Few pro-football players would be pleased to be released from the NFL, but for former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Joe Hawley, the end of his football career meant a chance at a new beginning. After eight years spent sacrificing himself to both the mental and physical stress of his football career, Joe has decided to embrace this new chapter of his life and make the most of it.
He tells USA Today, “It’s very structured. My whole life has been like that. I felt like I just kind of wanted to experience life, be free.”
When the Buccaneers decided not to renew Joe’s contract he saw opportunity and independence in the future. Although he had loved football, he had also sacrificed a lot of himself for it – most notably in his knees but also his freedom. Filled with wanderlust, he wasted no time donating many of his belongings to charity, selling his Mercedes, and buying a van.
But as any dog lover knows – a road trip isn’t a road trip without a canine co-pilot. Along with his new life came a need a for a new friend, so Joe decided to adopt a travel companion! He met with several pups, but hadn’t felt a connection with any. He was determined to find the right dog, and then spotted her cowering in her kennel.
“She was like shaking in her cage,” Joe tells ESPN. “She was so scared and nervous. So I knew she’d be grateful… I knew, ‘This is the one.’”
A dog is truly a mans best friend.. and I found a best friend in Freedom. I am so beyond grateful that the universe brought us together. She is going to be the greatest companion on this journey. We hit the road in 2 weeks. I’m getting a little nervous/anxious but having her by my side is going to make the whole experience that much more enjoyable. You can’t have the Man without the Van and the Dog. . . . . #vanlife #dog #mansbestfriend #savealife #dontshopadopt #shesavedme #hittheroad #april1 #MVDB
With the help of his sister, Ashleigh, Joe decided to name his new pup “Freedom” – a name fitting for a dog rescued from a kill shelter who found her way into Joe’s new life!
Joe and Freedom got on their way last month, making trips to the Suntrust Stadium in Atlanta, the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, and several dog-friendly beaches along the Florida coast! Unlike his football career, which had been scheduled months in advance with games, travel and practice, Joe has decided to keep his planning to a minimum, with only a wishlist of sites-to-see and no real destination.
So far, Joe has had some obligations to attend events – like a benefit for children with cancer – that has kept him close to Florida, but he has big dreams for himself and Freedom. He plans to see more of the U.S., making stops at Children’s Hospitals along the way to distribute toys.
Freedom will be riding along with him wherever he goes, and has already developed a taste for life on the road!
One of the greatest things about being on the road is the ability to spend time with friends I don’t get to see that often. I’ve spent that last few days in Atlanta visiting some of my best buddies and it has been an absolute blast. I’ve got a golf trip planned this weekend where I’ll be playing 5 rounds in 3 days. Don’t know if my body will be up for it but I’m not complaining. I keep trying to tell Freedom that we are spending a few more days here but she’s obviously ready to get back out on the road. Soon enough girl, soon enough.
Joe and Freedom have a lot of travelling on their to-do list, with sites like Niagara Falls, Redwood National Park, and many, many stadiums in the future! Follow them on Instagram and at ManVanDogBlog.com.