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John Blanchette: Michael Roos hopes his post-NFL curling obsession turns into an Olympic opportunity

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 4, 2020

It can be said that professional athletes are not like us civilians. And even when they are, they’re not.

For instance, who among us when presented with a proposition to take on some off-the-wall endeavor hasn’t said yes at least once? Just for the hell of it, in most cases.

Well, the same goes for the pros. Let Michael Roos explain.

The former Tennessee Titans tackle – whose down payment on that red turf changed the whole presentation of football at his alma mater Eastern Washington – is retired in Nashville, Tennessee, after a 10-year career. Also living there is retired defensive end Jared Allen, who saw Roos across the line off and on during their college years (he played at Idaho State) and in the NFL.

“One night me and my wife were out with him and his wife and we’re getting drinks at the bar,” Roos recalled. “He asked me, ‘I’m starting a curling team. Do you want to join it?’

“Without skipping a beat I said, ‘Yeah, of course.’ ”

Except there was a little more to it.

The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, as it turns out. Allen, Roos and another ex-NFLer, quarterback Marc Bulger, aim on competing for gold there.

Not exactly a drunken dare to do the Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day, is it?

If it were as simple as that, you’d be seeing Roos on his old campus next week competing in the 2020 USA Curling National Championships at EWU’s Recreation Center. And be there he will, but with only ceremonial duties. The NFL guys failed to make it through the challenge rounds last month in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

“It’ll be nice to be back,” Roos said. “It’d be better if we’d qualified.”

But then, you don’t make it up K2 the first time you lace up hiking boots, either.

Indeed, the whole venture seems preposterous, except for this: these guys have climbed such mountains before. Roos was an All-Pro with the Titans; Allen earned that distinction four times and is a likely Hall of Famer. Bulger unseated Kurt Warner with the then-St. Louis Rams and was a Pro Bowl MVP. Keith Bulluck, an original Team Allen member, is another All-Pro.

“If you’re a pro athlete, you believe in yourself and your abilities to master something,” Roos said. “I’d never been on a curling sheet and didn’t know a single rule, but my answer was yes – because I know I’ll figure it out.”

Still, this was all birthed on a bet: Allen wagering a friend he could make an Olympic team in something. His first notion was badminton, possibly remembering picnic friendlies as a kid. As it turned out, Allen’s knees started aching just watching high-level matches online.

So, curling.

Now, let’s be honest. If any of us had a wild midlife fever dream of being an Olympian, pragmatism would probably steer us to curling. There is no running involved and the practitioners look like geometry teachers, paralegals and sports writers. Most of us have wielded a push broom to sweep out the garage, right? And we’ve already mastered the art of the postgame pint, a curling tradition.

Well, among the things curlers discuss over those pints is how perpetually underestimated their game is, and Allen’s wager seemed like a classic example.

“We found out quickly it’s way harder than it looks,” Roos admitted.

And since they’d skipped straight to curling’s big leagues, there were a lot of 10-0 and 9-1 wipeouts in their initial matches. Before this season, they recruited 2010 Olympian Jason Smith to be their skip and absorb the strategic burden, and help them develop their on-ice skills. They won their first match last October in St. Paul, Minnesota, and even got to the finals of an event in suburban Lakeville, Minnesota, a month later. In Grand Forks, they won their second match before back-to-back losses eliminated them.

Given that their practicing in Nashville is limited to rough hockey ice and they have to fly to the Twin Cities for bursts of training and scrimmages, it’s reasonable progress. Maybe better.

“It’s more like they’ve been throwing six, seven, eight years,” Smith said. “They want to get better, and from their (NFL) experience they know what that takes.”

And that’s greased their entree into the curling community – which is pretty chummy as it is, up to a point.

“Of course, when Jared said he wanted to make the Olympics, it put a target on their back,” Smith said. “But when they saw their commitment and that they had come to play, everyone started to treat them like curlers.”

Really big curlers. Smith jokes he “can’t shave or else I’ll look like their kid.” He also notes Roos, the biggest of them all, “has the best touch.”

Said Roos, “It’s like my golf game. You wouldn’t think it, but around the green I’m pretty good.”

But he isn’t gunning for the PGA Tour. So why the Olympics?

“You always have to have the ultimate goal in front of you,” Roos said.

“Otherwise why do it? If this was just a fun thing on Wednesday nights, you might get bored. But the challenge of beating the best guys in America and then maybe the world, well, it keeps the juices flowing.”

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