MIAMI — Sunday's contest against the San Francisco 49ers marks the first Super Bowl for the vast majority of Chiefs players, but it's not a roster devoid of veterans with battle scars who have overcome challenges and emerged the better for it, such as left tackle Eric Fisher.
"I went through a learning growing process and here we are seven years later in the biggest game of my life,” Fisher said as the Chiefs began preparations to face the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV
When the Chiefs chose Fisher with the No. 1 overall selection in 2013, he became just the fourth offensive tackle selected at that position in league history. The first three – Ron Yary in 1968, Orland Pace in 1997 and Jake Long in 2008 – combined to play 37 years in the league with 18 Pro Bowl appearances and two Hall of Fame inductions.
Fisher entered the league with sky-high expectations, and he readily concedes the notoriety caught him off guard.
“Handling that scrutiny, it's probably nothing you can really prepare for. It's something you kind of have to go through. We all go through things in our careers. Nobody's not going to have adversity in life. It was a lot to take on being the first overall pick to be a non-quarterback, first overall pick.”
It also likely helped that Yary, Pace and Long came from blueblood programs Southern California, Ohio State and Michigan respectively. Fisher came to Kansas City via Central Michigan, playing dominant football but not always against the toughest competition. Fisher says it took him three years before he fully felt comfortable in the Kansas City offense.
“The first few years coming out of a small school there's a lot of transition,” Fisher said. “You're seeing some crazy good defenders over there. You adjust to that.”
The criticism stung. Sometimes the harsh reviews were warranted but oftentimes they were mean-spirited and acts of displaced anger. Literally. A Boston meteorologist named Eric Fisher frequently received barbs from fans intended for the football player.
“I've been getting Eric Fisher tweets since he was drafted," the other Fisher said.
Things eventually changed for Fisher. He became more comfortable with the offense and his hard work and perseverance paid off in 2018 with a Pro Bowl nod of his own.
On Wednesday Fisher sat at a podium with a broad smile on his face, answering questions about his early days in the NFL. At one time he might have bristled at the queries. But now Fisher says he's a different person and a different player than he was seven years ago.
“If you're not growing in life, something is not going right,” Fisher said. “I'm glad I went through some tough days early in my career. I think it's prepared me for where I'm at right now as a person, as a player. I think everyone grows (and) matures over the years. It's just something everybody deals with eventually.”
It helped that Fisher had a champion in head coach Andy Reid.
“He's had my back since day one,” Fisher said. “Just his consistency made me want to be a consistent person, consistent player, waking up everybody ready to work, to do my job the best I can do my job and then to put in the work to do my job the best I can do my job.”
Fisher turned 29 just a few weeks ago, which makes him an elder statesman. Super Bowl LIV marks Fisher's ninth postseason game, which is one more than Hall of Famers Len Dawson, Johnny Robinson and Will Shields played in a Chiefs uniform. Only six Chiefs will have more playoff games played for Kansas City.
That list includes Dustin Colquitt, who will play his franchise-record 12th playoff game Sunday, and Anthony Sherman, who will reach 10 postseason appearances. They join Fisher as veteran voices who may not have seen a Super Bowl up close before, but they've seen plenty of everything else the NFL can throw at you.
A former Kansas City journalist, Ernest Hemingway, wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” Fisher embodies that spirit, stronger today because of the trials he faced.
“It's something I had to go through,” Fisher said. “I'm glad I went through it. Looking back now it's like I'm glad I went through those days because here I am now and I think God sets us up with things like that in our life to prepare us for situations like this.
“To be on this stage, to be in this game, who knows if I'd be here if I didn't go through those things.”