Life in the NFL is not always as luxurious as it seems. For all the opportunities it provides, the world of professional football can sometimes put a damper on a players' enthusiasm. Contract negotiations, injuries and other distractions can make it hard for a player to keep optimistic and value the game of football like he once did.
However, there is still a large contingency of players whose love for the game never fades. After all, what could be better than playing football for a living?
Meet Packers cornerback Mike McKenzie. You may have spotted him laughing on the sidelines with one of his teammates or cruising around Green Bay in one of his classic cars. Wherever you've seen him, there's a good chance that he was enjoying life. McKenzie is a player who is always happy to be on the football field or just about anywhere else for that matter.
A constant source of entertainment for his teammates, the Miami native flashes a youthful exuberance that seems to flow as free as his dreadlocks. His jovial attitude seems contagious to those around him and though he attacks his assignments with tenacity, having fun is a necessary component in McKenzie's game.
"I've been playing football since I was a youngster and for me to be successful, I have to continue to do the things that have been giving me success and for me that's going out there being focused, but at the same time having a lot of fun," McKenzie explains. "It's still a game regardless of all the things that are involved. It's really all about having fun out there."
Whatever McKenzie is doing, it seems to be working. In 2002, he led the Packers in passes defensed with 15 in spite of missing three straight games in October. McKenzie never backed down from any receiver, with strong performances against top league receivers like Buffalo's Eric Moulds and Minnesota's Randy Moss.
The fifth-year cornerback has become a leader in the Packers' defensive backfield along with veteran free safety Darren Sharper. His aggressive play was vital for a Packers' passing defense that ranked third in the NFL last season, surrendering an average of only 186.7 yards per game. Yet, in spite of his outstanding game performances and generally outgoing personality, McKenzie hasn't always been very comfortable being the center of media attention.
"It's not that I don't like the media. I see both the good and the bad," McKenzie explains. "For me, I just prefer to do my job and get closer with my teammates. That's all I truly care about. The media are going to do their job regardless and I tend not to take part in some of what they do."
McKenzie performs his job with a certain flair, highlighted, of course, by his dreadlocks. He was the first Packer to have them, but definitely not the last.
McKenzie's look has become an ever-growing trend with the Packers. Running back Najeh Davenport joined the team last season with his locks and Al Harris is the latest dreaded Packer, coming to the team this past off-season. McKenzie hopes to see other teammates follow suit.
"I hollered at Frank Winters about to see if he wanted to try it out. Mark Tauscher is kind of up in the air about it," McKenzie jokes, "Sharper is one guy that actually took it to heart and tried it, but as you can see, it's not going exactly the way he would like."
McKenzie, 27, will be a Packer at least long enough to try to convert a few more of his teammates. In January 2002, McKenzie extended his contract with the Packers through 2006, a testament to his loyalty to the organization. His appreciation for Green Bay and its traditions has deepened with the recent upgrades made to Lambeau Field.
"It's a rich tradition around here," McKenzie said. "I love what they're doing with the stadium and bringing back the full feel of Lambeau and the Green Bay Packers and the history that we have here."
McKenzie credits much of his achievements to the environment Green Bay provides. Although McKenzie treasures his notable three-year career at the University of Memphis, he admits he played football in a basketball town. He said he'll always be a Memphis Tiger at heart, but is thrilled to be in a place where all eyes are on football.
"We have the best fans, bar none, in football," McKenzie said of the Green and Gold faithful. "Green Bay gives you an opportunity to really focus on why you're here, and for me, it's football. Between having fans who are really supportive and me being from Miami, once that snow hits it's strictly football to home, football to home. It works out well."
McKenzie often makes the daily trek from home to practice in one of his retro automobiles. Among his many rides, McKenzie owns a 1968 Chrysler Newport and a 1966 Buick Electra. His love of classic cars started long before his professional career.
"When I didn't have much money, an old car was never hard to find. Working on them turned into a hobby for me, so to this day I'm a big fan of old cars," McKenzie said, adding that his roots play a role in his hobby. "Down south, there's antique cars, old cars, restored cars...all kinds of cars."
Among the many features of his custom cars, a good stereo is key. Music is a very prominent part of McKenzie's life. Like many other aspects of his life, his upbringing has shaped his musical tastes and McKenzie samples a variety of selections.
"I've always been really into music," McKenzie said. "Down in Miami, we have a lot of different nationalities and a lot of different music from reggae to salsa, soca, R& B, country, you name it."
McKenzie spent this past offseason working to get his label - 34 Ways Inc. - off of the ground. He did internships in addition to meeting with many underground industry people. McKenzie's website, www.34waysentertainment.com is currently under development and he is trying to sign new acts.
Asked if he had discovered any musical talent on the Packers' roster, McKenzie is taking a 'wait-and-see approach.'
"I don't think too many guys have that skill, although a few of those guys have said, 'You need to check me out,' so I'm keeping my eyes open," McKenzie explains.
McKenzie's education in the music biz is just getting started while his classroom learning is wrapping up. He took two classes in the offseason at Memphis and is very close to completing his degree in business management.
"I believe anytime you start something, you've got to finish it. There's nothing more than having a great education," McKenzie said. "I consider myself pretty much done. I have four classes left, so whether its now or 15 years from now, I'm confident I'll get my degree."
The down-south, multitalented McKenzie is always seizing the day. Collaborating with music moguls, toying with old cars and hitting the books are all rewarding for him, but he doesn't let outside activities deter him from his day job. McKenzie said that the ultimate fulfillment would be bringing the Lombardi Trophy back Green Bay.
"I think for anyone who is playing this game, it's all about winning championships," McKenzie said. "The best part about our job is going out there on Sundays and actually playing and being out there with our teammates."