For Dylan McFarland, the road between Kalispell and Hamburg, Germany, was paved with grueling NFL training camps, dinners with Brett Favre and prolonged moments of awe – a Flathead boy living the NFL dream.
Today, the dream is over, but the 27-year-old McFarland has no regrets. Back at the University of Montana, where he won a national championship and earned two All-American selections with the Grizzlies between 1999 and 2003, he’s too busy with law school semester exams today to think about the NFL career that once was.
“What I’m going to do tomorrow is be in school and that’s fine,” McFarland said.
The former Flathead High School and Grizzly standout, McFarland was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the seventh round of the 2004 NFL Draft after wrapping up a stellar college career at UM. For the next three years, the 6-foot-5-inch, 300-pound offensive tackle bounced around on the Bills’ practice squads, sometimes making the game roster, and even did a stint for NFL Europe’s Hamburg Sea Devils in 2006. During a game in Europe, McFarland damaged the cartilage in his left knee though he continued to play seven more games before undergoing microfracture surgery.
After surgery, McFarland said he returned back to the football field before his knee was ready and ended up needing another surgery in December of 2006 to repair a torn meniscus. When he showed up for tryouts a few months later for Carolina and Oakland, he didn’t pass his physicals. He understood then that even if he got healthy enough to play again, his knees would only get worse.
“For me, I don’t think I’ll ever be 100 percent again,” McFarland said. “That was part of my decision. I want to be able to go fishing, hiking, and enjoy Montana and be able to teach my kids how to play basketball.”
The soft-spoken McFarland discusses football today as something of a different lifetime, though it was only earlier this year when he was at tryouts. He’s been married for a year and a half now to Allie McFarland, with whom he graduated from high school. They have no kids, but McFarland talks about his life in the context of family – completing law school, staying in Montana for work and later relying on his fragile knees to teach his kids sports. He has no plans to return to football, he said, other than maybe coaching in the future. The new life is fine with him.
“It’s definitely nice to be back in Montana,” McFarland said. “One thing I don’t miss is the instability of playing football – the week-to-week, day-to-day pressures with your body and not knowing if you’re going to make the cut.”
McFarland recalls an off-season scrimmage at the famous Lambeau Field in Green Bay. The Montana boy who grew up watching Brett Favre and those wild cheesehead fans suddenly found himself jogging out onto the Frozen Tundra, with Favre standing on the opposite sideline.
“It’s cool,” McFarland said, “being able to meet Brett Favre and sit down and eat dinner with him like you’re just regular guys.”
McFarland also talked about meeting NFL legends like Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith. Not to mention, his job was protecting quarterback Drew Bledsoe, the Bills’ starter at the time.
“Guys like him you’ve watched for so long,” he said of Bledsoe, “and now you’re sitting in a locker room with him.”
In Hamburg, McFarland got a lot of playing time, but most of his time with the Bills was spent on the practice squad. He estimates he took 18 snaps in regular season play for the Bills. But he got plenty of action in preseason games, including the first game of his career against the Denver Broncos – his favorite team growing up. It was also the first professional game his parents had ever attended.
“That was one of the moments for me where I just knew I was lucky to be where I was at,” he said.
Mike McFarland, Dylan’s dad, said his son has always endured tough breaks with injuries and understands how to cope with them. In high school, Dylan was recruited by schools such as Oregon, Washington and Harvard. Mike said Ivy League schools were interested in Dylan because he had earned straight A’s and was valedictorian of his class. But during his senior year, Dylan broke his foot and some of the bigger schools lost interest. That injury, Mike said, may have been a blessing in disguise, as it helped direct his son to UM.
“Those breaks come and go, good or bad,” Mike said. “In the long run, that’s always been a great thing for him to go to Montana. Dylan’s a Montana guy; he likes to hunt and fish.”
McFarland’s parents and grandparents live in Kalispell, as does Allie’s family. He’ll probably end up back here, he said, if he decides to move from Missoula after law school. With his football career behind him, there’s nothing that can drag him from western Montana, he said.
“I miss the competition a little bit, but it helped me get a good start in life,” he said. “Now I can go and hike around with my buddies and do some duck hunting, maybe the next day go fishing with some buddies. I love Montana.”
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.