Joe Hawley made it to the NFL and made millions of dollars over an eight-year career.
Now, he gets to live the American Dream.
Via Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times, the former Buccaneers and Falcons offensive lineman has taken a unique approach to retirement, embarking on a new journey this week.
The 29-year-old Hawley gave away most of his belongings, bought a customized camper/van, adopted a dog and is setting out to see the country at his own pace.
“It was always an idea I had. I never really ran with it,” Hawley said. “When I decided I was done playing, I started getting stressed out about what I wanted to do. I took a step back: ‘Dude, you’ve got money. You’re single. You’re 29. You don’t have a job. Take advantage of the opportunity.’ ”
Hawley is doing this in style, an updated version of John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley,” with a video blog in place of a book that you read in high school and always want to recreate. And instead of a French poodle, he adopted a boxer mix named Freedom from a kill shelter, and he’s hitting the road and chronicling it under the Man Van Dog Blog banner.
Hawley spent $55,000 to buy and customize a cargo van for the trip. He has a fold-out bed, a freshwater tank, solar cells on top of the van and everything he’ll need for the journey. He’s already lost 50 pounds, and said he doesn’t miss the ulcers he developed last season because of the mental stress of his job.
“Like 95 percent of football players, their career ends before they want it to,” he said. “For me, I’m so grateful and blessed I was able to exhaust all the football I had. I’m very satisfied with my career. I gave it my all. I don’t have any regrets. It was my time. It’s pretty cool I’m able to move on from football without the ‘what if.’ ”
“Just the stress — I was waking up every day, unhappy, unsatisfied,” he said. “The fun thing about football is playing the game, and I was doing all the hard work without that. … (The ulcers) were another turning point: I can’t put my body through this. You have to enjoy your life, too. I don’t want to be in a wheelchair.”
Instead, he’s on his own, in a far different set of wheels. He has no itinerary, though he plans to hit a lot of the tourist spots like Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore, and Glacier National Park, as he tries to see America and write his own next chapter.