‘Stability would be nice’
Editor's note: Last March, we caught up with former Wyoming defensive tackle, Mike Purcell, after his final game as a member of the Salt Lake City Stallions, one of eight teams in the Alliance of American Football. It wasn't just Purcell's last game in SLC, the league folded just days later, leaving players in limbo once again. The Denver native would get another chance in the NFL months later, this time with his hometown Broncos. In his first season in the Mile High City in 2019, Purcell tallied 48 tackles from the nose tackle position. He was also credited with eight "stuffs" at the line of scrimmage. This season, he will likely take on an even bigger role with Derek Wolfe now a member of the Baltimore Ravens. This was an interview with Purcell before the Broncos came calling. Stability isn't an issue, it seems, any longer.
SALT LAKE CITY -- Mike Purcell can't sugarcoat it no matter how hard he tries -- he is fed up with a professional life of instability.
Appearing to be a mainstay on the 49ers defensive line for three NFL seasons, the former Wyoming product has barely been able to unpack his suitcase over the past two seasons. Purcell has worn the helmet of five different NFL teams, the Patriots and Chiefs twice, and short stints with the Los Angeles Rams, Bears and Panthers. He hasn't been able to crack a spot on any of those rosters.
Yet he's still shacked up in hotel rooms in Los Angeles, Charlotte, Chicago, Boston and Kansas City, away from his wife and two kids.
"I've been bouncing around, but football is football for me," Purcell said. "It's been tough. I have a family now. I've been dragging them around with me. Sometimes they will just stay home and I'll travel around.
"Football has made my living so far."
His brown F-150 is racking up the miles. So is his body, he joked.
Sitting inside that same truck in the parking lot of Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City last March, Purcell was just wrapping up his eighth game of the season with the only established franchise that has given him that chance, the Salt Lake City Stallions, an expansion team in the upstart American Alliance Football League.
Purcell, 27, raked in more than half a million dollars in salary during his final season in San Francisco. Now he's pulling in $70,000.
For the Cowboys former defensive tackle, money isn't the driving force behind this insecure career.
It's the 4-year old and the 10-month old in the back seat.
"They change everything for the better," he said of his children. "It's extra motivation. That's why I do it -- for them."
The game that was just played inside the stadium behind him was not exactly a shootout. On a frigid night, Salt Lake City outlasted the San Diego Fleet, 8-3, improving their record to 3-5 on the season under former Wyoming head coach Dennis Erickson.
Just a few thousand fans littered the stands inside the home of the Utah Utes. The predominant color in the stadium wasn't the blue and silver of the Stallions, but red from the 45,000-plus empty seats.
Early in the week, reports surfaced that the league was in trouble. This game could be it for the AAF.
Purcell admitted that news had been on his mind. Same goes for his teammates, one of which was former Wyoming offensive lineman, Ryan Cummings.
"Early in the week, everyone was talking about it," Purcell said. "The coaches and owners are behind us. They tell us they don't see it happening. This league has had success."
Whether this is Purcell's final game in Utah or not, he knows the clock is ticking on his football career.
An NFL scout inside the press box said that he has watched Purcell since his days in Laramie. Under Dave Christensen, Purcell recorded 197 tackles, including 15 for loss and four sacks.
Purcell was known for his relentless motor, long bushy black locks cascading from the back of his helmet and his calm demeanor -- off the field. On this night, the pur of his engine could drown out his soft voice.
On the field, well, that's a different story.
"Mike is one of those guys that when he hits the field he is able to flip the switch," Purcell's former UW teammate Gabe Knapton said. "He's one of the nicest guys I know off the field, but when he puts that helmet on and it’s game time, he is a whole different animal."
That temper was on full display in the New Mexico Bowl in 2011. With the Cowboys trailing Temple, Purcell took a swing at an opponent. He was ejected from the game. The senior steamed toward the sideline, launching his gloves into anyone that dare stand in his way.
"That was a B.S. call," Purcell laughed, talking about his final appearance in a Cowboys uniform. "Sometimes they say something that bugs me and I have to retaliate."
One glove actually hit me.
"I'm sorry about that," he said.
There's the nice guy again.
That is definitely not the moment that comes to Purcell's mind when he thinks of his time in Laramie.
"Four years in a row," Purcell said, referring to beating Border War rival Colorado State. Purcell even sacked CSU quarterback Pete Thomas in the end zone in 2011, resulting in the game-winning safety.
"I really enjoyed the small-town atmosphere," he continued. "Reminded me of Friday Night Lights."
Purcell was not shy when talking about his future in the game. Whether or not the AAF makes it through the weekend, the 6-foot, 3-inch, 328-pound is adamant that the end is near.
Living in new cities every few months isn't cutting it anymore. Being away from his family isn't either.
"I'm sure I'm catching up to the end of my career," Purcell said. "Stability would be nice. I'd like to get a few more years in and then hang it up."
What if this was the last game of your career?
"I'll take a few years off," he said with a smile. "My wife is getting into photography, so I'd like to see her business get up and running."
Where does he see himself in three years?
"Eventually, fire fighting," he said.
But before he jumps in the big red truck and blares the sirens, he can't lie, he still wants to play. Another shot at the NFL? Well, that would just be an added bonus, Purcell said.
"It would be nice to be able to prove myself again," he said.