Bills Olympic gold medalist DT eager to ‘do the impossible’ in ‘unicorn situation’

Olympic gold medalist Gable Steveson has a penchant for doing the impossible, something he's eager to do again as he attempts to make the Buffalo Bills' roster.
Aug 6, 2021; Chiba, Japan;  Gable Dan Steveson (USA) with his gold medal at the medals ceremony for the men's freestyle 125kg wrestling competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Makuhari Messe Hall A. Mandatory Credit: Mandi Wright-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 6, 2021; Chiba, Japan; Gable Dan Steveson (USA) with his gold medal at the medals ceremony for the men's freestyle 125kg wrestling competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Makuhari Messe Hall A. Mandatory Credit: Mandi Wright-USA TODAY Sports / Mandi Wright-USA TODAY Sports

It was an impossible situation.

Gable Steveson had been dominant—nay, flawless—on his path to the gold medal match at the 2020 Tokyo Games, not conceding a single point in the leadup to the finale against three-time world champion Geno Petriashvili. The talk of American amateur wrestling for several years, Steveson appeared set to enter eternity, to etch his name alongside names like Jordan Burroughs and Dan Gable—his namesake—as American wrestlers who represented their country—and won—on the biggest possible stage.

It just wasn’t going his way.

Steveson gave up several quick points in succession after getting off to an early 4-0 lead in the gold medal match. He was down 8-5 with just 13 seconds remaining in the contest, his hopes fading as quickly as the clock.

He was 13 seconds away from hanging silver around his neck as opposed to gold. Thirteen seconds away from watching his competitor have his hand raised. Thirteen seconds away from going back to the drawing board.

And then he rallied.

Steveson pulled off a remarkable comeback in the dying seconds of the match, scoring two points with roughly nine ticks left on the clock and another two as time expired, winning Olympic gold despite the notion seeming unfeasible not even a quarter of a minute earlier.

He pulled off the impossible, something he’s eager to do again as he embarks on a new venture as a defensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills.

Steveson inked a three-year contract with the Bills last month despite never playing a snap of organized football in his life—in fact, the first time he ever laced up a pair of cleats was on his mid-May visit to One Bills Drive. The 24-year-old realizes that his path to the roster is steep—few (potentially no) players in professional football have ever decided to pick up the sport in May and made an NFL roster that September. 

That said, he’s eager to give it his all. After all, he has a knack for doing the unthinkable.

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“Do the impossible,” Steveson told reporters after Tuesday’s minicamp practice. “I won the Olympics in 2020 off a last-second takedown. That’s near impossible. But to win the Olympics, it’s not impossible. In that instance, you want to be the best that you can. I want to come to a new field and be the best that I can. In my eyes, it’s mandatory. It’s a goal. It’s not about just joining a football team, it’s about making it through and being a product that people can look at and say, ‘Hey, this guy has never played football in his life, and he made it.’ 

“Kids are going to look at that and be like, ‘Wow, I can be something with myself.’ Because when I was younger, we had none of these opportunities, and for me to finally push that narrative of you can come from one sport to another, that’s an incredible thing, and I hope people realize this and can see that they can do whatever they want with their lives.”

Steveson’s signing, for those with their ear to the ground, wasn’t necessarily surprising beyond the initial ‘adding a player who has never played football’ shock of it all; Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott has oft-spoken about his passion for amateur wrestling, feeling as though the athletic, physical, and mental traits that the sport’s competitors operate with translate well to the gridiron. His interest in one of the most dominant American wrestlers in recent years was wholly unsurprising to anyone paying attention; when he saw the wrestler's “quickness,” “burst,” “power,” and work ethic at his tryout, he couldn’t help but want to add him to the roster.

Steveson has already made an impact on his head coach and teammates, with the NFL’s active-all-time sack leader Von Miller praising his athleticism earlier this month. The rookie is eager to learn from Miller and Buffalo’s other defensive linemen as he transitions to the game of football; with a strong support system offered by the team that wanted him “since day one,” Steveson feels as though he couldn’t ask to be in a better situation.

“We have so many amazing guys,” Steveson said. “We have, man, look, we have Von Miller, you’ve got Ed Oliver, DaQuan Jones—I am sitting on the line next to some of the greatest football players. D-linemen, and let’s talk about Von, a Hall of Famer—in practice, I’m talking to them. When I’m a kid, I’m watching Von win for the Broncos [a] Super Bowl. This is fascinating, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

“Like I said, I’m very grateful. Nobody gets to see this, nobody gets to ever have this opportunity. This is definitely a unicorn situation, but every day I put in my all, I show up with gratitude, with honor, with anything that these guys want me to do, I will do it without a question. That’s just the wrestling way.”

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The likelihood of Steveson ultimately becoming a consistently fieldable defensive tackle is slim—but so was the likelihood of winning an Olympic gold medal. So was the likelihood of constructing an 85-2 collegiate record. So was the likelihood of competing in the WWE for several years.

Steveson has a knack for making the impossible, possible, something that’s fueling him as he embarks on this new journey.

“This is personal to me because I don’t want to be that guy that just came, and has just came,” Steveson said. “I want to be the guy that makes it.”

Kyle Silagyi