Merriam-Webster defines adversity as a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune. And while everyone has their metaphorical hurdles, former New Orleans Saints first round draft choice Alex Molden has cleared some tough ones. Similar adversity with other people has ruined lives, but American novelist James Lane Allen said it best when he said, “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.”
Life of a Saint: Alex Molden
Athletically, Alex Molden figured out that he was gifted at an early age. But that first eye-opening moment didn’t happen on a football field in his native Detroit, but rather a track meet in at an Army base in Germany. “We were at an open track meet. I must have been eight or nine. I remember doing really well at the sprints. I think I won all the races I was in. I did really well at long jump also. But the big thing was the high jump. I remember doing that, and more and more people started coming over and watching. They were cheering me on. I don’t remember how high I jumped, but I just remember feeling like. ‘man, nobody’s even coming close’. That was my first inkling”, Molden recalled.
Molden would eventually develop a love of football. He would play pick-up games with friends. But what eventually enticed him to play organized football? You could almost hear the smile on his face as he recalled, “The guys would bring their helmets and shoulder pads to school because they had practice right after school. I just thought that was so cool. There was something about the camaraderie that they all had that I really wanted. I didn’t even watch them play. I just knew they had helmets and shoulder pads.”
Early Obstacles for Molden
After missing the opportunity to attend try-outs in the seventh grade due to attending his grandmother’s funeral, Molden would eventually be ready for football a year later. His parents’ divorce and a limited income forced Molden away from a costly pop warner league and onto a free Boys and Girls Club team. “We had one coach. One. He was the head coach, the defensive coordinator, the offensive coordinator. Of course, we lost every game, but I had so much fun. That didn’t deter me. I didn’t care about wins or losses. I just wanted to play.”
Molden Heads to Oregon
After a standout high school career in Colorado, Alex Molden decided to play for the Oregon Ducks. And not unlike other milestones in his life, the decision to head west was birthed in the wake of adversity. Molden shared, “At the time, my mother had remarried. She was in an abusive relationship. There were a couple times that me and my step-dad got into it; fist fights. It happened a couple times. I had a restraining order put on me.” Molden continued, “At the time, Colorado was recruiting me too. If I went there, I would be up in Boulder. If I got a phone call that something happened to my mom, I would be racing home with fire in my eyes. I just didn’t want to deal with that, to have that on my mind. I needed to get out of state.” Molden went on to mention that while he would have loved to play for Colorado, it wasn’t in his best interest.
Also playing a major role in that decision was the recruiting process of Oregon. The combination of being very genuine, honest and personal staff tipped the scales in the Ducks favor.
Adversity Finds Molden on the Field
After redshirting in 1991, Alex Molden began playing in 1992 with the Ducks. The season ended in the Independence Bowl versus Wake Forest. In that game, Molden would end up suffering a devastating knee injury, tearing his anterior cruciate, medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments. “It was a very scary situation for me when it happened. I just thought I would never bounce back from it (at the time)”, Molden recalled.
After waiting a couple weeks for the swelling to subside, Molden headed into surgery. He still remembers his interaction with his doctor prior to going under the knife. “I asked the doctor, ‘Will I be the same? Will I be able to run again and jump high?’ He said, ‘Alex, you’re gonna come back better.’” Molden knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but not much in his life ever was. Molden added, “I didn’t question anything. I didn’t ask why or how. Just the way he answered me, that’s all I needed to hear.”
After a nine-month hiatus from football, Molden fought his way back to the field. Molden said, “It was a devastating injury, but it was a blessing in disguise. I worked with Coach Jim Radcliffe an hour a day for eight months. He taught me how to run efficiently. He taught me how to cut. He taught me how to jump. We didn’t do any skill work. We did a ton of performance work to get me back and better than I was before.”
Molden credits Coach Radcliffe as being the most important person in his pursuit to play in the NFL. Molden also mentioned the major contributions of Oregon Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti.
Molden Drafted by New Orleans
Alex Molden was drafted in the first round of the 1996 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints (11th overall). As he got the invite to New York to attend the draft, he couldn’t help but think of watching the draft when he was younger, seeing his heroes like Steve Atwater, Emmitt Smith and Deion Sanders take the stage with his new jersey and cap. The idea of providing for his family was also front of mind for Molden.
