Alex Mack wasn’t just a “big nerd”—he was one of the best centers in the National Football League from 2009 to 2021.
The 6’4”, 311-lb. Mack was a stone wall on the offensive lines of the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons during his 13-year pro football career.
Mack rose from obscurity in high school to become a seven-time Pro Bowler in the NFL.
Part of Mack’s success lay in his otherworldly work ethic. Some of his teammates even swore he had the strength of a defensive back.
However, if there was one thing that set Alex Mack apart from other offensive linemen, it was his tenacity.
Mack once played through appendicitis in a regular-season game. He also played with a broken leg in Super Bowl LI.
Long story short, Alex Mack was the epitome of relentlessness in the trenches during his time on the pro gridiron.
Javon Alexander Mack was born to parents Steve and Cheryl in Los Angeles, CA on November 19, 1985.
Mack attended San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara, CA.
He excelled in football, wrestling, and track for the San Marcos Royals. Mack was second in the state of California in his wrestling weight class, per ESPN’s Vaughn McClure.
Before @alexmack51 was a star for @CalFootball and the @49ers, he was an outstanding wrestler at San Marcos High School in CA. Mack wrestled for 4 years, losing only two matches his senior year. #thepriceoflegacy pic.twitter.com/YWjJrNlW9o
— The Price of Legacy (@PriceOfLegacy) January 26, 2022
According to Cleveland.com’s Tom Reed, Mack’s high school offensive line coach Dennis Kittle warned his players that he’d cut off their fingers if he caught them holding.
While Kittle never severed Mack’s fingers, the latter remembered his coach cleaning his fingernails with a pocket knife.
Kittle lauded Mack for his otherworldly work ethic. He even showed up once for football practice after he underwent a dental procedure earlier that day.
Mack’s toughness in high school was a prelude to the grit he showed on the pro football gridiron in later years.
While Mack was tough, he was also clumsy in high school.
Whenever he shuffled his big feet, there was a huge chance he’d trip or fall on his knees. When he made his way up to the medal stand in his junior year, he tripped.
Thus, Mack’s Royals teammates dubbed him “Goofy.”
Mack also developed a stellar work ethic while playing for the Royals—he finished every football practice running up a hill 10 times at maximum speed, per Reed.
Alex Mack eventually earned Channel League Defensive MVP, First-Team All-League, and All-CIF honors in high school.
Despite Mack’s accolades, he was only a two-star recruit coming out of San Marcos High. In fact, only the University of California at Berkeley dangled a football scholarship, per ClevelandBrowns.com’s Andrew Gribble.
Mack remained in-state and became a stonewall in the California Golden Bears offensive line in the collegiate ranks.
College Days With The California Golden Bears
Alex Mack attended the University of California at Berkeley from 2004 to 2008. He majored in legal studies and earned a master’s in education in later years.
Mack redshirted his true freshman season in 2004. He joined the scout team that year and helped size up various opponents’ offenses. He also pored over the Golden Bears’ playbook, per Gribble.
California Golden Bears offensive line coach Jim Michalczik felt Mack’s talents were more suited to playing center so he assigned him that position.
Mack told McClure some eleven years later that he knew how to snap the football back in his high school days at San Marcos High.
Mack also felt his playing weight of 275 pounds wasn’t heavy enough to play tackle in college. That could have prompted Michalczik to slide him over to the center spot.
Mack had no regrets—he felt center was a position that fit him to a tee. He would also evolve into a seven-time Pro Bowl center during his 13-year pro football career.
Alex Mack backed up Marvin Philip at center as a redshirt freshman in the 2006 NCAA season. He became the starter as a redshirt sophomore and earned First-Team All-Pac 10 honors a year later.
Mack emerged as one of the nation’s best centers in his redshirt junior season in 2007. In fact, ESPN NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. named him the best center in the country that year.
— Alex Mack (@alexmack51) August 8, 2017
Mack earned a slew of accolades in his final two years with the Golden Bears. He won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-10’s top offensive lineman in 2007 and 2008.
Mack also earned First-Team All-American honors from Rivals.com and Second-Team All-American honors from Walter Camp and Sporting News following his redshirt senior campaign.
Alex Mack excelled not only on the college gridiron but also in the classroom. He won the Draddy Trophy as the country’s top scholar-athlete in 2008.
Part of the credit went to Mack’s voracious appetite for books—he had been devouring historical fiction, science, and fantasy books throughout his college career, per Cleveland.com.
Cal won an average of nine games per season when Mack suited up for the Golden Bears from 2005 to 2008.
They won four bowl games—the 2005 Las Vegas Bowl, the 2006 Holiday Bowl, the 2007 Armed Forces Bowl, and the 2008 Emerald Bowl—during that time frame.
