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SONOMA - Retirement, for too many professional athletes, is walking into a dark room, not knowing what's in it, not knowing if there is a door that leads somewhere to something. The first astronaut launched into space knew more about where he was headed than most pro athletes do as they enter retirement. Because, frankly, they never are asked to think on their` own. Their team does it for them.

"For about 10 months every year," said Tony Moll, the Sonoma Valley grad.

So how is Moll doing these days with a life not organized to the very tick on the clock? After seven years in the NFL, Moll now can eat what he wants, wake up when he wants, stare at his navel for as long as it suits him and call it a heck of a day. His life is now finally his and one gets the sense where it is after he talks about his relationship with the television — the prism in which so many people view their world and their entertainment.

"If the television is on," Moll said, "it's usually tuned to a baby channel."

Moll and his wife, Megan, have a 16-month-old, Stella.

But what about ESPN and SportsCenter? ESPN and the NFL are an entertainment marriage of unprecedented impact, America's favorite sport joined at the hip with the Worldwide Leader.

"SportsCenter is never on in my house," said Moll, 30. "I have some knowledge about the league and so much what I hear on SportsCenter is just not true.

It's hearsay. It really annoys me. It's a turnoff. So I don't watch."

The braying of mules, in other words, a loud voice that offers volume, not substance.

"I'm struggling, and I say this somewhat in a joking way, with becoming a fan," said Moll, an offensive lineman who played for the Packers, Ravens and Chargers.

The hard work, the sweat, the business of the NFL, the politics of it, having blocked for Brett Favre, Joe Flacco and Philip Rivers, Moll finds it difficult, if not impossible, to see the league on television reduced to showy bombast. The league is much more complicated and challenging than that, two words Moll knows all too well.

"Let's hope Tony makes the practice squad," said Gina, his mother, when Moll was drafted out of the University of Nevada in 2006 as a fifth-round draft choice by Green Bay.

His odds were longer than a polar night.

"I came from a school that wasn't known for NFL prospects," Moll said. "I was a tight end in college but I was a rookie in the NFL learning a new position (offensive line). So I had to fight and scrap for everything. There were guys who had everything handed to them. They had nothing to worry about. Then they retired and then you had to worry about what they would do in their life."

Plans, Moll always needed them. He had to be structured, disciplined, to survive in the NFL. He played in 63 games in the NFL, 22 of them as a starter. So, too, it would have to be the same way when he began his life outside the NFL. Although he made his mind up in March to retire, Moll didn't announce it until Monday. Moll wanted to reformulate his life, one structure replacing another, one challenge replacing another. Fact is, Moll replaced one challenge with about five of them ... or was it 20?

At 6-foot-5, 290 pounds Moll is quite likely the biggest mortgage banker in Sonoma County. He works with his older brother, Chad, the president of "Rebuilding Together," a non-profit organization assisting those who can not afford household repairs — "I fetch the nails and paint."

He counsels athletes at Sonoma Valley High School, in matters personal as well as athletic. He continues to produce with two of his former Packers teammates "The Three Fat Guys" wine, a popular cabernet. He does yoga every other day, runs 5-6 miles three or four times a week.

Where he once weighed 324 pounds when he was with the Chargers, Moll has lost 34 pounds and is headed to 240, the weight he carried as a tight end at Nevada. He wants to do triathlons and marathons. He has joined the local Rotary and even floated the idea this week that one day he'd like to run for public office.

Oh, yes, he's a husband and a father, responsibilities that trump all others, living with them in a place that he feels trumps all others.

"I played with guys who couldn't wait to relocate once they made in the NFL," Moll said. "For me, I couldn't wait to get back home here in Sonoma County. And the longer I played, the more I missed it."

What he missed was family. Stella is a fifth-generation Moll. Moll wears his family name and reputation like a shiny badge pinned to his chest. He is proud of what his family has done, their impact on education, architecture and engineering well-known in the area. That's what attracted him to real estate. He would be in the community, working with people, for the people, establishing himself as a trusted resource in an industry that has suffered credibility issues.

So when it came time for Moll to go to the sidelines and stay on the sidelines, he has a found a life.

You might say he found, depending on your interpretation, about a dozen of them. You might say he probably needs all of them to fill the hours the NFL once filled. That's a challenge he eagerly has assumed ... with the desired result.

"I don't miss it (NFL) too much," said Moll beginning his first fall in 15 years without playing football.

Moll never has been much a spectator. He goes to sleep at midnight, wakes up at 5 a.m. He has a job to do. It's living. It's participating. He's very good at it.

"The most painful part of my day is watching a sunset," he said. "That means I have to wait for the next day."