Welcome to The Quazcast, a weekly podcast that brings listeners in on a frank conversation between myself and a random person from the world of sports.
I might speak with a 90-year-old NFL kicker one week, the manager of a Major League Baseball team the next, and a bull fighter the week after that. The Quazcast is about digging deep and avoiding the cliché questions and answers that too often plague sports interviews.
This week’s guest is one of the game’s good guys: former Super Bowl winning New York Giants tight end Kevin Boss. After graduating from Western Oregon University with Academic All-District VIII honors, Boss declared himself eligible for the 2007 NFL Draft. He was selected by the Giants in the fifth round, and finished his rookie season as the team’s starting tight end after Jeremy Shockey went down to injury.
Boss was a key contributor to New York’s championship season, making important catches in the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl. He’d spend the next three seasons with the Giants as a starter, cementing his reputation as a large, but athletic tight end, who most memorably leaped over a would-be tackler on a third down play against the Eagles in his final year with the team.
Boss signed a four-year free agent contract with the Oakland Raiders ahead of the 2011 season. After only a single year in Oakland, he was released. He played last year for the Kansas City Chiefs, but didn’t catch on with a team for the 2013 season.
Below is an excerpt of our conversation and a recording of the complete interview. As always, to get future podcasts downloaded straight to your listening device, you can subscribe to The Quazcast on iTunes.
Jeff Pearlman: I love hearing the sagas of guys who make it from small places, from unexpected places where you’d say, ‘whoa. I don’t even know that school.’ I mean forget the fact that a guy came out of Western Oregon, I’d never even heard of Western Oregon, and then I read your bio and it’s like, you know, he was all-league, second-team as a junior and it’s like, ‘how the hell did this happen, Kevin?’ How did this even happen?
Kevin Boss: That’s a good question, Gosh, you know, I mean, I guess if a started back at High School I guess I just kind of ended up at Western Oregon. When I graduated high school I was just a skinny little pencil neck. Same height; I was 6”7 when I graduated but I was 190 lbs. maybe push 200 if I ate a whole lot for a week straight but I hadn’t really matured yet.
At that time…it wasn’t until late in my high school career that I decided to pursue football; I always wanted to play basketball and really tried to pursue college basketball. Just kind of late in my career one of my football coaches, it was actually after my last game, and he said, ‘you know, I don’t think this will be your last football game.’ At the time that was really the first time I’d thought about playing college football, and I was like, ‘really?’, and he was like, ‘yeah, you should play college football,’ so you know, I thought about it and then I went a played a basketball season and we won the State Championship my senior year and I figured, alright I’m going to go play college basketball and then I kind of started getting some interest from some small schools there in Oregon.
JP: What is it like, because your story has been sort of talked about before but I’ve never really heard a good detailed account. What is it like when you’re a guy from Western Oregon and you look to your left and there are guys from Alabama and USC and you look to your right and there are guy from LSU and Auburn and here`s Kevin Boss from Western Oregon. Are you intimidated, do you have chip on your shoulder, are you like, `to Hell with these guy, I`m going to show them what I can do?’ What was that like?
KB: I was intimidated. These guys were the guys I was watching on TV after my games were played where I played in front of a couple hundred fans every Saturday afternoon, I’d go home and watch college football the rest of the day and here I am with all these guys, but at the same time I thought this is my time; this is my shot; this is the chance to prove small-school guys can play and I wanted to make the most of that opportunity and it was cool too because before I signed with my agent, before the combine, I had a chance to go train in Orlando for a couple months and trained with guys like Calvin Johnson and couple guys where I was starstruck when I met them. Being a college senior or a recent graduate and meeting guys like Calvin Johnson who are supposed to get drafted in the first round and at that point I was just hoping to get picked up as a free agent. But once we got to the combine and had a chance to train with those guys for a little bit and realizing, gosh I can’t even get close to saying it, realizing I’m just as athletically gifted as a guy like Calvin Johnson but you know there’s 30 or 40 guys there and I do fit in with this group of athletes so that gave me the confidence to go to the combine and to do well.
