JERSEY CITY -- Paris Lenon paused for a moment, then cracked a wide grin as he reflected on the spring of 2001, when he played in the inaugural, and final, season of the XFL – the only active player in the NFL with such a claim. **
"I think the craziest thing I could remember," Lenon said. "Our defensive coordinator, who played in the league and had been a great coach in the league, he coached with the Buffalo Bills for all the years that they went to the Super Bowl. His name is Walt Corey. Old school guy."
Lenon then let out a hearty laugh as he continued to tell the story.
"And I remember, he smoked cigars in the meetings," he said. "That was pretty funny, just sitting here and saying, 'Wait a minute, is that – oh wow, he's back there smoking a cigar.' That was him. He's a great guy."
It's a memento that remains with Lenon 13 years later, all those years after the XFL's short-lived run concluded when the league folded only weeks after its inaugural championship game – and when Lenon's journey was merely beginning.
At one point in his career since then, the 36-year old Lenon has played on the only team in NFL history (the 2008 Lions) to finish with an 0-16 record. That campaign was quickly followed by a stint on a 2009 Rams team that finished 1-15 and was outscored by 261 points during the course of the season.
"It was a challenging time not having success as a team," he said regarding the Lions' winless 2008 campaign, when he recorded 121 tackles, 1.5 sacks and forced a pair of fumbles. "It's very difficult. But you still have a job to do when you go out there and do it to the best of your abilities. You handle it like a pro."
It's only another chapter from a wide assortment of professional experiences for Lenon from the onset, when – after earning All-Atlantic 10 honors multiple times in his collegiate career at Richmond – he went undrafted in the NFL. He got his first shot when he signed with the Panthers as a college free agent in May 2000, but the team released him soon after. "The lowest point was when I first came out of school and I got cut for the first time," Lenon said. "That was the lowest point."
That led him to the XFL, where he played with the Memphis Maniax.
"I heard about a new league. I had been released – had just gotten out of school, had been released, heard about this league," Lenon said. "At the time, I had opportunity to go to NFL Europe and I heard about this league in the U.S. – I preferred to stay at home. I don't like flying far. So I thought it was a good opportunity."
From that opportunity, Lenon finally carved out his place in the NFL – although that place ended up being in many different locations. He had very brief stints during the offseason and preseason with the Packers and Seahawks in 2001, but both teams released him, before the Packers finally signed him to their practice squad towards the end of the 2001 season.
Since then, his road featured stops with the Packers (2002-04), Lions (2006-08), Rams (2009) and Cardinals (2010-12) before arriving with the Broncos late in training camp this season after linebacker Stewart Bradley was placed on injured reserve. During the journey, he's started all 16 games in six total seasons, recorded more than 100 tackles in four, and twice (in 2011 and 2012) has served as a team captain.
On Sunday, Lenon will add another rather unique experience to that list: playing in the Super Bowl.
"It's a complete reversal," he said, reflecting on where he finds himself today compared to where he's been along the way. "We have, thus far, we've had a very successful season. We still have one game ahead of us and we've got to put in the work. We have been putting in the work and we will continue to."
Lenon notched 22 tackles in the regular season and has become a key contributor on a defense that allowed just 16.5 points per game and 289.5 yards per game in its two postseason contests. And as he prepares to face the NFC-Champion Seahawks on the biggest stage on which he's ever played, Lenon is sticking to the same mantra of handling the game as a professional that he's maintained throughout his football career.
"We are going to go out there and we're going to do our jobs to the best of our abilities," Lenon said. "We're going to play as one. And we're going to try to limit their offense as best we can."
From cigar smoke to the Super Bowl, it's been a long ride for Lenon – but it's one that he won't stop to appreciate until this latest, and perhaps most memorable chapter, has finally been written.
"I don't think it's sunk in to the point where I'm in awe of it," Lenon said. "I'm going to allow myself to get to that point maybe after it's all over. Right now, it's business. This is a big challenge ahead of us and we're looking forward to it."