Two alumni fight for jobs in the land of NFL giants

After graduating from Princeton, many politics majors head to Washington for short-term jobs with uncertain prospects. Ross Tucker ’01 was no exception. But instead of working on Capitol Hill, Tucker went to work for a more physically demanding D.C.-area employer: the Washington Redskins.

Tucker was invited to the Redskins’ training camp as an undrafted free agent guard in 2001 and managed to make the final roster, beginning a peripatetic NFL career in which he climbed the ladder to the starting lineup, with the relative security of a three-year contract, and almost as quickly fell out of the league completely. This spring, Tucker was invited back to the Redskins’ training camp, where he was striving to make the final roster.

“No matter what happens, I’m more or less eternally grateful to this organization,” Tucker said in August, “because if they hadn’t given me that first shot, I wouldn’t have had five years in the league.”

Tucker’s last NFL experience came in 2006, when he started the three preseason games for the Cleveland Browns — his fifth NFL team. He was cut when the Browns acquired a more experienced center just before the regular season started. “I really wanted to give it one more shot,” Tucker said. “I really felt like I wasn’t done yet.”

Tucker’s former Princeton linemate, Dennis Norman ’01, has had a less itinerant NFL career. Drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the seventh round back in 2001, Norman received little playing time in three seasons in Seattle, entering the game mostly on special teams. Released by the Seahawks in his fourth season, Norman was picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars and is likely to be the team’s starting center this year.

“It was actually a blessing that I didn’t play my first three years — that’s three years of wear and tear,” said Norman, who was a three-time All-Ivy tackle at Princeton. “I still feel healthy, I still feel ready to go.”

As Princeton alumni in a league with few Ivy Leaguers, Norman and Tucker have come to expect occasional wisecracks from teammates in the locker room. Off the field, most players have “immediate respect” for a player from Princeton, according to Tucker, but that is not always the case during practice. “There have been times on the field when I feel like because I went to Princeton, people have tried to test my toughness,” he said. “Within two or three days I have to fight somebody just to be like ‘Yeah, I went to Princeton, but that doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m trying to do on the field.’”

Playing in the NFL involves long days that take a tremendous physical toll, particularly for linemen, but Tucker said that being away from the game was difficult as well. There was one silver lining: Having free time allowed him to launch GoBig, an Internet business designed for high school athletes who are looking to send recruiting videos to college coaches.

Tucker may return to his Web business sooner than he’d hoped. In early September, the Redskins placed him on the injured reserve list, and Tucker announced that his NFL career was over. Still, he endured with some gallows humor. “I told [Redskins owner Daniel] Snyder I still had one claim to fame,” Tucker wrote in a story published online by Sports Illustrated. “I am pretty sure that I am the only 28-year-old Princeton grad that has been fired five times already.”