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Gladiator of the gridiron

Rabih Abdullah '98 scored his first NFL rushing TD last season with the Pats.

When former Lehigh star Rabih Abdullah '98 was presented with his Super Bowl ring by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft in June, he was completely overwhelmed.

He still is, in fact.

"Every kid that ever puts on football pads dreams of playing in and winning a Super Bowl one day. And I've lived out that dream," says Abdullah, 30. "I'm thankful that I got the opportunity to play for one of the greatest coaches in NFL history in Bill Belichick and for a first-class organization like the Patriots. Winning a Super Bowl is a major accomplishment, something that I'll never forget."

Of course, he won't. After all, the 6-foot, 230-pound Abdullah, a special teams standout and backup fullback for the Patriots, has a huge 4.06-ounce, 14-carat white gold ring as a constant reminder of the Patriots' 24-21 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX last February in Jacksonville. Abdullah's ring has 124 diamonds with a carat total of 4.94 and is valued at close to $20,000.

"It's a really big ring. It's so big, in fact, that it's hard to wear," Abdullah says. "I'll probably only wear it on special occasions, but it's something that I'll always cherish because I had to work so hard to get it."

Despite a magical career at Lehigh (where he rushed for a school-record 3,696 yards and scored 33 TDs), Abdullah has never been handed anything in the play-for-pay ranks. Since making the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster back in 1998 as an undrafted free agent, Abdullah has carved out a seven-year NFL career the hard way -- by sprinting down full speed on special teams and making tackles, and by running and blocking well during preseason games to earn a roster spot.

"Success in football, like any other business, is achieved by working hard, being a real competitor, and by always staying focused on the task at hand," Abdullah says. "It's not different than any other business, except that your successes and failures are on national TV each Sunday."

In his first season with Tampa Bay, Abdullah earned a roster spot by leading the team in rushing during the preseason with 50 carries for 280 yards and two scores. That Bucs team was well-stocked at running back with Warrick Dunn at tailback and Mike Alstott at fullback, so Abdullah increased his value to the team by becoming a special teams ace. By 2001, Abdullah was ranked second on the Buccaneers with a career-high 21 special teams tackles.

After the 2001 season, Abdullah signed with the Chicago Bears and led the team in special teams tackles in both of his seasons there, with 20 stops in 2002 and 17 tackles in 2003. He also returned kickoffs occasionally while in Chicago. Last season, Abdullah signed with the Patriots on Sept. 11, was released on Nov. 22, and re-signed a month later.

"I was told by the Patriots that they needed to make some roster maneuvers and that I'd be released, but that the plan was to call me back later in the year," Abdullah recalls. "And everything went according to their plan. They called me back and I was part of the team all the way through their Super Bowl run, scoring my first rushing touchdown in a regular season game and doing whatever I could to help on special teams."

Abdullah became the second-ever Lehigh player to play on the NFL's biggest stage, the Super Bowl. But unlike Steve Kreider, who was a member of the Cincinnati Bengals squad that lost to the Joe Montana-led San Francisco 49ers back in 1982, Abdullah's team came out on the winning end.

"I've watched a number of Super Bowls on TV, but playing in one and winning it was the highlight of my football career," he says.

Abdullah's goal is to stay in the game, whether as a player or as an agent. An international business major at Lehigh, Abdullah became an unrestricted free agent at the end of last season. He's working out every day, staying in playing shape and hoping that his phone will ring. If he doesn't get the call, he'll take the test to get his sports agent's license in January and will try to hook on with his agent Brian Mackler, a partner in the New York-based Sportstars, Inc.

"I'm hoping to play in the NFL a couple more years. But if that doesn't happen, then becoming a sports agent seems like a logical next step," says Abdullah, who lives in Tampa with his wife, Nicole. "My experience as an NFL player will help me relate really well to players as an agent. And I'll bring the same determination and drive that's allowed me to stick around the league so long, even though I was an undrafted free agent coming out of Lehigh, to my after-football career as an agent.

"I'm confident that I'll be successful at not only representing players in contract negotiations, but also at helping prepare them for life after football."

--Bill Doherty

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Fall 2005

Posted on Friday, October 14, 2005

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