Print and Go Back espnW.com:

Thursday, November 15, 2012
Rams' Matthew Mulligan finds solitude in hunting

By Jane McManus

Every player in the NFL is unique and has interests off the playing field. Every week this season, espnW will profile a player to learn about his other passions. We call it Street Clothes.

During the NFL season, Matthew Mulligan's life is a whirl of practices, meetings and studying the playbook for a test that comes every week. All of it is done knowing that, as for any football player, his hold on the job is tentative.

A tight end, Mulligan is in his first year with the Rams and is accustomed to the pressure after five years in the league. But he doesn't crave it.

Mulligan is most comfortable in the woods near his home. For him, it's a postcard setting in rural Maine. He can track an animal near a stream on a hunting trip or help his father build a cabin on the land behind his childhood home.

"I think we play a sport for a living, and as far as I'm concerned you are consumed by that," Mulligan said. "But after that's over, I like to just get away from that and so I like to be in the woods."

No TVs or cellphones. Just an unbroken dawn and a few hours of solitude.

A football stadium -- with fireworks on home team intros, blaring music and the constant roar of thousands of fans -- might seem far removed from that kind of peace. And that may be why NFL players, from Giants defensive end Justin Tuck and Packers linebacker Frank Zombo to Mulligan's teammate offensive lineman Rob Turner, have the telltale camouflage jacket or cap hanging in their locker. They enjoy the quiet of the outdoors.

Mulligan is a booming presence in an NFL locker room, a 270-pound, 6-foot-4 blocking tight end with a boyish smile and prankish sense of humor. He grew up in Lincoln, Maine, which has a population of little more than 5,000 and is located in the middle of the state. There were 38 other students in Mulligan's graduating class at Penobscot Valley High School, and his father, Terry, worked in the local paper mill.

Maine gets starkly cold in the winter, when the wide tracts of unbroken forest lie dormant under blankets of snow. As oppressive as winter can be for the inhabitants of the town, it's harder on the wildlife. Food is scarce, and the cold keeps the deer population down.

Mulligan's father started hunting regularly when the boys were little.

"It helped with the grocery bill," Mulligan said. "We could put money toward other things."

Mulligan's older brother, Jared, never took to hunting in the way Matt did. Matt was 6 years old when his father first took him along on a hunting trip to help track and observe. When he was old enough to use a firearm, Mulligan's father taught him about gun safety.

And, when Mulligan was 14, he got his first deer.

"It was a 400-yard shot; the deer was on the run; and my heart was pounding," Mulligan said. "I didn't hit it exactly the way you should."

It's as fresh in his memory as the tracks he followed that day.

"My father has instilled this in me, when you hit any animal, you follow the trail until you find the animal," Mulligan said. "We followed the trail that day for three-and-a-half, four hours."

They found the deer he had wounded, a young 180-pound buck, eight points on his antlers. Mulligan finished him with his Remington, and his father showed him how to dress the animal right there in the forest. A few days later, the family had deer burgers. The rest of the meat was dried for venison jerky.

Like a lot of families who hunt, the Mulligans had an extra freezer so they didn't waste any meat. Now "free-range" and "no hormone" meat fetches a higher price at high-end grocery stores. Back then, Mulligan just thought it tasted better.

"It's natural, and there's nothing added to it," Mulligan said.

Last winter, the 27-year-old Mulligan married Stephanie, who he has known since his days at the University of Maine. When they returned from a honeymoon in Hawaii, Mulligan helped his father build a cabin in Maine. His father framed out the roughly 16-foot by 25-foot structure, and Mulligan helped finish the floors and the roof. There might not be electricity, but, at night, if you open a window, you can fall asleep listening to the stream out back.

"Nature's way of putting you to sleep," Mulligan said.

During the season, Mulligan puts his hobby on hold, although he has seen some players get up before dawn to go hunting before practice. He has noted the difference in terrain of Missouri and New Jersey, where he played for the Jets. He said that between the regular season and the unfamiliar landscape, it's not as comfortable.

For Mulligan, there is no place like Maine.