BY TABARI DOUGLASS McCOY
History. No one expected it Oct. 22 at Paul Brown Stadium when Corey Dillon's monumental 278-yard rushing performance put him in the NFL record book.
But for Bengals reserve linebacker Marc Megna, he made history simply by playing last week in Dallas. It was his first NFL game in a story that reveals the highs and lows of life in the NFL. Megna recently sat down with bengals.com to discuss his triumphs, travails and the hard work he endured on his journey to personal history.
Now in the thick of a NFL season, Megna's day begins early, in almost militaristic fashion. Getting up at 6:15 in the morning in a hotel room he jokingly calls his "luxury pad," Megna makes sure to eat breakfast at the stadium to save money. He spends the rest of his days in meetings, practice, film review and training before going back to the hotel to do homework and watch film.
At 6-2 and 245 pounds, Megna is no lightweight among NFL linebackers. A standout college defensive tackle, Megna won many awards with the Division I-AA Richmond Spiders.
Under the tutelage of coach Jim Reid, the only man to offer him a scholarship, Megna's statistics read like those of a probable first-round draft pick. He had 292 tackles in 45 games, 27 sacks in his final two seasons, consensus Division I-AA All American, Atlantic 10 Conference Champions in his senior year, the list goes on. But getting into college was not as easy as the numbers would have you believe.
"A lot of schools looked at me, but the only one that came forward with the money was UR (and) thank God because I don't think I would have went to college (without it)," Megna said.
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A red-shirt freshman his first year, Megna was brought in to be a linebacker before switching back to his natural defensive line position because of the team's depth. Megna went on to start 45 straight games at defensive tackle.
But Megna wasn't even thinking about a NFL career until one of his coaches who was also a former pro scout told him that he might have a chance. Thus, unlike many star college athletes, Megna's pre-draft status didn't contain overwhelming hype.
"I worked out at UR. I lived in a small room in the field house so I could be near the weight room and track so I could train," Megna said. "I had an apartment on campus, but they only housed me for the first half of the year because I was a fifth-year senior."
The bigger problem was dealing with the rigorous workout schedule he had to undergo for the NFL scouts.
"I wasn't a high-profile player. Top players like (Bengals rookie wide receiver) Peter Warrick, for example, say (to scouts) 'I'm working out in February on the 20th, that's when I'm working out, so if you want to see me, that's when you come,'" Megna said. "If you're Marc Megna, scouts come through (and say), 'We want to see you work out today. Are you ready?' I can't say 'Aww, I'm tired (because) I worked out yesterday.' I had to work out for everyone."
Megna found some temporary relief when the Jets picked him late in the sixth round with the 183rd overall pick of the 1999 Draft. The relief would only be temporary because the Jets cut him at the end of training camp. A projected linebacker coming into the draft, Megna's lack of linebacker experience may have been a reason he was cut.
Megna remembers former Jets head coach Bill Parcells' final words. The future Hall-of-Famer told Megna he could play good football, just not good enough for Parcells.
"That was a slap in the face to me because I've spent my whole life (doing things to play football)," Megna said, "That was a low point in my life because it was the first time in my life someone told me I couldn't play football (which is) something I love to do more than anything."
A native of Fall River, Mass., Megna grew up within an hour's drive of the New England Patriots' home in Foxboro. Just one day after the shock of being cut, Megna's hometown team wanted to give him a chance.
"I drove back to the University of Richmond, worked out for a day and the Patriots called me and said 'Hey, we want to sign you,'" Megna said.
The team signed him to their practice squad last season in September and signed him to the active roster late in the year. But Megna never made it on the field and tried to learn on the sidelines.
After the season, Megna was allocated to the Barcelona Dragons in NFL Europe, which proved to be a valuable experience. Except for one major incident: The theft of his computer and files containing the notes of a journal he hoped to publish one day.
"(I had) $8,000 worth of stuff (stolen)," Megna said, "I was thinking I'm going to get rich either playing football or reading this book, now it's gone."
Returning to the Patriots in 2000, Megna expected to be in much better position to make the team. That's when Megna got hit with the final blow.
Former Jets defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, the same coach who played a key role in his release from the Jets, was now the New England head coach.
"I went into training camp with the Patriots and I was doing fantastic or at least I thought I was," Megna said. "I learned everything I needed to learn and I did everything I needed to do (and) come cut time, they released me."
It was déjà vu. Belichick told him the same thing Parcells did.
"I'd be lying if I said I knew why (they cut me)," Megna said, speculating his one season of NFL experience made him too expensive. "Maybe they just didn't think I was good enough. That's the bottom line."
Fortunately for Megna, the Patriots' decision to cut him was not the bottom line for his chances to have a NFL career. Two weeks after his release, Megna received a call from Bengals linebacker coach Mark Duffner. Megna remembered Duffner as the coach who worked him out the hardest in his NFL tryouts.
Duffner's dedication made a strong impression on Megna and vice-versa. Megna signed with the Bengals practice squad Sept. 13.
"I loved it," Megna said. "I was impressed with him because he's so enthusiastic in the way he attacks his job. That's why I'm so fortunate to have Mark Duffner as a coach (now) because he drills me on (what I need to know)."
Busy and new to the area, Megna doesn't get a chance to get out much. But he still finds time to make it to a movie at least once a week.
"I go to a movie every Friday to see the new big release (of the week) whatever it may be," Megna said. "I love the movies and I'm usually the only one in the theatre since I go (so early)."
Volunteerism occupies much of Megna's free time.
"I don't think the players realize that there is a large population of people who just think the world of them," Megna said, "It's important for the players to realize that people know they do work hard and respect them and that's something special.
"There's a bunch of guys here that have families and kids of their own and that's their responsibility and I respect that," Megna said. "I don't have kids and I don't have a family so if I spend time with these kids and put a smile on their face, I think that's pretty cool."
But Megna's prime commitment remains football.
"All I want to do is make the team and contribute," Megna said. "If I play special teams for the rest of my life, I don't care. I really believe I can play here. I'm just waiting for a chance."
Now, Megna's chance may have finally come. After toiling on the practice squad for several weeks, Megna was added to the team's active roster Nov. 9, taking the place of injured MLB Brian Simmons when Simmons was placed on injured reserve. Megna made his NFL debut on special teams against Dallas last week, although he was not credited with any defensive statistics.
With linebackers Adrian Ross and Canute Curtis still hurting, Megna is primed to play again when the Bengals' face his former team on his home turf this Sunday.
"I've been there before," Megna said. "I played in . . .pre-season games late in the year when it was pretty serious."
For most, the Bengals game against the Patriots Sunday will be just another test for a team in the process of trying to turn around a season. But for Megna, it is a homecoming with mixed emotions. In fact, it's more than a homecoming. It will be historic.