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Saffell Explains His Decision

July 23, 2021

Michael Saffell did all he could to continue his football career, but after a comprehensive study of his physical condition and the potential consequences of another injury, he reluctantly chose to call it quits.

“I went to the limit, every person I needed to help me with the decision and give me the right information,” he said in a Zoom call with the media Friday following his surprising announcement earlier in the day.  “That led us to the decision. It definitely has been one that’s been building for a while, but once we had the right information on it, it was the right time to pull the trigger.”

Saffell, who has had his share of injuries during his Cal career which began in 2017,  had back surgery prior to the 2020 season and was able to start all four games in the abbreviated schedule. 

“I was healthy in 2020 and healthy in the spring and then I had another issue with it,” he said. “This time it was maybe a little more significant. ….I had to get surgery on it just to play in 2020. And as you might imagine, I rushed it back,fought to get back."

Saffell said one reason to leave the sport now was that he didn’t want to risk a lifetime of physical difficulties so common among former players as they age. 

“The great thing is I caught it in time to get pain free and healthy and move on to the next step in the right way,” he said. “A lot of guys get back injuries, especially in the NFL and they can become debilitating at times.”

‘When he announced in the spring he would return to the team for a fifth season, one reason cited was to improve his stock as a potential NFL draft choice. That is no longer a factor.

“I  will be completely done (with football),” Saffell said when asked if he might come back to the game in a year or two if his body mends.

Saffell already has earned an undergraduate degree from the Haas Business School and will continue graduate studies in the fall.

“Thank God I went to Cal,” he said. “It is a really good spot to be in, once you do retire (from football), and have that business degree.  I got a call from Bob Haas right after I made the announcement. That made it easier, having all these top connections, Academics is no joke here.”

He said he spoke to head coach Justin Wilcox, who issued a glowing statement about his erstwhile center. But whether Saffell will have any role with the 2021 Bears is uncertain.

“I will still be in school,” he said. “Me and coach Wilcox kind of hashed some stuff out what we could do, professionally. We are still trying to figure that out.”

The Bears are not bereft of offensive linemen even with the loss of Saffell. They return seven who started at least one game last season: Brian Driscoll, Brayden Rohme, Ben Coleman, McKade Mettauer, Matthew Cindric, Will Craig and potentially Brandon Mello, who could return after entering his name in the transfer portal. Driscoll, who was Saffell’s No. 1 backup in the spring, will likely get the first look as his replacement. 

Behind them are several young players with game experience and some freshmen who might be ready to contribute, including early entry OL Bastian Swinney‍, who also took reps at center in spring ball.

“There will be no drop off on talent,” Saffell said. “With the guys we brought in and ones coming back.”

And Saffell got a little philosophical during the end of his interview. 

“Everyone pays a price to play this game,” he said. “No one comes out of it unscathed. Some pay a little bit higher price to play. I paid the price in full to play this game and I would never trade it for the entire world. I love football, I love Cal and I would do it all over again.”


Michael Saffell Medically Retired from Football

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Saffell Explains His Decision

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