Sept. 1, 2006
HOUSTON (AP) - For Dr. Mark Adickes, NFL offensive lineman and medical residents have a lot in common.
Players slugging it out in the trenches go largely unnoticed and unappreciated, surrendering the limelight to quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers.
"So a resident is very much like that," Adickes said. "Your job is to work your tail off to keep all your patients healthy so that they can thank the attending physician."
Adickes knows this because he's done both.
He spent seven seasons protecting quarterbacks and blocking for running backs as an offensive lineman in the NFL, even winning a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins.
But after his playing days ended, he didn't follow the road many players take - buying into a business franchise or going into broadcasting. Instead, he opted for the underpaid, sleep-deprived experience that is medical school and residency.
"As a surgical resident, you work very long hours, you get very little time off. You definitely have to swallow your pride on a regular basis. You get paid nothing," said Adickes, whose imposing 6-foot-5 frame belies his easygoing demeanor.
After spending the last 13 years on his medical training, Adickes has his dream job as an orthopedic surgeon with Memorial Hermann's Roger Clemens Institute for Sports Medicine and Human Performance in Houston's Texas Medical Center.
Adickes, who graduated from high school in Killeen, was an All-American at Baylor. He started his pro football career in the now defunct USFL in 1984, playing two seasons before moving up to the Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins.
Although Adickes was never a star in the NFL, he considered himself a good lineman, helping the Redskins win the Super Bowl after the 1991 season.
"You get six months off a year. You get to take out your frustrations every day on the practice field. You get paid well. And the hours are reasonable," he said.
Going to medical school, however, didn't turn out to be as pleasant.
Even before he could apply to medical school, Adickes, who had earned a business degree at Baylor, had to go back to college for three years to take the science courses he needed.
He retired in 1992 and enrolled at George Mason in Virginia the next year.
"I got into class, particularly physics, and I didn't have a clue as to what they were talking about," he said. "I had forgotten all of my trigonometry. I went to Barnes & Noble and bought a book on trig and retaught myself so I could take the physics class."
Adickes persevered and was accepted by Harvard University Medical School.
Many of his classmates thought it was "really cool" he was a former athlete who had gone back to school. He hopes it changed some stereotypes about athletes.
"There are definitely some very bright people that played football, even defensive players," he said.
But in the end, Adickes was just like any other student and later medical resident - he worked long hours, got little sleep and had to spend time away from his family. While in medical school, Adickes had three children. He now has five.
"I was a little worried about him being a 40-year-old intern. It's hard at whatever age you choose," said his Baylor teammate and longtime friend, Dr. W. Roy Smythe, chairman of the department of surgery at Scott & White Hospital in Temple.
In Adickes' Houston office, photos from his NFL playing days and a plaque from his induction into the Baylor sports hall of fame share space with his Harvard diploma and books on hip and knee surgery.
Adickes said he misses football, but that he's focusing on his family and his medical career.
"I was just lucky enough to be a big lug and be able to play football and be able to get through med school," he said.
And like in the NFL, it's your teammates who appreciate what you've done.
"It's hard to believe that somebody would be able to go through a career as a professional football player, (have) gone back and completed the credits necessary to enter medical school and excel in a medical school like Harvard," said Dr. Tom Clanton, medical director of the Clemens clinic.