HUSKY LEGEND: John Fiala Is Purple Through & Through
Dec. 2, 2009
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By Jeremy Cothran
John Fiala still had designs on playing in the NFL. After the Steelers cut their former linebacker, special teams captain and Washington Husky after the 2002 season, Fiala put word to his agents that he would look at any opportunity out there. The Houston Texans presented an offer, and Fiala appeared set to make the move. He had his plane ticket booked.
Then he had a change of heart.
Fiala thought about how sore he was after games, the toll it took on his joints and limbs. Injuries had grown more and more serious each season, ranging from a damaged knee ligament to a messed-up shoulder. A lifelong Seattle- Eastsider, Fiala and his wife had purchased a home in his hometown of Kirkland, where they spent the offseason and wanted to return.
So in a late twist, Fiala turned down the Texans offer, packed up his belongings and moved back to the Evergreen State.
"I had a fantastic career," Fiala said. "But it was time to move on. We had always wanted to head back to the Seattle area. As soon as we got home, we were ready for the next greatest adventure."
Fiala has lived with the decision and harbors no regrets. Now he's a successful residential real estate agent with Windermere and has a family of three children (Clint, Reid and Josie) with his wife Meg. Life back home couldn't be better. And this weekend against Cal, Fiala will be the Husky Legend, an honor he received graciously.
"When you think about the great players in the past that have been selected," Fiala said, "it's amazing; great news to hear."
Throughout his sporting life, Fiala has played and embraced the underdog role. He was a recruited walk-on at Washington, spurning a scholarship offer from USC out of Lake Washington High School to play on Montlake. When asked why he turned down a guaranteed offer in Los Angeles, Fiala pointed to a conversation his family had with Huskies coach Jim Lambright.
"He came into my living room and talked with my family and me," Fiala said. "He said I would have the opportunity to compete for a scholarship down the road. It was what I wanted to hear."
Fiala never had any intention of going elsewhere. This was a kid who grew up with a picture of the "Dawgfather," Don James, on his bedroom wall. A longtime Huskies fan, Fiala spent his childhood attending games at Husky Stadium. On a recruiting trip, the idea of playing at UW was cemented. And later, Fiala fulfilled his goal of achieving a scholarship with his characteristic work ethic during the Huskies' preseason. Later, Fiala would earn a starting role and become a captain before graduating in 1996.
His NFL career had a similar arc. Fiala was drafted in the sixth round in 1997 out of Washington by the Miami Dolphins, who later cut him. In 1998, he signed with the Steelers to their practice squad. But this did not afford him the glamorous life we are accustomed to seeing for NFL players today. The practice squad is eight players who are on the team in addition to the 53 on their official roster. They are paid much less than regular players in the league. Their bodies endure a weekly pounding to prepare the starters for game action.
Fiala spent an entire season on the practice squad in Pittsburgh. He came back to training camp in nearby Latrobe intent of beating out a more established linebacker. Fiala said he performed well, but still had nerves as he sat in his hotel room on the final cut day, waiting for the phone to ring. It did, but the hatchet man on the other end asked for his roommate, quarterback Mike Quinn.
The time spent in Pittsburgh is something Fiala will treasure for a lifetime, much like another former Husky who had success with the Steelers - Mark Bruener. Both are now living in the Seattle metro area, and Bruener was the Husky Legend earlier this season. It was Bruener who also cushioned Fiala's landing into the NFL. On the night Fiala first arrived in Pittsburgh, Bruener and his wife took him out to dinner. Even recently, their paths continue to cross. Fiala joked that he ran into Bruener a few weeks ago at Costco.
"It was good to be able to connect with him," Fiala said with a laugh.
The same attributes that made Fiala successful in athletics have transitioned to his career in real estate. Fiala is also involved heavily with a local non-profit, The Mad House Project. The name comes from a house Fiala lived in after graduation in Seattle's Madison Park neighborhood with his roommates. Each of their lives had been in some form affected by cancer. As they progressed in life and discovered career success, they decided to focus their efforts on the cause. Now the group is affiliated with the Seattle Cancer Care alliance, and last year, Fiala and his partners raised $150,000 for cancer research.
Fiala would also like to become more involved with Washington football, but must juggle time with his profession and his family. But he likes what he's seen from new coach Steve Sarkisian.
"He radiates winning," Fiala said. "That is very contagious. It has a great effect on the team, but it takes some time. Players need someone like that to believe in, someone who doesn't believe he's going to lose at all."