KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Chargers tight end Sean McGrath’s engaging personality once radiated throughout the Chiefs locker room in 2013.
His gregarious and outward fun-loving approach to the game quickly endeared McGrath to fans, as did the facial hair around his jawline, which earned him the nickname, “The Beard.”
While McGrath brought energy on the field and gained fan adoration, in a blink of an eye he was gone after surprisingly retiring at 26 years old on the eve of 2014 training camp.
The decision, however, wasn’t spontaneous and required reflection.
“When we had that little break before summer camp, it kind of gave me a chance to step back and re-evaluate where I was at in my life,” McGrath, now 27, said in a telephone interview. “I just didn’t have the spark in me; I didn’t have the drive to really do it.
“I always told myself at what point it doesn’t become fun, it’s time to move on. I mean, I was kind of feeling that and I would’ve been doing myself a disservice.”
The 6-5, 247-pound McGrath, who joined the Chiefs after being claimed off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 1, 2013, offered more than personality to the Chiefs’ roster.
He produced on the field, appearing in all 16 regular-season games with nine starts in 2013 and led the Chiefs’ tight ends in receptions (26) and yards receiving (302) while adding two touchdowns.
But McGrath said he didn’t want to disrespect his teammates and the game by not being fully engaged ahead of the 2014 season.
And he is thankful for the understanding from the Chiefs and the fan base when he chose to retire.
“I fully appreciated all the support that I had there,” McGrath said. “It was nothing against Kansas City by any means. It was a personal decision that I felt was right for me at that time.”
McGrath, who graduated from Henderson State with a degree in art, used the time away from football to rediscover his creative side.
The native of Mundelein, Ill., began putting together a portfolio and attending lectures while living in Chicago with a goal of pursing a master’s degree in art.
“When I was living in the city, I was mostly working with paint and charcoal,” McGrath said. “I was pretty much living at the Art Institute (of Chicago), kind of just absorbing what was going on there. The art scene in the city, it’s just great.”
But as time went on during the football season, he began missing the game and made the decision to return.
“I started to realize we only get one life to live and I may as well live in the now,” McGrath said.
The Chiefs reinstated McGrath from the reserve/did not report list on April 15, 2015 before waiving him, which made McGrath a free agent.
The Indianapolis Colts signed him in early June and he spent training camp with the Colts before landing on the practice squad. The Colts then released McGrath on Oct. 26, leading to the San Diego Chargers to sign him to the active 53-man roster on Nov. 10.
“You’re always looking to add depth to your football team and improve it any way you can,” Chargers coach Mike McCoy said during a conference call with Chiefs beat writers. “Having played against him being in the division and things like that, you saw what he did against teams you’ve played on and played, obviously being here and his ability to do certain things in the running game and as a receiver. So we thought he’d be a good addition to our team.”
McGrath, who signed during the Chargers’ bye week, is the fifth tight end on San Diego’s roster and provides depth while Ladarius Green deals with an ankle injury.
McGrath said things are going well in San Diego and he found a place to live near the Pacific Ocean, which helps with inspiration.
“There’s something about the water that does something to you,” he said.
McGrath said he had a good week of practice also hasn’t experienced difficulties learning the playbook ahead of Sunday’s game against the Chiefs.
“Like a sponge, baby,” McGrath said on absorbing the plays.
McGrath is thankful for the chance to continue playing in the NFL with the Chargers and he looks forward to seeing old friends when the Chiefs take the field as opponents at Qualcomm Stadium.
The renewal of acquaintances, however, will be limited to specific timeframes.
“Before the game and after the game, I’ll definitely try to link up and see a few familiar faces,” McGrath said. “But, I mean, during those 60 minutes, there are no friends.”
The Chiefs, of course, won’t need to search hard to recognize a former teammate; all they’ll have to do is spot a trademark beard.
“He’s got it,” McCoy said. “Yes, he sure does. Thick and ready to roll.”