Chiefs free safety Husain Abdullah backpedaled with the receiver, recognized the route, broke on the ball and deflected the pass thrown by rookie Tyler Bray.
Abdullah pounded his hands in frustration at not making the interception. After spending a year away from football while on a religious pilgrimage, Abdullah knows every play counts in his NFL comeback, so he had to be satisfied with merely breaking up the pass.
“To get back out here and to have a second chance, not a lot of people get one,” Abdullah said after one of the Chiefs’ offseason workout sessions this week. “So this is a blessing.”
Abdullah, a practicing Muslim, elected not to return to the Minnesota Vikings last season and instead took his wife, parents and two older brothers on a month-long spiritual journey to Saudi Arabia last October.
The family — including older brother Hamza Abdullah, who spent 2005-11 with the Arizona Cardinals — visited and prayed at the mosques in Mecca and Medina. And before that, when their teams were in training camp, the Abdullah brothers made a 30-city-in-30-day, cross-country road trip in a minivan during the 30 days of Ramadan in July and August.
They spoke and prayed at mosques and performed community service from coast-to-coast and in Canada, even while fasting during Ramadan, something he has done even during football seasons.
“It was a beautiful year, all over,” said Abdullah, 27. “We’d give talks to youth groups, and they’d bounce questions off us like, ‘What’s it like playing in the NFL? what’s Brett Favre like ?”
The biggest question, though, was why in the in the prime of his career, did Abdullah make the journey abroad as opposed to waiting until after his playing days were over?
“It was something that weighed heavy on me,” he said. “It’s something Muslims are required to do once in your lifetime, and we didn’t necessarily have to do it then. I see my parents getting a little older and sicker, and I was able to take them it was a dream for them, and it was a dream for me, and to experience that together was awesome.”
The family followed a pretty simple daily routine in the Saudi Arabia.
“Everything is structured around prayer,” he said. “At 4 or 5 a.m., you wake up and you go pray you chill, you do whatever you want to do and come back at noon, and you have another prayer. At midday, another prayer. At sunset you have another prayer, and at night time you have another prayer.”
Abdullah, a starter for the Vikings in 2010 and in nine games in 2011, hoped to catch on with an NFL team upon his return, but there were no takers. Part of the reason might have been he missed seven games in 2011 and finished the season on injured reserve because of a concussion.
“Regardless of how confident you are, the NFL is a business,” he said. “I was working out on my own when I got back from Saudi Arabia. I was trying to get on last year, but it didn’t happen. This year I got a chance.”
The chance occurred because Chiefs general manager John Dorsey, a scouting director at Green Bay, remembered Abdullah from the Packers’ two games each year against NFC North rival Minnesota.
Abdullah cracked the Vikings’ roster as an undrafted rookie from Washington State in 2008, led the team with 24 special teams tackles as a rookie, and by 2010, he started 15 games. Abdullah, 6 feet and 204 pounds, intercepted four passes in 2010-11 before he was sidelined.
Abdullah also had an ally in former Vikings head coach Brad Childress, a confidant of new Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who was eventually hired as an assistant coach.
“When I first got here in January, we had not signed any future or veteran free agents who could help us,” Dorsey said of Abdullah. “He was one of the eight or nine players I identified who can begin help build this roster and have a chance to compete for a job.
“He gives you somebody who has played in the NFL, is a really good person. He’s very smart, very spiritual and he’s good in that locker room. It’s going to fall on his shoulders to compete in training camp and see if he can earn that position.”
Abdullah conceded the layoff has left him a bit rusty, and though he has been working on the second-and third-team defenses, he has worked his way to the first units on several special teams.
“It’s been about a year and a half (away from football), but it’s been a good year and a half,” Abdullah said. “So it’s fun to get back out here. Defensively, I’ve got to re-learn what the offense is trying to do to me because it’s a new system. But as Coach Childress used to say, ‘It’s a man with a man, so you know you can get out there and play right now.’
“And a quality special-teams player definitely has a place in this league.”
Had Abdullah not found a team, or if he doesn’t make it with the Chiefs, he has no regrets about his decision to make the pilgrimage last year.
“It was definitely worth it,” he said. “I was content with the decision, even if I didn’t get it another chance. But I’m only 27 years old, and I want to keep playing football. If I could do it all over again, I would, especially knowing at the end of it the Chiefs would pick me up.
“I love football. I was an undrafted free agent. I wasn’t paraded around. I had to play my way in. So I’m excited for this. But if it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen. There’s life ahead.”