Tom Myslinski's career in the National Football League — first as an offensive lineman, then as a coach — is going on 20 years now.
All things considered, this season may be the most rewarding of them all. And it isn't over yet.
Myslinski, a Rome native in his fifth year as the Jacksonville Jaguars' head of strength and conditioning, feels right at home working for three other New Yorkers — head coach Doug Marrone is from the Bronx, general manager David Caldwell is from Buffalo and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin, the former Giants head coach, is from Waterloo — cut from the same mold as him.
Together, they've already helped the Jaguars — who beat Buffalo 10-3 in last week's wild-card round — reach the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2007.
And Sunday afternoon, when Jacksonville (11-6) plays Pittsburgh (13-3) in an AFC Divisional game at Heinz Field, Myslinski — who played for the Steelers in 1996-97 and again in 2000 — will feel right at home on the sidelines there, too.
So, what's not to like?
"I only wish that I was playing," Myslinski said during a telephone interview earlier this week. "I'm psyched about going up there and playing them, and I'm not even playing."
The Dallas Cowboys' fourth-round draft pick in 1992, Myslinski played nine NFL seasons for seven different teams. He made 25 starts and played in 60 games, including stints with Washington (1992), Buffalo (1993), Chicago (1993-94), Jacksonville (1995), Pittsburgh (1996-97, 2000), Indianapolis (1998) and Dallas (1999).
But he and his wife Amy (Delahunt) lived in Pittsburgh for 12 years, their two youngest children were born there. The former Rome Free Academy and University of Tennessee football and track and field star who earned his Master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh still has the utmost respect for the Steelers' organization.
He also knows what to expect — "a typical Pittsburgh game" — from this rematch. Jacksonville was a 30-9 winner at Heinz Field back on Oct. 8, but Pittsburgh has won 10 of 11 since then, and the lone setback was a 27-24 loss to reigning Super Bowl champion New England.
"It's a new game," Myslinski said. "It's going to be cold. Probably a little snow and windy. It'll be awesome. It's an exciting atmosphere there. The competitive nature. That environment. This is why you play football. ... I feel really comfortable in that environment, because that's how I grew up.
"It's the perfect place to play a playoff game. This is the way it's supposed to be. This is real football. It's always a tough game in Pittsburgh. It's the old black-and-blue division — that's kind of what we're trying to become. That's what we want to be."
That's the way it was back in his high school heyday, when he was an all-state center playing for his father Tom — a rough, tough RFA assistant when the Black Knights were going unbeaten and finishing on top of the state rankings under legendary head coach Tom Hoke. And with young Tom's help, that is the direction Jacksonville's Jaguars are headed.
During the regular season, Jacksonville led the league in rushing at 141.4 yards per game and defensively, the Jaguars allowed 286.1 yards per game — second behind only the Minnestoa Vikings.
As the strength and conditioning coach, those are numbers the 49-year-old Myslinski likes to see.
"Without a doubt because really, a lot of it starts in the weight room and carries over onto the field," he said. "If you want to be a running team, you've got to be a tough team. If you want to win in December, you've got to run the ball and play defense. ... That's how I am. It was the same thing at RFA, the same thing 'Coach Mys' instilled in me "'You've got to work hard, you've got to compete, you've got to win.'"
And don't try telling him the Jaguars won ugly in last week's wild-card matchup with the Bills.
"It doesn't matter how you win," Myslinski said. "Not all wins are pretty. You've just got to win and advance."
When Myslinski was playing guard for the Jaguars' first team in 1995, Coughlin was his head coach. And Marrone, like Myslinski a former offensive lineman, was a Jacksonville assistant on the same coaching staff before leaving for Buffalo and spending two seasons as the Bills' head coach.
"My three bosses are all from New York, so it's like being home again," Myslinski said of his working relationship with Marrone, Caldwell and Coughlin. "Their personalities, their temperment. ... I identify very well with all three of them. I'm so lucky here. It's a great work environment.
"The talent was here, it just had to be developed. And Doug's demanding style has brought it out. He's demanding, but caring. And having Coach Coughlin here has provided great leadership. I think the world of both of them. They're ultra-competitive. It's all about winning."
He also has a good feeling about a Jacksonville team feature a stout defense and a stable of running backs led by rookie Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant.
"This is a great experience for a young team," Myslinski said. "It's an awesome opportunity. ... You couldn't ask for a better playoff game. I've been on both ends of it, too. When I was with Jacksonville, we beat Pittsburgh and when I was with Pittsburgh, we beat Jacksonville. It's always a hard-fought, smash-mouth football game."
Tom Myslinski, the player and the coach, wouldn't want it any other way.