Alex Mack brought his relentless work ethic to the NFL and became one of the league’s best centers during his 13-year pro football career.
Pro Football Career
The Cleveland Browns made Alex Mack the 21st overall selection of the 2009 NFL Draft.
Mack would eventually play 13 seasons in the pro football ranks and make a case for consideration for Canton someday.
Ironically, he knew nothing about pro football history when he entered the National Football League in 2009.
“He literally knew absolutely nothing about the NFL, hardly anything about sports because he grew up in a family that didn’t watch sports,” legendary Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said on the ThomaHawk podcast (via TheAthletic.com) in the spring of 2020.
Alex Mack with his old Browns buddy Joe Thomas pic.twitter.com/P9ZtTtiRB7
— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) November 11, 2018
Thomas also remembered sitting with Mack in the cold tub after practice during the latter’s rookie year.
Mack, who had always been a voracious reader, was poring over a fantasy book. Thomas simply cringed.
From that day onward, Joe Thomas called Alex Mack a “huge nerd.”
Mack’s debut was against the Minnesota Vikings in September 2009.
Mack went up against vaunted Vikings pass rushers Kevin and Pat Williams. With the latter draped all over Mack, the Browns center’s shotgun snap out of the Wildcat formation to Josh Cribbs was a bit high.
“My technique was probably terrible,” Mack told McClure in the spring of 2016. “At that moment, I was like, ‘All right, I’ve got some serious work to do.'”
Then-Browns starting quarterback Brady Quinn’s assessment of Mack was more encouraging—he thought the rookie center was smart, quick off the ball, and had great potential.
Mack put in the work and earned three of his seven career Pro Bowl selections with the Browns.
Unfortunately, Cleveland was a moribund franchise during Alex Mack’s seven-year tenure in Northeast Ohio.
The Browns averaged barely five wins per year from 2009 to 2015. Consequently, they extended their postseason drought to 13 years.
One of the reasons behind the Browns’ ineptitude was their never-ending quarterback carousel.
They had six starting quarterbacks—Brady Quinn, Colt McCoy, Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, and Josh McCown—when Alex Mack suited up for the Browns from 2009 to 2015.
The Browns also had other issues when Mack was their starting center.
Cleveland dealt with the Johnny Manziel and Josh Gordon fiascos. Mack also played for four head coaches and six offensive coordinators as a member of the Browns organization.
— MoreForYouCleveland (@MoreForYou_CLE) June 2, 2022
Despite the drama in Cleveland, Mack racked up several accolades during his seven-year stint in Northeast Ohio.
Not only did Mack become a three-time Pro Bowler with the Browns, but he also earned the first of his three career Second-Team All-Pro selections following the 2013 NFL season.
According to Gribble, Mack had a weekly routine he followed down to the last detail:
- Tuesdays: Mack relaxed and cleared his mind on his day off
- Wednesdays: Mack watched film of the Browns’ next opponent
- Thursdays and Fridays: He continued watching film focusing on specific plays such as how to beat a defense’s blitz
During Mack’s and linebacker Scott Fujita’s time together with the Browns from 2010 to 2012, the latter marveled at the Cleveland center’s work-life balance.
“Alex is one of those guys who’s very well-read,” Fujita told Reed in the fall of 2013. “He’ll think nothing of just taking off and flying to Thailand in the offseason. But when he shows up to work nobody practices harder or plays harder.”
Fujita was nearby when Mack displayed the fitness level of a defensive back during a Browns’ workout in Texas during the NFL lockout in 2011.
“Alex just blew it out of the water,” he told Reed. “It was shocking.”
Mack showed he was one of the league’s toughest offensive linemen a few months later.
He played through appendicitis during the Browns’ 31-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the 2011 NFL season. Mack thought he had flu or strep throat (something he could’ve caught from running back Peyton Hillis) prior to kickoff.
Unfortunately, it was something much worse.
Fujita also told Cleveland.com that Mack was one of those rare individuals who could strike up a conversation with random strangers at a bar.
Mack had other interests off the gridiron during his memorable 13-year NFL career.
He has always fervently supported the military—he participated in the NFL-USO program and visited U.S. troops in Southeast Asia in 2011.
Mack carried the American flag while running beside a serviceman and leading the Browns onto the field in a game against the Baltimore Ravens on November 3, 2013.
The Jacksonville Jaguars offered Mack a lucrative five-year, $42 million contract in April 2014.
Browns transition-tagged center Alex Mack signed his five-year, $42M offer sheet that includes $26M guaranteed with the Jaguars.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 11, 2014
The Browns ultimately matched the Jaguars’ offer several days later.
Mack sustained a leg injury in a 31-10 battle with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 6 of the 2014 NFL campaign. Emergency responders had to cart him off the field.
