FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- John Wolford was eating sushi with friends at a Japanese restaurant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, when he received an out-of-the-blue call from the green and white -- the New York Jets.
It was Aug. 24, three days before he would begin a new job at Teall Capital, a private equity firm in town. The Jets needed another quarterback for the final week of the preseason, and they saw some promise in Wolford, who had participated in their spring rookie camp as a non-roster player. The Jets offered a contract. He accepted. At dinner, Wolford & Co. celebrated with sake bombs.
"My friends did the sake bombs," Wolford recalled with a laugh. "I had to leave to go pack."
Wolford's excellent adventure lasted 10 days, during which he experienced the best and the worst of the NFL. He participated in three practices, played against the Philadelphia Eagles and made forever memories. It ended abruptly -- he was informed of his release after getting pulled out of a quarterbacks meeting -- but, hey, at least he can say he wore an NFL uniform.
This is a "whatever-happened-to" story about a fine college quarterback out of Wake Forest who put his career in finance on hold to take a shot at a dream. It didn't work out. Maybe it never will. But he has a bright future in investment banking and a hell of a story to share with friends and business clients.
"I know it was brief, but I'll look back and cherish that moment," Wolford said by phone. "Not a lot of people get to go out and play for the New York Jets. I'm working my ass off to get another shot to play for them, but that's the way it goes. I'll remember that time for the rest of my life."
Wolford drew a crowd of reporters at his locker after his first practice. With Sam Darnold, Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater dominating the headlines for weeks, Wolford represented a change of pace. He was a new curiosity, the Wake grad who walked out of the world of finance and into the coolest temp job ever. He got some serious ink in the New York tabloids.
Three days later, Wolford got a firsthand glimpse of the NFL business machine. As the team was preparing to board buses to Philadelphia, the news broke that Bridgewater had been traded to the New Orleans Saints. Wolford knew what it meant for him: A lot of playing time against the Eagles.
Nine months removed from his last college game, Wolford replaced McCown with 9 minutes, 35 seconds left in the second quarter and finished the game. His 15 minutes of fame lasted 39 minutes. At first, he was awed by the experience, but that quickly faded. He'll never forget his second play, an 18-yard completion to tight end Jordan Leggett. Three months later, he still considers it the highlight of the night.
"We talked about it all week," he said. "They brought nickel pressure from the strong side -- Sam Go Cover-3. I changed the protection and hit the seam route on my first throw, and it was like I was playing football again. That was a cool experience."
Unfortunately, Wolford's night sputtered after that. Under tough circumstances, playing with teammates he had just met a few days earlier, he finished 8-for-20 for 89 yards with one interception. Predictably, he was waived the next day, but the Jets saw enough to offer him a spot on the practice squad. He signed the paperwork, participated in the Labor Day practice -- the same day Darnold was named the starter -- and was prepared to make $7,600 a week on the practice squad. Not a bad gig for a quarterback who didn't generate much post-draft interest.
"It's tough, it's tough," Wolford said. "I thought I did well in my time there. You get to that point and you're like, 'I'm here. I'm at the pinnacle of it," and then it's gone that fast. I just wanted more time to prove that I belong. I'm not bitter about it. At the time, obviously, it's tough, but you know that going in. That's part of the league. It's cutthroat. That's how it goes. That's the business world, so no animosity."
A week after his release, Wolford started his job at Teall Capital, where he spends most of his time researching potential acquisitions. The company allows him to work an abbreviated schedule (8 a.m to 1 p.m.) so he can devote his afternoons to football training. He works out at Wake Forest, lifting, running and throwing every day.
No, his football dream isn't dead. In fact, he was in San Antonio this week to participate in a quarterback camp for the new development league, the Alliance of American Football. Wolford will give football another year to see if he can catch on somewhere. If not, he already has secured a job in New York at a big investment bank on Wall Street. Unlike some NFL wannabes who have nothing to fall back on, he has options.
And a terrific memory, along with practice and workout gear the Jets allowed him to bring home.
"It was pretty awesome," he said. "It was hectic, learning the playbook; but all things considered, I thought I was prepared when I got my chance. I feel like I can play, so I'm not giving up on it. I left the Jets more encouraged than discouraged."
Sounds like a sake bomb might be in order.