MIAMI: Whether coping with the blood and chaos of a hospital emergency room or facing down marauding opposition linebackers, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is no stranger to pressure.
On Sunday, the hulking Kansas City Chiefs guard faces the most challenging environment of his NFL career when he tackles San Francisco’s rampant defense in Miami.
The 6ft 5in (1.96m), 321-pound (146kg) French-Canadian will also claim an unusual piece of Super Bowl history by becoming the first doctor to play in the NFL showpiece.
A student of Montreal’s prestigious McGill University Faculty of Medicine, Duvernay-Tardif juggled his NFL career and his studies, graduating in May 2018 with a doctorate in medicine and masters in surgery.
He was drafted by the Chiefs in 2014, receiving the phone call from Kansas City just a few hours after helping an obstetrician perform a C-section of premature twins.
With the support of Chiefs coach Andy Reid — whose mother had attended McGill — Duvernay-Tardif was able to continue his studies, heading back to college straight after each season.
“When I got to the NFL the hardest thing was to transition from being a football player 100 percent during the football season,” Duvernay-Tardif told Agence France-Presse.
“Then a couple of days after the season was over having to go back to medical school, and I had to get back to the mentality of being a medical student — at the bottom of the medical hierarchy.
“Being the first to arrive and the last one to leave, filling out all the patient notes.
“It was really a change in mindset that I had to cope with for the past five years.”
‘Good job, doc’
The unflagging support of Chiefs coach Reid was crucial in helping Duvernay-Tardif pursue his twin passions.
“I don’t feel like I would have been able to combine both if it wasn’t for him,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “I had to report late every off-season for four years and it was never an issue for him.
“When I graduated, I flew back to Kansas City right after that last exam. And when I got back into the locker room, coach was there and just said ‘Good job, Doc’. Him saying that meant the world to me.”
Duvernay-Tardif, whose first language is French, grew up in a suburb of Montreal.
He was drawn to gridiron at an early age and took it up seriously after high school.
Duvernay-Tardif, whose job in the Chiefs is to protect quarterback Patrick Mahomes, says his sporting passions have echoed in his medical career and vice-versa.
“My field of interest in medicine is emergency medicine,” he told Agence France-Presse. “And in emergency medicine a lot of things can happen. You never know what’s going to come through the door. Playing football is similar.
“When you’re in critical situations, 3rd & 10 and you’ve got to get a first down. It’s a really stressful situation sometimes. But you’ve got to be able to rationalize it and make logical decisions under pressure.
“You have to ignore all the noise, stay calm, look at the sideline and see where the chains are. It’s kind of the same thing in medicine. When you see a patient there can be blood, there can be different things going on.
“But the important thing is to be able to ascertain quickly what’s going on. You focus on the important stuff — medical airway, breathing circulation, vital signs, stuff like that.”
As a student of medicine and his sport, Duvernay-Tardif is all too aware of the health issues surrounding gridiron. The NFL has reeled from a concussion crisis that forced the league to make a $1 billion (857 million euros) settlement in 2015.
Duvernay-Tardif acknowledges the concerns but says for him at least, the positives have outweighed the negatives.
“For me, I learned so much through football and through team sports in general. And football is the ultimate team sport,” he said.
“You do ask yourself questions. ‘Do I still want to play football? Is it worth it?’ And for me right now it’s 100% worth it. Look where we are right now. It’s a tremendous opportunity and privilege. But I think you do ask those questions, it’s totally normal. It’s like any other job in that respect.”