Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda.

What if things were just a little different for quarterback Mike Perez?

"NFL stands for 'Not For Long,'" he says. "It's a fantasy world. Most guys are not prepared for when they leave it. But I've got a skill. I'm working."

Part-time professional football also helps you keep your perspective. In the arena league, there are no long-term contracts. Every year, players are free agents all over again, fighting for their jobs and wondering if the last year was the final one. It gives you an appreciation for the fact that you are being paid to play a game. It reminds you of the wonder to be found under the lights.

"There's a lot I don't remember about my preseasons and tryouts with the pros," Perez says. "But I do remember very clearly when I was a kid playing Pop Warner football. Each season, the Broncos let us play a game in Mile High Stadium. I remember the first time walking into the stadium. It was huge. I remember that better than anything else."

In a league of his own: Mike Perez.
Anthony Camera
In a league of his own: Mike Perez.

Still, you have to speculate. You can't help it. You look at the state of NFL quarterbacks these days and you find youself asking the question. The starters are mediocre, their backups -- just take a peek: Atlanta loses Chris Chandler, and suddenly the team is imploding. A disaster. And don't even mention Bubby and Chris and Brian.

So you give the required nod to Kurt -- even in World League and arena ball, you learn your cliches -- but you add a zinger at the end because...well, because you never know.

"Kurt's a great guy," says Mike. "But I don't think anyone who played with him thought he'd be at the magnitude he's at now."

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