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Mat Mendenhall: The One That Got Away

Posted by Christopher Mudd on February 26, 2013 – 5:54 pm

Mendenhall 3513_001 (1)

Pictured above (left to right): wide receiver Art Monk, general manager Bobby Beathard, head coach Jack Pardee, and defensive end Mat Mendenhall.

The Washington Redskins 1980 NFL Draft class landed them eight players in total. Six of those players did not make the final roster in the first year. One was a wide receiver would go on to win three Super Bowls as a Redskin, Art Monk.

And one player turned out to be sort of a mystery.

Mat Mendenhall, a defensive end from Bringham Young University, became a Washington Redskin in the second round of the 1980 NFL draft.

At 6′ 6′ ‘ and 253 pounds the senior from BYU was a physical specimen coming out of college. He came from athletic family. His father Paul played defensive end at BYU from 1953-1954. His younger brother, Bronco Mendenhall played defensive back at Snow College from 1984-1985 before transferring to Orgeon State for his final two years.

Bronco Mendenhall got into coaching after his career ended, and in 2005 took over as the head coach BYU, a position he currently still holds.

Given the football crazed family that Mat Mendenhall grew up in, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he ended up playing football. But what was a surprise to many was the fact that Mendenhall lived to see his NFL dreams fulfilled.

During the summer leading into his senior season at BYU, Mendenhall started to experience a pain in his stomach but did not think it was anything serious. When the pain remained two months later he had it checked out.

“When it was finally discovered, they said the appendix had been ruptured six or seven weeks,” Mendenhall recounted at his first press conference at Redskin Park. “I had two operations about a week apart, the second because of complications.”

Mendenhall remained in the hospital for three weeks after his second operation, and when he left his physical limitations put his football career in serious question.

He could barely walk across a room on his own. Mendenhall would not be deterred, however, and was diligent about his rehab and exercise.

He missed the first three games of his senior season, and then began to play little-by-little, slowly increasing his playing time until he was able to start the final three games of his college career.

Fast-forward to April 29, 1980 and the NFL Draft. The Washington Redskins made Mendenhall the 55th overall player selected that season.

With his health issues behind him, Mendenhall played in 14 games his rookie season. The NFL did not implement sacks as a statistic until the 1982 season, so Mendenhall’s rookie statistics cannot be measured like they are today.

The Redskins finished 8-8 in his rookie season, but the 1982 season had a totally different outcome.

In 1982 the players went on strike and as a result the season was cut from 16 games down to nine. Mendenhall played in all nine games, helping the Redskins to a 8-1 record. They stormed through the playoffs and were crown Super Bowl Champions after beating the Miami Dolphins 27-17.

Fresh off of  Super Bowl victory in just his second NFL season, Mendenhall returned in the summer of 1983 for training camp. What happened next is hard to explain.

About four weeks into training camp (which lasted six weeks in those days) Mendenhall left and went back home to Salt Lake City, Utah without telling anyone.

The Redskins gave him one week to return to training camp, which Mendenhall declined to do. With his return unknown, the Redskins placed him the non-football injured reserve list. Mendenhall would never come off that list, or return to the National Football League.

After just two seasons and one Super Bowl victory, Mat Mendenhall called it quits. The reasons why may never be publicly known, and will likely only ever be fully understood by Mendenhall himself.

One thing is for sure: Mendenhall’s recovery from a life threatening appendix surgery and the fact he was still able to play in the NFL is nothing short of amazing. Maybe that experience had a larger impact on Mendenhall than anyone could know.

He even said so himself:

“Something like that makes you change your priorities. You realize that you’ve taken a lot of things for granted. When it’s over you have a new outlook on life.”




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