It was the only time left tackle Joe Thomas cried on the gridiron during his 11-year NFL career, per Reed.
Subsequent X-rays revealed Mack broke his fibula and had to sit out the rest of the 2014 NFL season. Prior to Mack’s injury, he had suited up in 85 consecutive games for the Browns since his rookie year in 2009.
Mack eventually returned and played for Cleveland until the 2016 NFL campaign. He opted out of the final three years of his deal with the Browns at season’s end.
The Atlanta Falcons signed Alex Mack to a five-year, $45 million contract in March 2016.
Mack admitted that the toughest part of the free-agency process was leaving behind left tackle Joe Thomas and the other Browns offensive linemen who became his close friends.
“I’ll miss them forever and they’ll be friends until the day I die,” Mack told ESPN shortly after he signed with the Falcons.
The Falcons won an average of nine games per year with Mack snapping the pigskin to quarterback Matt Ryan from 2016 to 2019.
One of Mack’s signature moments with the Falcons was playing with a broken leg in Atlanta’s 34-28 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI in February 2017.
It was the game where the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead to New England and a chance to win their first Super Bowl title.
Mack had a chip fracture above the plate doctors inserted in his leg after he broke his fibula nearly three years earlier.
It turned out he fractured his leg during the 2016 NFC Championship Game against Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers.
Not only did Mack gut out Super Bowl LI, but he also racked up 104 rushing yards in the loss to the Patriots.
Alex Mack’s fellow players elected him treasurer of the NFL Players Association in March 2020.
He became a member of the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team a month later.
Mack began baking bread as a new hobby when COVID-19 broke out in 2020.
Quarantine hobby #348:
Learned how to make French bread pic.twitter.com/1jpQvEy2fR
— Alex Mack (@alexmack51) March 22, 2020
Mack signed a three-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers on March 18, 2021.
The move reunited Mack with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who was his offensive coordinator with the Browns and Falcons.
When Shanahan first worked with Mack, he dubbed him “Golden Retriever” because his downfield blocking abilities were akin to a dog pursuing a frisbee, per Reed.
Mack also returned to the Bay Area where he spent his college days with the California Golden Bears in nearby Berkeley.
According to ESPN’s Nick Wagoner, Mack signed with San Francisco on a year-to-year basis—he wanted to determine in the offseason whether he would play the following year.
Shanahan confirmed that Mack had a serious sweating issue when he played for the 49ers in the 2021 NFL season.
Mack sweated so profusely that he had to insert towels in the back of his pants so he didn’t drench the football. Had he not done this, it would’ve been hard for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to grip the slippery ball.
Shanahan revealed that Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan made Mack change pants every quarter during their time together in Atlanta from 2016 to 2020.
The 49ers went 10-7 in Mack’s lone year with the squad. They lost to Matthew Stafford’s LA Rams in the 2021 NFC Championship Game, 20-17.
Alex Mack retired from the National Football League on June 3, 2022.
49ers general manager John Lynch was optimistic Mack would return for the 2023 NFL season. He felt all signs pointed toward Mack’s return just three months before he announced his retirement.
However, Lynch’s sentiments changed considerably a few days before the 2022 NFL Draft. He allowed Mack to make his retirement statement when he was ready, per Wagoner.
Mack and the 49ers agreed to a restructured deal that lowered his base salary from $5 million to $1.12 million in 2022 and from $3.35 million to $1.165 million in 2023.
Lynch and his colleagues used the more than $4 million they saved from Mack’s restructured contract to sign nine rookies in 2022.
Lynch and Shanahan released a statement on Mack’s retirement that read:
“The center position in the NFL is the heartbeat of an offense and Alex’s intellect, consistency, love for the game, and professional approach made a lasting impression over the course of his 13 NFL seasons.”
After all Mack accomplished on the gridiron, he should become a solid candidate for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday.
Alex Mack and his wife currently reside in Hermosa Beach, CA.
Mack, who majored in legal studies at Cal, isn’t keen on pursuing a career as a lawyer after his retirement from the gridiron in June 2022.
“Trying to take the bar exam and going to law school and starting at the bottom of some law firm is not what I really want to do when I’m done playing,” Mack told ESPN several days after he signed with the Atlanta Falcons in the spring of 2016.
Mack and his offensive line teammates from the Cleveland Browns remain close friends. They keep in touch via their group text chain, per TheAthletic.com.
Mack is a frequent traveler. He has been to Turkey, Thailand, Taiwan, Spain, Japan, Italy, Greece, England, Bali, and Australia.
By tight end Austin Hooper’s estimate, Mack has been to roughly 30 to 40 countries.
Austin and Mack were teammates on the Atlanta Falcons from 2016 to 2019.