Laurent Duvernay-Tardif returned to the starting lineup on Sunday for the first time in 21 months. Making his first start at right guard for the Jets against the Dolphins was challenging, but for Duvernay-Tardif it must have seemed easy in comparison to what he was doing at this time last year.
Duvernay-Tardif, a licensed medical doctor, opted out of last season with the Chiefs to work on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19 in his hometown of Montreal. Duvernay-Tardif said the experience of 2020 had a major impact on him.
“I think it changed my perspective both as a future physician but also as a football player, realizing the opportunity we have to play ball for a living,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “I know I’m going to be evolving in the medical community for the next 40 years, but I think last year was special circumstances.
“I felt like the best thing for me was to go on the front line and help in any capacity possible. I was part of a movement of thousands of people that went back and helped, whether it was retired nurses or doctors. I think it gave me a different perspective on the medical system. Everything is so hierarchical normally, but at a time of crisis feeling everybody come together and work as a team was pretty amazing.”
Duvernay-Tardif returned to football this year but was sidelined by a broken bone in his hand for the beginning of the season and then the Chiefs traded him to the Jets at last month’s trading deadline. He welcomed the trade as an opportunity to get back on the field.
His last game action had come in the Super Bowl following the 2019 season when he was the starting right guard for Kansas City in its 31-20 victory over the 49ers. The 30-year-old spent a few weeks learning the Jets offense, played a few special teams snaps against the Bills on Nov. 14, and then got the start on Sunday in the 24-17 loss to Miami, replacing Greg Van Roten at right guard.
“I’m pretty sore, but pretty good,” Duvernay-Tardif said Wednesday about how it felt to be back on the field. “It’s not the result we were hoping for as a unit, as a team, but from a personal standpoint I was really happy to get back out there. That’s why I came to New York. It was to play and to step onto that field. It’s amazing. It’s a blessing.”
Duvernay-Tardif showed some rust. He allowed a team-high seven pressures against the Dolphins. But he earned a run-blocking grade of 78.0 from PFF, the best mark of any Jets lineman. The Jets had a season-high 5.7 yards per carry in the loss.
Whatever Duvernay-Tardif does on the field, his legacy is secure after the sacrifice he made in 2020.
“Football is an amazing adventure, but it’s also, for me, a way to build a platform to promote a greater message, something that you believe in,” he said. “For me, it’s public health. It’s trying to get primary prevention with kids and so on. I hope that what I did is also going to follow me and be part of my legacy because I want to use it to try to have a greater impact.”
Teammates have joked that they are going to get their medical advice from him instead of the trainers.
“That already started. I think it’s more as a joke than anything else,” Duverany-Tardif said. “I feel like my job in a football locker room is to play football and I try to stay away from giving second opinions to guys. I could get myself in trouble with that.”
One serious medical topic that has come up with teammates is whether they should get the COVID vaccine.
“I’ve had a few conversations with teammates about it,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “It’s a personal decision at the end of the day, but I feel like as a medical professional we have the responsibility to give the best information possible. It’s a personal decision but, of course, if you ask me, everybody should get vaccinated. I try to state the facts and stay objective and having those conversations with teammates I think gives you kind of another perspective on the issue.
“It allows me to better understand why some people would be a little more hesitant about vaccination and maybe come up with better arguments. I think having conversations is great.”