For Marc Colombo, play's the thing

Marc Colombo spent the majority of his 10-year career with the Cowboys and retired in the offseason. AP Photo/Sharon Ellman

IRVING, Texas -- Marc Colombo stood on the sideline early Monday evening at Cowboys Stadium and felt that familiar adrenaline that ran through his body for 10 years.

So badly the former offensive tackle wanted to grab a helmet and put on some shoulder pads and do what he did for three seasons with the Chicago Bears, six seasons with the Dallas Cowboys and one with the Miami Dolphins. Instead, the closest he could get was to talk to his former teammates and coaches as he wore a T-shirt and a pair of jeans.

"I was like a social butterfly, and I'm not like that," Colombo said. "You could tell I was in a happy place."

Monday's game between the Cowboys and Bears was the first he attended since announcing his retirement in the offseason. At 33 and only a few months into this transition, Colombo is content knowing his playing days have ended, but Monday's visit helped him realize that he would want to be a coach one day.

When players retire the statistics are overwhelmingly against them, or so it seems. Stories of financial distress, chemical dependency and poor health seem to dominate the headlines. Colombo watched ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary "Broke" the other night and saw all of the cautionary tales.

For decades athletes live regimented lives with each day morphing into the next without any difference. They perfect a daily routine, and when their careers end they don't have that routine anymore.

They can fall into a malaise.

"Early on you get those feelings," Colombo said. "I'm not going to lie, it's not easy. But in March I had a baby boy [Jack], so there it was early in the offseason and I was changing diapers. I've been busy mentally. Him being born around that time was a blessing because my mind was off not playing football this upcoming season. It gave me time to adjust. I've got a clear vision of what I want to do."

His days start by taking his daughter, Olivia, to school and end tucking his kids into bed with his wife, Jessica. As a player he would be gone before the sun rose and too tired and beat up to do something as simple as that.

When Colombo joined the Dolphins after he was cut by the Cowboys he knew 2011 was going to be his last season, but how his career started helped begin his preparation for life after football. As the Bears' first-round pick in 2002, he became a starter six games into the first season then suffered a horrific knee injury that included major nerve damage and missed 2003 and part of '04.

"To get hurt so early in my career and have almost a zero percent chance of playing again -- at that point I was told no one ever came back from that injury -- I knew that maybe the money I made as a first-round pick would have to last a while," Colombo said. "I didn't know what I was going to do. I was a football player who got a degree from Boston College."

A few years ago he and former Cowboys teammate Leonard Davis opened several Smashburger restaurants in the Dallas area. Colombo said the restaurants are thriving and he swings by to check in on the operation a few times a week.

"It's income that's coming in," Colombo said. "It's good to have that after football."

When he played right tackle for the Cowboys, Colombo weighed 320 pounds. He knew he could not maintain the same diet in retirement that he had when he played. He works with a nutritionist, Jill Lane, and has lost 40 pounds with the hope of losing another 20-25.

"For years I'd eat a lot of bad foods just to keep weight on," Colombo said. "I was at the opposite end of the spectrum where if I didn't eat like crap then I wasn't going to be heavy enough to go out there and throw my weight around."

Gone were the carbohydrates. In came the proteins and vegetables.

He has also attempted to change his body. Heavy lifts have been replaced by more functional movements with his trainer, Jarrett Phillips, in Southlake. With balky joints, especially his knees, Colombo is focusing on strengthening the muscles around his joints and his core.

"I feel the best I've felt in years," Colombo said. "The more weight I lose the better I feel."

To make up for the adrenaline lost when his playing career ended, Colombo has found a new calling: acting. Once a week for five hours he attends REACT, an acting studio in Dallas, to take classes from Nancy Chartier. This week he hired an acting agent, Linda McAlister.

As an offensive lineman, he wished to be almost anonymous, but off the field he served as the lead singer of Free Reign, a heavy metal band that featured teammates Davis and Cory Procter. This weekend a short film he starred in and helped produce, "The Devil Has My Ear," debuts at the Louisiana Film Prize in Shreveport, La.

"In football you're being challenged every day and you get a nervous energy," Colombo said. "The adrenaline you get in front of a class full of people, acting out a scene, it's an exhilarating feeling.

You're nervous. You feel like you're getting ready for a football game."