Alex Mack was set to wed his Irish fiancée in her hometown of Dublin last month, but the COVID-19 pandemic left them grounded in Hermosa Beach. True to his reputation as a man of diligence in all his pursuits, Mack took the postponement of his betrothal as a time to work on his domestic skills.
“I’m learning to bake bread,” he disclosed recently, and on his Twitter feed appeared photos of French rolls, brioche loaves, muffins, and crusty pizzas.
A diet rich in carbs is not immoderate for Mack. He carries 310 pounds on a 6′4″ frame, a necessary size to be an offensive lineman in the National Football League. He remembers always being a Hummer in the fleet of his peers, and he found personal satisfaction in football beginning with Santa Barbara’s YFL.
“I embraced my size,” he said. “It’s a game where you can celebrate the fact you can push people around.”
In combination with the sheer joy of being physical and a relentless drive to work and improve, Mack’s bulk became a potent force. He was an all-everything two-way lineman at San Marcos High, an All-America center at Cal, and a six-time NFL Pro Bowl selection.
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His NFL career has spanned 11 seasons. The first seven, he spent grinding away with the futile Cleveland Browns, who took him in the first round of the 2009 draft. His efforts did not go unnoticed. In 2016, the Atlanta Falcons signed the center to a rich free-agent contract (five years, $45 million). It immediately paid off, as Mack was given credit for solidifying their offensive line, and the Falcons reached the Super Bowl.
Mack has a way of standing out in a position that is usually anonymous unless a snap sails over the quarterback’s head. In the 2011 Pro Bowl, he scored the game’s last touchdown by hustling downfield, taking a lateral, and rumbling 40 yards to the end zone, blowing away safety Roman Harper’s attempt to tackle him. It became a YouTube highlight.
The NFL and the Pro Football Hall of Fame put Mack on their 2010-19 All-Decade Team, announced in early April when there was a dearth of sports news. “I didn’t know that was coming,” said Mack, who tweeted out his gratitude to “teammates, coaches, trainers, equipment guys, family, and friends.”
It’s been an eventful off-season for the 34-year-old veteran. He went to Budapest, Hungary, in February with a contingent of NFL players who conducted a football camp under the banner of American Football Without Barriers (AFWB). It was the fifth time Mack participated in such a camp, having previously done duty in Brazil, Turkey, Finland, and Germany.
On March 10, Mack was elected to a two-year term as treasurer of the NFL Players Association. Five days later, the NFLPA settled new collective bargaining agreement with the league’s owners. “There will be labor peace for the next 10 years,” Mack said, even though he has misgivings about the league adding a 17th regular-season game in 2021. “It’s good for both sides.”
While his wedding will have to wait until next year, Mack is preparing to play in 2020, the final year of his contract with the Falcons. There have been doubts whether crowds will be permitted to swarm into the stadiums, but the NFL released its schedule last week. The first Sunday of the regular season is September 13, and unless the sports apocalypse continues, Atlanta will host the Seattle Seahawks.
“I’d rather play in an empty stadium than not play at all,” Mack said. He said he might even prefer not to have a crowd when he plays at New Orleans, where the deafening noise can mess up the execution of visiting teams. The Falcons are scheduled to visit the Saints on December 6, and a week later (Dec. 13), Mack will come back to Southern California for a game against the L.A. Chargers, who are not expected to have a hostile crowd.
In lieu of off-season training sessions with his team, Mack has been working out at home. He moved his car to the street and converted his garage into a gym with a full set of weights.
His coaches at San Marcos High say that Mack never took it easy. “He out-worked everybody,” Royals line coach Dennis Kittle said. Mack showed up for practice after getting dental work, when he could easily have been excused. He always led the charge when the linemen had to run up a hill at the end of practice.
“If everybody listened like Alex, coaching football would be easy,” defensive coordinator Dare Holdren said. “He was a super nice kid. His freshman nickname was Goofy because he walked funny with his big old feet. As a senior, he was Man Child.”
Mack also wrestled in high school, going from novice to dominant in a hurry. He was 43-2 in his senior year, finishing runner-up in the state finals. His only two losses were to the champion.
Although he became a blue-chip football recruit, Mack never took it for granted. “I made school a priority,” he said. “There’s no guarantee sports is going to work out.” He was a superior student at Cal, majoring in legal studies. In 2008, he received the Draddy Trophy, a k a the academic Heisman, awarded to the top student-athlete in college football. (Now deemed the Campbell Trophy, this year’s was awarded to Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, the top draft pick of the Chargers.)
Mack’s smarts, as well as his athletic ability, have served him well in the NFL. He attributes his durability — he has never missed a game for the Falcons — to “being genetically flexible [he could do splits as a wrestler], and going hard all the time.” Injuries happen, he said, “when they catch you with your leg on the ground. I keep my legs moving. You have to be lucky, too.”
Mack suffered a fracture above his left ankle when a teammate fell on him in the NFC championship game four years ago. He still played most of that game, as the Falcons defeated the Packers, and he made it through every snap of Super Bowl LI, a harrowing overtime loss to the Patriots.
“It was difficult not to be 100 percent,” Mack said. “Before the game, I wasn’t able to practice with my teammates. That was not ideal.”
Mack said he loves NFL football because it is hard. “It’s cool to be part of something so difficult,” he said. “You challenge yourself against the best in the world. And it’s financially rewarding. It’s popular because it’s fun to watch. Any play can be a big, exciting, momentous event.”
As he moves on in his second decade in the big show, Alex Mack is still a big man, and a valuable one.