The NFL dream can fade quickly, and some players are more ready for it than others.
Former Cardinals punter Carl Birdsong always had a plan – so much so that football was the real backup. Birdsong, now 55, played his first two years of college football at West Texas State in 1977-78 and was a pre-medicine major. As he moved further along in his studies, Birdsong realized the strain a doctor’s career puts on family life, and decided to switch schools to focus on pharmacy.
Southwestern Oklahoma State became the destination because the coaches allowed him to meet the demands of both college football and a heavy course workload.
“When I was going to school, I knew I could control my destiny more with my pharmacy career in that regard,” Birdsong said. “I didn’t come from a family with a lot of resources. Football afforded me the ability to have a college education, and while I was in school I had to make the most of my opportunities.”
Birdsong went to training camp with the Bills in 1981 following a four-year college career. He was one of eight punters cut, but then-Cardinals coach Larry Wilson called soon after and asked him to try out for the team in St. Louis.
Birdsong won the job and punted for the Cardinals from 1981-85. He led the NFC in punting in 1982, averaging 43.8 yards per punt. He made the Pro Bowl in 1983, joining stars like Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Joe Theismann, Lawrence Taylor and Walter Payton.
“That was a great memory,” Birdsong said. “That was probably the greatest collection of talent at any Pro Bowl.”
Despite his on-field success, Birdsong never put his pharmaceutical career on hold. He finished his degree during his first two years in the league and worked in the football offseason as a pharmacist. Just like in football, Birdsong said it was important to hone his pharmaceutical craft.
“When you’re not in school and not practicing, you’re not as sharp in your training,” he said.
Birdsong was released by the Cardinals in 1986 during a coaching switch because the new staff preferred a punter who could also hold kickoff duties. He was given an opportunity to try out for the Broncos, but since it wasn’t a guarantee, Birdsong chose to stay home in Texas to be with his wife, who was ill.
He went full-time into pharmacy and is now the president of Maxor National Pharmacy Services Corporation.
“I knew football was a short-term career,” Birdsong said. “It was very important to prepare myself for life.”