Surprising to Molden was how long those first 11 picks took. “Each pick is 15 minutes. Going 11th, I was into hour three”. Molden stated. He continued, “Another thing I remember is that I was just as surprised as the rest of America when I got picked. I didn’t get a phone call. I didn’t get anything. I was shocked.” Molden assumed he’d get picked by Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 12. His hope was to get picked by his local Denver Broncos at 15. After getting through the draft, Molden got back to his hotel and had a chance to reflect on the evening. He then turned on the television and laughed as the draft was still going on.
Alex Molden in the NFL
Molden would end up playing five years in New Orleans before heading to the San Diego Chargers for two seasons and finishing his career with a year as a Detroit Lion. With eight years in the NFL, Molden had his share of standout moments. His favorite? Molden quickly answered, “When we went to the playoffs (in New Orleans). It was so memorable how the city was on top of the world when we beat the Rams.” Molden went on to describe how special the 2000 Saints season was, winning the franchise’s first ever playoff game.
While he has some cherished memories playing in the NFL, things weren’t always great. Molden went on to describe the turmoil many professional athletes endure. Molden reflected, “My fourth year, I ended up in Mike Ditka’s doghouse. I went to him and he didn’t give me a straight answer why.” Molden had obvious frustration in his voice. He continued to speak of the obstacles in the NFL. “My fifth year I had my best camp. Then I had (groin) surgery, right before the first game. I ended up missing the first game. That week, we played Detroit. Detroit had their backup quarterback and we held them to like 100 yards passing. I’m expecting that in week two I get my starting job back. Coaches said, ‘Oh Alex, we’re gonna stick with Kevin Mathis’. I was shocked. I was blown away. That’s when I understood the politics of everything.” The slight motivated Molden and ultimately had him playing the best football of his life as a result.
The Competition – Who Was the Best?
Reflecting on the competition he faced, Molden said, “The first time I took the field, I’m one-on-one with Jerry Rice. I’m like, ‘Come on, man’”. The timing of Molden’s career (1996-2003) was a golden age at wide receiver. Names like the aforementioned Jerry Rice, Cris Carter, Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison, Tim Brown and so many others graced the field during Molden’s career.
So, who was the toughest guy to guard? The answer for Molden was easy. “I think what stands out with a guy is having it all. Being quick, fast, able to catch the ball in traffic, can bounce up from a hit and is physical. A lot of them are not physical. T.O. (Terrell Owens) was probably my toughest. He added the element of being able to push you out of the way anytime he wanted. He can box you out with his physicality or go deep and had the speed and size to do it. And he loved contact from safeties. I remember Isaac Bruce coming across the middle and thinking twice about Sammy Knight tattooing him. T.O. didn’t care about that. I have a ton of respect for him and his approach to the game,” Molden added.
Games Outside the Games
Molden also spoke on what an honor it was to be on the same field as players like Dan Marino, Barry Sanders and hometown legend, John Elway. After all, these were the guys he used when he played the Madden video games.
And speaking of video games, Molden described what it was like when he first got to use himself on Madden. Molden laughed as he stated, “I have kids. I should get it for them. At least let them know that back in the day, your daddy was pretty cool and he was actually in the video games. I thought it was cool until I started playing it, especially toward the end of my career. I was like, ‘Man, why am I so slow? Or I get in on a couple tackles and get hurt. That put a damper on it.”
After Life in the NFL
When he’s not working on football with his college age sons Isaiah (senior) and Elijah (sophomore), Alex Molden keeps very busy. Not unlike his NFL career, Molden is attacking life and going 100% in all his post-NFL ventures. Molden has spent over a decade as a performance trainer for Nike, passing along some of those lessons learned from Coach Radcliffe all those years ago. Molden remembers the impact Radcliffe made and wants to do the same for other athletes. You can find out more information about his work at www.alexmoldentraining.net.
Molden also does motivational speaking for the corporate world. He often speaks about team building, company culture, positive and negative leadership and, of course, working through adversity – a topic he has perfected throughout the course of his life. For more information on this, visit alexmoldenspeaks.com.