As a travel and sports writer, I feel pretty damn confident in my packing abilities. At least until I talked to an NFL vagabond and got the skinny on his packing capabilities, which kind of put mine to shame. It was already apparent he could school me on running routes and perfecting the slant, but packing too?
Meet Anthony Armstrong, Wide Receiver, who’s just signed back up with Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys . Although he’s home in Dallas for the time being, his location on his Twitter bio is pretty telling: “Mostly here, never there.”
Having joined the NFL in 2008, Armstrong has already found a place on four different rosters: Washington, Miami, Jacksonville and most recently his hometown in Dallas. If I were any good at math, I could tell you the percentage that equates to, alas I am not. Finding himself not only in a new uniform and a new city, Armstrong has learned that if he gets one of those career-changing calls (being traded or released), he doesn’t have a lot of time to make the move. “Every time I get a phone call to move, the max I have to get on a flight is about four hours. That means you only have four hours to pack for what you hope to be a very long time,” Armstrong says.
When we talked, at the end of last year, Armstrong admitted to feeling at home with his new team, led by Tony Romo, where he’d be used on offense and special teams. “It feels great, this is my hometown team – the team I grew up watching. It’s kind of one of those childhood dreams for playing for your hometown team,” Armstrong admits. “I’m just happy to be home around my family and friends, just excited for the opportunity,” he says.
Most of the players we hear about on a regular basis (i.e. Andre Johnson, Ray Lewis) have pretty long tenure with their teams, but the path Armstrong has been on for a few seasons is more common than we think. “Honestly I didn’t expect it [being released from Jacksonville]. I went in expecting to go to work and they had to let me go. It was a numbers game, they had to assign other personnel to another position, I just happened to be the odd man out. Gene Smith was adamant that I hadn’t done anything wrong, I was brand new and they had injuries and I ended up being the one they had to release to fill those needs on special teams,” Armstrong explains.
The potential of being released is something that’s on player’s minds all the time. “You have to be aware of it all the time. Being naïve or thinking you’re too good…everyone is replaceable in this business,” Armstrong admits. “It makes me work harder so there aren’t any questions left out there like ‘Can we operate without this guy?’ Coming in midseason the coaches have less of you to watch so you have to make a stronger position,” he says.
Armstrong believes what’s more interesting than his recent travel patterns in the NFL is his actual path into the league. “I took the path less traveled, or probably not traveled at all,” he laughs. “I played a little flag football to stay in shape and got the itch to play again. I played a season with the Odessa Roughnecks for $200/game. We had training camp in the parking lot. It was pretty small time, but it was an opportunity to play the game I loved and keep going. From there, I went to an open workout and caught the eyes of Will McClay [head coach of Dallas Desperados, which is also owned by the Jones family] who brought me in for a workout and I eventually made that roster. After two seasons, I got an opportunity with the Miami Dolphins then got on to Washington,” Armstrong recalls.
Still, being a part of four teams in just five years is a pretty daunting career ladder to continuously climb. Can you imagine changing high school four times? You’d never have anyone to sit with in the lunch room. As someone who went to the same school from sixth grade until my senior year, I sure as hell can’t imagine that much moving around.
“I get along with people well, I can fit in with everybody,” Armstrong admits. The most frustrating part for him? The traveling.
“I’ve lived out of a suitcase for three months now. You’re always changing; a lot of people think playing in the NFL is all glitz and glam all the time, but the truth is you can lose your job in an instant and then have to move across the country and start from scratch. It can be frustrating in that you’re expected to show up day 1 and play at a high-level like you’ve been there all summer with that team. In a sense it’s not very fair but it’s the nature of the business – this is what I wanted to do all my life because I’m happiest on the field running routes,” Armstrong explains.
“Of course you always want to be with one team and get a nice contract and stay there for a while but you have to understand that to keep this opportunity you may have to move somewhere at the drop of a hat,” he continues.
I asked Armstrong for permission to be a little girly for a minute and talk about his travel. What the hell do you pack with only a four-hour window to pack and hightail it to the airport and to do so for four months?
Laughing, Armstrong obliges my girly question veering off football for a moment.
“Lets see, the first time I had to go to Washington from Miami and I just packed sweatshirts to keep me warm, and suits and dress shoes to travel in. I try to consolidate everything into one bag. I do take my playstation with me – that’s one thing I have to travel with all the time. You do a lot of recycling of clothes – I try not to wear the same thing over and over but you don’t really have much of a choice if you’re hopping from team to team,” Armstrong says. “You need to keep it basic – get yourself some jeans, a simple t-shirt, a jacket, and just something to cover up your shirt if you have to wear it three days straight,” he laughs.
Speaking of not being all the glitz and glam we all imagine the NFL to be, the 29-year-old wide receiver is now back home living with his mom. “My friends joke me but I’ve been blessed with that opportunity –I haven’t been home in five years, so this is nice. I make sure to stay out of her way and let her do her thing, and not be a hassle,” the good son explains.
Although it’s a difficult question to ask, you have to wonder if after so much trading around and being released here and there if Armstrong starts to lose faith in his football abilities.
“I just keep plugging away, it’s something that I learned from my mother and that’s where I find my motivation and inspiration,” Armstrong explains. “Growing up she never complained and worked long hours, but she always found a way to provide and make it to our games. I know that whenever I’m out there, training and playing or if I’m hurt, I think about her. Hopping from team to team is a part of the business that some people have to experience and I’m blessed for this opportunity and will continue to make the best out of it,” Armstrong says optimistically.
Shortly after our interview, Armstrong was released from the Dallas Cowboys on December 22, to make room for guard Ronald Leary, in hopes of helping their playoff chances. It seems the numbers game had taken Armstrong’s dream of playing for his hometown team…until today. The Cowboys just signed the WR along with nine others to see what they can do. But fans already know he’ll pack like a champ and work his tail off to prove he belongs on squad.
This post is part of The Blonde Side’s Momentum Challenge series to interview one active player from all 32 NFL Teams within the short time frame of 34 days. Anthony Armstrong and his old/new home in Dallas cross the Dallas Cowboys off the list. This series (sadly), has come to a close and The Blonde Side did not meet the goal of all 32 interviews. Oh well, valiant effort, yes?
Jayme Lamm is a freelance sports and travel writer based in Houston and is currently in a full-court press writing her hugely opinionated sports column, The Blonde Side. Follow her travels for sporting events and check her out on Twitter.