At a ceremony at McGill’s Athletic Complex on February 12, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was honoured for his ever-growing list of accomplishments – including being the first NFL player to earn his medical degree and, most recently, being the first doctor to win the Super Bowl.
It was Duvernay-Tardif’s first visit to McGill since his Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV with a 31-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on February 2, in Miami.
Collecting a bear hug from Principal Suzanne Fortier, as he did in 2018 when he crossed the stage at Convocation to accept his medical degree, the native of Mont St. Hilaire smiled broadly at the unveiling of a banner highlighting his successes both at McGill and in the NFL.
Gratitude for McGill
In typical fashion, Duvernay-Tardif turned the event into a team celebration, praising his alma mater for supporting his “crazy dream.”
“I wouldn’t be here if not for McGill,” he said, addressing Principal Fortier and David Eidelman, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine. “You guys made me a better human being.”
“Everything started back in 2014. I was a third-year medical student and I had that crazy dream of maybe trying to reach the NFL,” said Duvernay-Tardif.
But LDT, as he is known to fans, understood the inherent risks of pro football, a gruelling sport in which careers are often cut short by injury. “You have to make sure that you have a strong Plan A. And for me, Plan A was getting my degree in medicine,” he said. “But we all know that those kinds of dreams don’t happen with just you. You need a team.”
Supporting a single dream
LDT, along with his best friend and agent Sasha Ghavami, approached the Faculty of Medicine with the “crazy story of how we were going to accomplish that goal and get drafted [by the NFL] in 2014.”
Working backward from 2018, the absolute deadline for Duvernay-Tardif to complete his studies, a plan was hammered out. As is his wont, LDT, stuck to the rigorous schedule with unwavering determination – through the 2014 NFL draft in which he was selected in the sixth round by the Kansas City Chiefs; through his signing of a $42-million contract extension in 2017; and through the demands of being a full-time medical student.
When he was in Kansas City, he was 100 per cent football player, but as soon as he had time off, he would fly to Montreal, grab his scrubs and head to the hospital. It was a dual existence that would make Superman proud.
“I can tell you this; while I was at McGill there was never any doubt that I would complete this project. To have people here who believed in my project and supported me throughout the whole journey, who understood what I was trying to accomplish – the support was unbelievable.”
Dreams and nightmares
Principal Fortier told the gathered media that while McGill helped LDT realize his dreams, he, in turn, now stands as a source of motivation for others to pursue their goals.
“We congratulate Laurent on this incredible Super Bowl victory. What happiness he gave us all, it was really fantastic,” she said. “It’s amazing how we are inspired by this man. For what he has done, of course, but also how he got there. His determination, his resilience, his commitment to always giving his best. It is incredibly inspiring for all of us. We are also inspired by his generosity to go and motivate young people, to make them see that they can have dreams and that they can achieve them if they put in the effort.”
“I just want to underscore Laurent’s achievement,” said Dean Eidelman “Anybody who’s tried to get into medical school knows, that getting in alone is an achievement. And getting to play in the Super Bowl is an even bigger achievement… This is something that all McGillians are extremely proud of.”
Ronald Hilaire, head coach of the McGill varsity football team, saw LDT play from a unique perspective – as a coach for the rival Montréal Carabins. “It’s a nightmare coaching against him,” said Hilaire with a chuckle. “At the time I was an assistant defensive coordinator and trying to find ways to have my defensive line get to the quarterback was quite a feat. He is an immense competitor. He is strong, he is fast, he is intelligent, he never takes a play off. He is a complete package.”
“Laurent is a great ambassador for the McGill football program. It’s such a great accomplishment to make the NFL and win the Super Bowl, but being a doctor is a great achievement in itself,” said Hilaire. “It’s invaluable to have somebody show our student athletes that you don’t have to sacrifice one dream for another. You can excel in both spheres.”
Coming full circle
Duvernay-Tardif closed the ceremony with a pledge to help “promote the values of McGill, here and abroad,” and speaking of the unabashed pride he has in being part of the worldwide McGill community.
“Every time I stand in front of camera and say ‘Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, McGill University,’ it makes me so proud,” he said. “Every time I have a conversation with [Chiefs Head Coach] Andy Reid and hear that his mother went to McGill and was one of the first women to graduate from the McGill Faculty of Medicine, it makes me proud.”
“In the Super Bowl after the win, I met my parents and Florence, my girlfriend [on the field]. It was an emotional moment,” said Duvernay-Tardif. “Then I heard somebody shout ‘McGill alumni’ behind me. I turned around and there are two guys, surgeons from Miami, who were McGill graduates… it’s awesome to be part of that community.”
“If I can help the Faculty in any way, if I can help the University or the football program – that’s what I want to do. I want to be the voice of this great institution that allowed me to be where I am today,” he said, smiling broadly. “I just want to say thank you, thank you for the banner. It’s really awesome to be here today and share this moment with you guys, because this is where everything started.”