That first night, back in 2011, Farris had hoped to get as far as Nashville. But after only 10 miles, his head was spinning and tears were flowing, and he pulled over. A couple of years had passed since he had played his final game in the National Football League, and this next step was daunting. All he could think was, “What am I doing with my life?”
Since he could run, Farris had been a football player. He played wide receiver at a small college and spent six seasons in the NFL, including two with the Washington Redskins. His career wasn’t spectacular — Farris played in only six games as a Redskin — but coaches appreciated that Farris treated practices like playoff games. The average professional football career lasts just 3½ seasons, which means guys like Farris must seek a new life much earlier than they’d prefer. Farris was only 30 when his playing career ended in 2009.
“You train your whole life for this one thing. You give it everything you have — eat, breathe, sleep, everything,” he said. “Then, one day, it’s like someone knocks on your door and says, ‘Thanks for all you’ve done, but you can never do that again.’ ”
He had never been particularly interested in politics. He ran for student government in the eighth grade (and lost). He didn’t vote in a single election until Barack Obama ran for president in 2008. Obama’s candidacy stirred something in Farris — the hope, the optimism, the relentless drive. They were the very attributes that fueled his football career, and Farris thought maybe he, too, could make a difference.
While living in Atlanta and dabbling in sports broadcasting, Farris began calling people in Idaho, inquiring about the political scene back home. He eventually connected with Larry Grant, chairman of Idaho’s Democratic Party. The two talked about seats in the state legislature, but Farris’s ambitions were much bigger.
“When was the last time your coach told you to hold back?” Grant asked.
“Never,” Farris said.
“Okay, then let’s run you for Congress.”
And that’s how Farris found himself behind the steering wheel late one night last September, the lights along Interstate 75 blurry through his tears. He pulled into a hotel and called his mom and two sisters. “I don’t know if I can do this,” he told them.
Farris was the youngest of five, and his family had always been supportive. His mother, Sharon Farris, once called Jim L. Mora, pleading with the Atlanta Falcons’ head coach to give her son more playing time.
He wasn’t the most athletic kid in Lewiston, Idaho, but he had starred on his high school team, earning All-State honors and helping win a state championship. He accepted the only scholarship offer he had — to the University of Montana — and became a Division I-AA all-American. He wasn’t drafted into the NFL but signed a free-agent contract and eventually earned a Super Bowl championship ring with the New England Patriots. When others might have quit, Farris always kept grinding.