Kris Durham had been through hundreds of game days. His plan, naturally, was to arrive early, get dressed, take the field and warm up.
Nope, he was told. Taking the field would have to wait.
An under-15 youth soccer game had to finish first.
The former Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans receiver laughed. This was a place so far from where he had been and, yet, so much of where he wanted to be.
“That,” Durham said. “Was one of those ones where I was like, ‘Welcome to Italy.'”nfl nike jerseys cheap china
In Italy, soccer — called calcio — is the sport of choice first, second and third. In Parma, rugby comes next. American football is an afterthought.
Yet here he was on March 5, 2017, on a field shorter than the regulation 100 yards, in a rented-out rugby stadium, playing for the Parma Panthers of the Italian Football League. His last NFL game, a 2015 preseason game playing for Oakland facing the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, had 68,032 fans in attendance.
This game had about 200.
That Durham was here at all was a result of a combination of events so unlikely it felt like it should be a book. In some ways, it was.
John Grisham’s novel “Playing for Pizza” was published in 2007. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, one of Durham’s closest friends, gave him a copy after he arrived in Detroit in 2012. It’s about a former NFL quarterback who was cut and ended up playing in Parma for the Panthers. It was the first time Durham realized football existed outside the United States and Canada.
Durham was released by Oakland during final cuts in 2015. He gave himself until the end of the season to find another job. No calls came. He decided to travel as much as possible as a bridge to his next career — possibly teaching or going into real estate.
A Facebook message brought him back to football.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china
In early 2016, Parma owner Ugo Bonvicini scanned a list of potentially available players. He sent messages to a few of them. One responded immediately: Durham, who was traveling in Europe.
Bonvicini thought he was reaching out to a player with little to no NFL experience. Typically, about 10 percent of inquiries from Bonvicini and head coach Andrew Papoccia — a Chicago-area native who played football at Illinois State — are answered. Most say thanks but no thanks.
Before Durham, only six players with non-strike, regular-season NFL experience had played in the Italian league. Of those, only three played more than 10 NFL games. Only Louie Giammona, a running back for the Jets and Eagles from 1976 to 1982, had a career equivalent to Durham.