the WHY in the NFL's decision. And as for the people that said that wont read him again, good riddance! That one man/woman has obviously agreed with everything PK has said over the past decade! I think Ive read PK religiously for 18 months and I have agreed with around 80% but i still come back for more. Hell if i didnt agree with someones opinion once and threw them away i would be single right now!

Montana-mountainman
Montana-mountainman

@AnthonyCameronNajera what reports are saying he pushed her? None! Cite your so-called sources. He is a scumbag wife beater and the Ravens actions sicken me and the vast majority of the public/NFL fans.

anskyseven
anskyseven

You know what?  Murder is also a one time incident!  Maybe we should give all murderers a second chance too!

Bostonctychamps1
Bostonctychamps1

@AnthonyCameronNajera  So, were allowed one free punch per woman we date or marry?  Damn, that's great!  Thanks for letting us know.  And you know that Ray never did anything else to her, right?  You don't think that maybe she was influenced by the thought of losing her money train?

Shane Mac
Shane Mac

@mazinmets23 :  You know, your entire paragraph was just damning with faint praise.  I loved it.

MadDoser
MadDoser

@mazinmets23 HA I would love to see you go to work and start slamming the company or your boss for something you dont like.  Guarantee you wouldn't be a "MAN" if the  shoe was on the other foot.

Mike26
Mike26

@BillRobinson Good comment.  I agree - a massive pile-on column wouldn't have truly soothed the masses nor been genuine.  However, I'll be willing to wager that a simple paragraph with some of his true feelings - as a husband and a father - would have prevented about half the ire he's drawn.  Showing his human side would have created some common bonds with many of his readers - unlike what he did, which was mostly regurgitate the press release.  (I wouldn't have read a whole column from him in a pile-on mode anyway.)

Wombat
Wombat

@BillRobinson Good comment Bill. While I don't always agree with PK I do find the angst and acrimony of many critics here to be amusing to say the least... 

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