(Reuters) - There are many roads that lead to the Super Bowl but few are as bumpy as the one traveled by Denver Broncos linebacker Paris Lenon, who has survived two failed leagues and a team that set the standard for NFL failure.
The only NFL player left from the defunct XFL, Lenon has taken on a bit of a “Last of the Mohicans” notoriety in the buildup to Sunday’s Super Bowl where the Broncos will take on the Seattle Seahawks at a frigid MetLife Stadium.
“I don’t think it sunk in to the point at all,” Lenon told reporters. “I think you have to appreciate every year you’re in this league and not to make light of this situation at all, but first of all, you appreciate the position that you are in being a professional athlete.
“This is an added bonus to be in the biggest game.”
The 36-year-old’s path to the NFL’s championship game reads more like a Super Bowl odyssey than a road map, an epic journey that has spanned continents and forgotten leagues.
From working in a mailroom at the U.S. Postal Service, to NFL Europe, the XFL and eight NFL teams over 14 seasons, the undrafted Lenon has paid his dues.
The brainchild of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) impresario Vince McMahon, the XFL had a brief but colorful one-year run before disappearing as quickly as it had appeared.
The Amsterdam Admirals and NFL Europe are also now part of the gridiron graveyard but Lenon’s career lives on.
“I’ve been hearing a lot of that (being the last XFLer),” smiled Lenon. “I think it’s a cool story, but other than that, I don’t really think about it that much.”
Days away from playing for football’s ultimate prize, Lenon was once considered the NFL’s ultimate loser, part of a Detroit Lions team that went the entire 2008 regular season without winning a game.
Lenon started all 16 games for the Lions in that dreadful campaign and says he is better for the experience.
“When you go through difficult situations it makes you stronger,” said Lenon. “If you can withstand tough times it will make you a better person.
“It’s very frustrating to not have success. We’re in this game to win. Anybody who is playing a sport, you are in it to be a winner.
“If you are a professional, then you are going about your day and your job to the best of your ability regardless of the situation.
“That’s the way I approached it and that’s the way I have always been.”
If misery really does love company, Lenon has had plenty.
Teammate center Manny Ramirez, Seattle Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril and Lenon all share a special bond having suffered through the winless Lions season together.
“That’s the first thing I thought about (going 0-16),” said Avril, one of the NFL’s top pass rushers. “I learned that I never want to go 0-16 again.
“I learned that, me personally, I have to keep working hard and not be the reason why we are losing.
Rookie year I didn’t win any games, and then five, six years later I’m at the big show and hopefully about to win it.”
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue