It was while scouting for McGill University’s football team more than a decade ago that Matthieu Quiviger first met Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, the Super Bowl-bound guard who was decidedly off limits to the offensive line coach at the time.
Duvernay-Tardif was a teenager then, a native of the Montreal suburb of Mont-Saint-Hilaire playing at the much smaller Collège André Grasset. The coaches there were having none of what Quiviger was selling as he scoured local teams looking for the next best thing.
“They basically said, ‘Don’t talk to him, he’s going to med school, he’s not going to play anymore,’” said Quiviger, a former McGill offensive tackle and Canadian Football League alum.
But play he did — even as he continued his studies — and on Sunday in Miami, the 28-year-old Duvernay-Tardif will become the first medical doctor ever to play in the Super Bowl. His Kansas City Chiefs will take on the San Francisco 49ers in the 54th edition of the National Football League showcase.
Football is a passion, the Canadian told reporters on Super Bowl media day this past week. But so is medicine, and he wasn’t about to let one or the other fall by the wayside.
“It was hard for sure, a lot of sacrifice, but at the end of the day it was worth it because now I’m certified as a (doctor of medicine) and I’m playing in the Super Bowl,” he said. “What else could you ask for, you know?”
Back when Quiviger first became aware of Duvernay-Tardif, some of those close to him tried to discourage him from continuing with football at McGill. Duvernay-Tardif spoke French and already faced the challenge of becoming more fluent in English — only attending McGill after circling the wrong date on his calendar and missing the entrance exams for Quebec’s three French-language medical schools. Football on top of that might be too much.
But it wasn’t long before the lure of the sport drew him back. He started out as a part-time defensive lineman, then was asked to train for a spot on the offensive line. That switch put Duvernay-Tardif squarely under Quiviger’s tutelage —a move the assistant coach was initially against but came around to after just one practice, to the disbelief of his coaching colleagues.
“I said to them (after practice), ‘First of all, if you take him back I quit because I want to coach that guy. Second of all, he’s going to play in the NFL,’” Quiviger recalled. “All the coaches laughed.”
That prediction came true in 2014, when Duvernay-Tardif was drafted in the sixth round by the Chiefs — just the 10th player from a Canadian university, and the first from Quebec, ever to be selected. The only other McGill player to hear his name called was Randy Chevrier, drafted in the seventh round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2001.
Duvernay-Tardif is expected to become the 16th Canadian-born player to appear in a Super Bowl and the fifth to crack the starting lineup.
No one else with a medical degree, however, has ever gone this far — Canadian or not. He graduated in 2018, after four years of playing in the NFL and returning to Montreal in the off-season to complete the degree.
Jean-Philippe Darche, a former Seattle Seahawks and Chiefs long snapper who played nine NFL seasons — came closest to matching the feat.
Darche played five seasons at McGill, two while studying medicine. He eventually turned pro with the Toronto Argonauts in 1999 before signing with the Seahawks in 2000. Darche never got his medical degree at McGill, though — faced with the option of starting over after taking what was deemed to be too much time away for football. He continued his education later in Kansas City, however. Now, at age 44, he’s the Chiefs’ team doctor — and a mentor to Duvernay-Tardif.
McGill’s policies have changed with the times since Darche faced his difficult decision, says Scott Delaney, the team physician at the school and for several local pro teams including the CFL’s Alouettes and Major League Soccer’s Impact.
“I think what we realized with parents who are off on paternal leave, in Quebec you can be off up to two years and come back,” Delaney said. “Usually it’s mothers who do that and they hit it out of the park. They go off, they have a child — some of them are away for one year, some are away for two years — and they come back and they pick up their studies and they do very well. It’s a different day and age from when (Jean-Philippe) did it … Being away four years is perhaps not the end of the world.”
Delanay added that he wasn’t surprised when Duvernay-Tardif managed to strike the balance that led to where he is today.
“He just was very good in terms of time management,” Delaney said. “It would be interesting to ask him if he ever went to a movie theatre in his whole time at McGill, because I don’t know where he would have found the time … He obviously enjoys the medical field and enjoys learning about medicine to the point that it’s not a chore to him.”
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Duvernay-Tardif did rounds with Delaney when he had the chance. While he dabbled in sports medicine, however, it was emergency medicine that piqued the NFLer’s interest. He says he hopes to return some day and do his residency in that field.
“Because I want to do emergency medicine and they only take anywhere between five and six students at McGill per year, it would put too much stress on the rest of the cohort,” he told CNN this past week. “We’ll find a way, but I think this year I wanted to focus more on football.”
He doesn’t need the second career for the money — not after signing a five-year, $42.36 million (U.S.) contract with the Chiefs in 2017 — but it’s something Delaney can see him following through with.
The urge to help others is also apparent in the work of the Laurent Duvernay-Tardif Foundation, which supports children’s development and educational success through physical activity and creativity.
“I tell him this time and time again,” said Delaney. “I say, ‘Right now you’re the football player who also is a doctor. I hope you go on to have a medical career where people will almost not even know you were a football player.’”
First, he has a Super Bowl to win.