Greg Olsen has been thinking for weeks about the perfect way to finish off this season.
He would have loved to be on the field inside University of Phoenix Stadium next weekend, hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy and celebrating a victory in Super Bowl XLIX with his teammates on the Carolina Panthers.
That remains a dream for the Wayne native and former All-American at Wayne Hills High School, as it does for those like him fortunate enough to reach the NFL.
The reality is that the Panthers ran into reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle, which ended his quest for the Lombardi, yet Olsen still gets the chance to be inside the stadium, albeit a week earlier than expected.
The best year of his professional career – resulting in his first invitation to the Pro Bowl — also proved to be the most challenging of his personal life. It’s why Olsen wants nothing more than what he will get at some point between now and tonight.
A family portrait with his wife, Kara, and their three children, 4-year-old Tate and 2-year-old twins Talbot and T.J., one that captures the emotion of what has been quite a ride.
T.J. Olsen has undergone four open heart surgeries since being born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a severe congenital heart defect characterized by an underdeveloped left ventricle and aorta.
Three of those procedures were anticipated.
A fourth blindsided the Olsens when, in September, T.J. needed a pacemaker installed.
T.J.’s recovery has been strong and his prognosis is positive, although some uncertainty remains. There has always been a chance that, down the road, T.J. may still need a heart transplant.
Olsen promises he has learned plenty about himself as a father and a husband, a teammate and a player, one that somehow turned in the most productive campaign of his eight-year NFL career.
"It hasn’t been easy," said Olsen, who will turn 30 in March. "His road is a little unclear going forward for the long, long haul. And we understand that. But T.J.’s doing great. We’re confident he’s going to do well and we’re confident. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves about perseverance and continuing to be mentally strong. We didn’t really think about it, it was just kind of our life. One day rolled into another and you were just living in the moment. We’ve had our tough days. We’ve had our good days. Through my career, I can say the same thing, being traded [from Chicago to Carolina], and now I can say I’ve kinda come out of the bright side of that tunnel both personally, as a team we’ve had success, and obviously T.J. doing well just makes everything else that much better."
Olsen spent the first month of the season shuttling between the hospital and the practice field, spending six nights a week with T.J. sleeping there while Kara stayed at home with their daughter, Talbot, and oldest son, Tate.
Olsen was somehow able to compartmentalize and he put up the most productive campaign of his career with 84 catches, 1,008 yards and six touchdowns. He has played in 127 consecutive games, the second-longest active streak by a tight end behind only Dallas’ Jason Witten, a fellow Pro Bowler.
"When you get the chance to take the step back and look at the big picture, these last couple years, the ups and downs, I think when we fly out to Arizona together and get there, it will finally hit me and this will put a nice bow on a couple of interesting years," Olsen said. "I don’t know if we did it perfect, but we did it the best that we could, and I’m planning on enjoying the entire experience. I think we all are as a family."