Commentary

Shuler enjoying second stint in nation's capital

Heath Shuler is making a difference in politics just minutes from where he didn't make it as an NFL quarterback, writes James Walker.

Originally Published: April 17, 2008
By James Walker | ESPN.com

Heath ShulerAndrew Whalen/Getty ImagesSo far, Heath Shuler's foray into politics has gone a lot better than his tenure as the Redskins' QB.
Heath Shuler is not afraid to admit the obvious.

"This visit to Washington, D.C., has been a lot better than the first,'' he said this week, laughing.

Shuler's first trip to the nation's capital took place in 1994 as the No. 3 overall pick of the Washington Redskins. He was expected to become the team's long-term solution at quarterback but flamed out after three seasons.

Today, Shuler, 36, is back in Washington in a much different capacity. He traded in his helmet and jersey for a suit, tie and the title of "Congressman Shuler" in the United States House of Representatives.

A democrat for the state of North Carolina, Shuler ironically works just several minutes from RFK Stadium, where his NFL career never got off the ground with the Redskins. After playing for two teams in four years, a severe foot injury forced Shuler to retire before the 1998 season. He later returned to the University of Tennessee to finish his degree in psychology and became successful in business.

Shuler then reached a point in his life when he felt compelled to give back to the community in which he was raised. So he returned to his native state of North Carolina, ran for congress and was elected into office in November 2006.

Heath Shuler

•  Current congressman for the state of North Carolina.

• Was drafted No. 3 overall by Washington in 1994.

• Played for two teams (Redskins and Saints) in four seasons and finished with a 53.4 career passer rating.

• Married to wife, Nikol, and they have two children, Navy and Island.
Today Shuler rubs shoulders with some of the most powerful politicians in the world and is responsible for more than 700,000 people spread over 15 counties -- a drastic jump from trying to lead a 53-man roster. He said the three items he's most passionate about are children's issues, the environment and preserving the nation's workforce.

"This is the greatest job I've ever had,'' Shuler said. "Because I'm able to make what I feel is a positive impact in people's lives, and being able to make a difference in this country and a difference in this world.''

Shuler is a big fan of the NFL, but he roots mostly for players instead of teams. Some of his favorites include Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme, a former backup for Shuler with the New Orleans Saints, and Peyton and Eli Manning, whom Shuler knows through his connection with Peyton at the University of Tennessee.

Shuler understands being labeled a "draft bust," but he believes he could've turned his career around if not for his injury. Before retiring in 1998, Shuler optimistically signed with the Oakland Raiders because former head coach Jon Gruden ran a West Coast offense, which was closer to the style he played in college. Also in 1997, Shuler nearly was traded to the Green Bay Packers -- another team that used the West Coast offense -- before being shipped to New Orleans and getting hurt.

"I had an opportunity to go play for the Packers and back Brett [Favre] up or go to New Orleans and be a starter,'' Shuler explained. "[Former Redskins coach] Norv Turner said, 'Hey look, you're not a backup in this league. You need to go play.' Sometimes it just doesn't work out with teams."

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter