Many people dream big, but Mike Pawlawski made his come true. As a child, he told his father he wanted to play professional baseball, and when he was told that could be difficult, Pawlawski said his fallback career would be to host an outdoors show. He didn’t make it to the big leagues as a baseball player. Instead, he picked up another ball and made it to the NFL.
The 48-year-old Los Angeles native played football at the University of California and led the Golden Bears to a 10-2 record and a No. 8 national ranking in 1991. That led to his selection by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the eighth round of the 1992 NFL Draft. After his time in the NFL, he later played in the Arena Football League and XFL. He played professional football for 11 years and has championship rings to prove it.
The Cal Hall of Fame quarterback spent his free time off the football field in other fields with firearms in hand, serving as a hunting and fishing guide. Today, Pawlawski works as a college football analyst for the Pac-12 and IMG radio, and a color commentator for Comcast SportsNet and Fox Sports Net. He also followed through on his dream to host an outdoors show, and he is in his seventh season with Outdoor Channel’s “Gridiron Outdoors.” On the show, the former quarterback interviews pals from the game, shares his love of shooting sports and expresses why he’s seriously concerned about the Second Amendment. We recently had a chance to get to know Mike Pawlawski a little better.
Did you expect your Outdoor Channel show “Gridiron Outdoors” to last this long?
I did expect it to last, actually. This is also my 17th year doing an outdoors show. Before this one, I did “Fall Flight,” and I’ve been working in outdoor sports on TV for 17 years, but working in TV in general for 22 years, as I was a commentator for football before I did the outdoor shows. With “Gridiron Outdoors,” I think we have a formula that works pretty well.
What was it like to go from the football field to doing this show?
I’m also involved in football on TV as a color commentator. When I was eight years old, I said I wanted to play sports professionally. At the time, I played baseball and told my parents that I wanted to do that. I was told that might not be easy, so I said, ‘I’ll host a fishing show.’ My dad chuckled, but he supported me. I ended up playing football in high school. That eventually led to the NFL. I actually got into TV on the football side for all the big players—Fox and NBC—and then I did highlight shows. This was a great learning experience, as I learned from some of the best storytellers at NBC. That was how I made the transition to my own in-house shows.
Can you draw a parallel between pro sports and outdoor shows?
Athletes love to compete at all times—it’s our nature. The outdoor sports offer that ability to compete outside of the workplace. It is a very natural tie-in, especially for football players.
There have been calls by some that current football players shouldn’t even own guns, political statements over police shootings and, unfortunately, some high-profile criminal cases. What is your take?
I have a lot of thoughts on that. First, there have been several guys who say that because they play a sport, they are not role models. That’s simply wrong. I say that, because you play a sport, you have to consider yourself a role model at all times, and the same is true with broadcasters.
Is firearms ownership and the responsible handling of guns part of being a good role model?
It is, but this isn’t just about owning guns, either. Just because you are a professional athlete and a role model doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have Second Amendment rights. You need to respect those rights and be responsible. It’s just like driving a car or owning a house. Personal responsibility is the key. You can’t, however, babysit people into being responsible. You need to be personally responsible. So anyone who says we’ll have to take guns away from individuals or that athletes in a sport shouldn’t own guns is akin to creating a nanny state, and that isn’t the answer. There are a million ways to hurt yourself. People demonize the guns, and that fools a certain element of the population, including those pseudo-intellectuals who think they can babysit the nation.
Because of our nation’s obsession with celebrities, those in the spotlight have loud voices. Do you think that makes it too easy to send the wrong message?
That’s a valid concern. There’s no professional athlete of high visibility who can’t call a press conference and not get a dozen reporters to turn out. This can start a discussion about what may be injustices or just what someone sees as a personal injustice. These guys have more media access than 99.9 percent of Americans.
I’m not going to call out anyone individually, but that shouldn’t mean those with the ability to attract media attention should dishonor our veterans, the flag or American idealism. It’s not the proper place to make a statement by dishonoring the national anthem. When you start out by offending people, it makes it really difficult to have a civil discussion. All it does is create emotional tension, which actually shuts down any intelligent discussion, and instead you polarize everything so that you can’t get anything done. It may be the beauty of America to disagree with each other, but when you get so emotional, nothing gets done.
On your show, many of your guests are former players, and you discuss firearms and the Second Amendment with former teammates and rivals alike. Is this a way for you to stay connected with your old pals from the field?
It’s absolutely a way for us to stay connected. Everyone who comes on the show is a Second Amendment supporter or at least open to it. Many of the guys who come on the show are supporters, and many are advocates. We have that stuff in common. It’s also like being back in the locker room, and everyone likes playing that part. This connection is what we hope to bring to the people watching at home.
This is a hard time for pro football, as injuries—especially concussions—have been cast in the spotlight. Do you think these concerns could change the game you love?
It is already changing the game. You watch the new rules in place that are keeping guys healthy, and that’s changing the game for the better. But we have to accept that this is a violent game. It really is. I had my knee replaced in June, and I’ve been through 17 other surgeries that are football related. It has been said that the average quarterback experiences six major auto collisions in each game. The league is trying to make the game safer, and that means changing it but keeping the purity of the game.
Do you think the concerns will make some people question whether they should play at all?
You play the game, and knowing what we know now, you have to make the decision. I can’t say who knew what when. The point is that now we know, and you have to make that decision for yourself. Hey, there are huge upsides, including the big salaries. But then there are downsides to it. This is why, when someone argues that professional athletes make too much money, the question is whether it’s right for what they need to do. This is no different from what an actor might make, but actors can act for 50 years, and there are parts for old guys. The average lifespan in the NFL is just 2.3 years. At the most, guys play 16 to 17 years, and that’s really rare. You generally get fewer than 10, and most guys get fewer than three years.
You live in California, where there are restrictive laws on guns but still a fair amount of crime. Doesn’t that say criminals will always find ways to get guns while leaving law-
abiding citizens at risk?
It’s because it’s based on the emotional premise of control. There’s no doubt about it. The laws aren’t going to stop the bad guys. They’re bad guys because they’re breaking the law already. I tell people if you wanted to stop people shooting each other, you just need to outlaw murder. But we know it’s already illegal to kill someone, so why is taking away someone’s rights to own a gun going to help when you have the biggest law in place already? It doesn’t make anyone safe, but that’s because it’s an emotional argument made by people who don’t understand guns.
Do you think the opponents of the Second Amendment are trying to win in inches, not miles?
They are trying to win all the time. California has introduced stupid laws as a way to get around the Second Amendment, like the lead-bullet ban. The science that was done was contradictory to the findings that led to the passage of this law in California.
They pass laws that make zero sense, but it gets back to the emotional thoughts on issues like this. We know—as those passing the laws must know—that these laws aren’t going to stop the bad guys. It just hinders the law-abiding citizen.
Do you think firearms can be used to help build someone’s confidence? What about when it comes to bonding or maybe working together as a team?
Absolutely. With any other tasks, including sports, when you first try something new, it’s going to be scary. Guns have a stigma, and that’s because these have been so demonized, but I really strive to introduce firearms to people. One example I can name is Justin Forsett, who was a running back for the Detroit Lions. He was afraid of guns to some extent, but he had a completely different view after we went shooting. It shows that firearms can create a bond, and that creates friendships and a team environment.
What role can firearms play in a youngster’s upbringing?
Anything that can get kids outdoors and away from a video screen is huge. Kids today need to see a world beyond social media and the Internet, or else we’re going to have a generation of people that can’t do anything without their devices. We need to keep kids engaged in outdoor sports, and firearms can play a role in that if the kids are shown to respect firearms and understand firearms safety.
Tell us about your favorite firearm right now. Have you tried anything new so far this year? Is there a gun out there right now that you’d like to try or shoot?
The Ruger Precision rifle is something I was able to shoot last fall, and it’s a phenomenal weapon. Right out of the box, it can hit targets well out to 800 yards. I’m impressed, because there are other precision-style rifles that are somewhere between $4,000 and $6,000, and the Ruger comes in between $1,000 and $2,000.
I really love all the Ruger stuff. Shoot my Ruger American Rifle all the time, too. I have to admit, I’m a brand ambassador for Ruger, but I wouldn’t be one if I didn’t really love the company’s stuff. There are a lot of other guns I’m itching to shoot, but that’s what I hope to be doing throughout 2017.
What’s next for Mike Pawlawski? Anything our readers should know?
Well, I recently launched a camouflage apparel line with Go Wild Camo. This solves some of the problems with outdoor clothing and their performance issues. I’ve seen that a lot of camo has been based on military patterns, and that’s not always the best thing for hunting. I worked on this pattern so it better mimics nature and breaks up the human form by creating a hybrid of digital and natural patterns. It can help you blend into the field, and that’s what this is all about.
Mike Pawlawski’s Go-To Long Guns
Favorite rifle: “I love my .300 Winchester Magnum. It’s somewhat bigger than it needs to be, but it does the job. It is an all-around great round in a great rifle.”
Second favorite: “I also love my older M77 Hawkeye, which Ruger no longer makes. But that’s one that’s in the gun cabinet, and it gets taken out quite a lot.”
“Taskmaster” rifle: “That would be the Ruger American Rifle in .308 Winchester. There isn’t much you have to worry about with this bolt action. The setup is fantastic.”
Favorite plinker: “My favorite plinker would have to be the Ruger 10/22, which is chambered in .22 LR. It’s a great gun for kids and novice shooters.”
Deep Routes with Big Ben
“Big Ben” is a great nickname for Ben Roethlisberger. At 6’5” and 240 pounds, the quarterback is pretty big. The Ohio native has led the Pittsburgh Steelers to three Super Bowl appearances and two championship wins. Last fall, Mike Pawlawski caught up with Big Ben for some long-range shooting.
“It was great to meet up with Ben and do some shooting,” Pawlawski said. “I’ve been trying to get together with Ben for years, but even in the off-season, we both are busy with companies we endorse. Finally, we were able to find a schedule, and it was great.”
Pawlawski said that although Big Ben is really more of a bowhunter, he took to firearms like a natural. “He never shot anything over 100 yards before, but I took him to do some long-range shooting,” Pawlawski said. “He loved it, and it really came to him pretty automatically.”
Quarterbacks might have a special gift, and although Big Ben didn’t throw bullets downrange, his eyes were on the prize. “Athletes can be very coachable, as we’re used to taking criticism to heart,” Pawlawski said. “We want to do better, and guys like Ben make it happen. It was very cool to watch that evolution throughout the day. He had never shot anything at that range, and suddenly he’s ringing plates at 600 yards.”
This article is from the summer 2017 issue of Ballistic Magazine. To subscribe, please visit OutdoorGroupStore.com.