JP: I think being next to Calvin Johnson, I think I would just go home.
KB: That is the most athletically-gifted, freakishly-gifted athlete that I’ve ever even laid eyes on. He’s amazing, and the most humble down-to-earth dude you’ll ever meet which is the best part about Calvin.
JP: That’s a rare, I mean I’ve covered a lot of athletes, and I used to hear people say, they would excuse arrogance in athletes by saying, ‘Well, you have to be that way. If you’re going to reach that level you’re going to have to be arrogant,’ and I always thought, ‘No you don’t.’ I mean do you have to be a jerk to be an athlete? Is there any reason you have to have an attitude?
KB: Not at all. That part about being in that world was probably the most frustrating for me. Just meeting and being around so many overly-arrogant guys, I mean ok, maybe have a little swag to you about your game, and honestly looking back, maybe I didn’t have enough swag to my game, and I think that confidence can go a long way, but there’s no reason or room or anything. You don’t need to be a jerk or be that arrogant, and it’s not all athletes. There’s a lot of great stories like Calvin Johnson, who, in my eyes, is the greatest receiver to ever play the game and incredibly humble and down to earth. There’s a few guys that kind of rub you the wrong way and like you said, you’ve seen it and it’s unfortunate that they feel they need to act that way.
JP: You are from Philomath, Oregon. Home of 4,500 people. Your dad, Bob, a juvenile court counselor, your mom, Teresa, a behavioral management assistant in the school system. Had you ever been to New York?
KB: No I hadn’t. My tight end coach still likes to tell the story about when I went up there for my first visit before the draft. They brought me up for a visit and we got done with all our meetings and what not and meeting all the coaches and sitting down and talking and he said, ‘well, you’ve never seen New York City; why don’t we hop in the car,’ and he drove me down right through Times Square and still to this day he laughs at me, he tells everybody that I was down to my waist, I was hanging out of the car at my waist just looking up into the lights and he’s over there just looking at me laughing. But it was something going up from little Oregon to New York City just like that right out of college. It was a pretty neat experience and one where if I didn’t play football New York City is probably a place I wouldn’t have lived but now it’s almost considered a second home kind of and we’ll always go back there and we have a lot of friends back there and I look forward to taking my boy back there to watch a game. It’s, like I said, sort of a second home now.
JP: I’m wondering, you make the Super Bowl as a rookie; does the Super Bowl live up to the hype?
KB: Yeah I think it does. It’s one of those things that now looking back I really wish I could do it over again because I don’t like being a rookie. I Don’t think I appreciated it as much as I should have. I was on top of the world thinking this is incredible, but looking back now I wish little things. I wish I would have brought a camcorder; I wish I would have flew in more family and friends to come to the game. Everyone says, ‘oh you’re a rookie; you go as a rookie you think it’s gonna happen every year,’ and honestly I guess that’s what I kind of felt. Oh I’m a rookie and we’re going to the Super Bowl. Cool. I’ll go back a couple more times before my career is over, but it’s not that easy. I was playing with guys like Jeff Feagles who was I think in his 19th or 20th year where he finally got to one. I mean it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced but looking back now I just wish I could have gone just one more time so I really could have relished and treasured every single minute of the entire process.
To hear the entire interview – including Boss talking about the mentality of elite athletes, the differences between college and pro football, and the ridiculousness of tattoos that read “Humble” - you can download the podcast here or listen below.
Jeff Pearlman is a former senior writer for Sports Illustrated. He is the author of six books including Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, The Bad Guys Won (a biography of the 1986 New York Mets) and Boys Will Be Boys (an account of the Dallas Cowboys dynasty from the 1990s). His newest book – Showtime (due to be released on February 11, 2014) - explores another famous sports dynasty: the Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s.