Archive for the ‘The Interview’ Category

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When Roger Goodell says words about London and the possibility of placing a team there — as he did earlier this month — deciphering a hidden message between those words has become an instant ritual. His most recent words that resonated were “potential home city”, but they were then followed by “a lot would have to happen before that could take place”.

For now, that’s where we stand on the grand issue. But the interest in continuing to aggressively expand the game internationally is abundantly obvious. This year the league is playing two games in London during one season for the first time, the latest of which is the Jaguars-49ers game this Sunday at Wembley. Next year the gift of Americanized football will go overseas three times, another first, and today the teams were announced. London will be treated to Cowboys-Jaguars, Falcons-Lions, and Raiders-Dolphins.

If you think at least two of those games will be something less than a pristine example of NFL football, you might be right. But that mattered little when two 0-3 teams faced off in September, and a sellout crowd of over 83,500 watched an entertaining 34-27 Minnesota Vikings win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sure, many of those tickets were sold far in advance, but maybe that’s because quotes like this one from a random fan (said to The Associated Press) prior to the game are becoming commonplace:

“To be honest, I would go regardless of the teams playing. The chance to hang out and chat with so many like-minded NFL fans is one of my favorite parts of the day.”

Or are they?

Read the rest of this entry »

In a sense, football is a series of individual one-on-one fights designed to win a collective battle. Offensive and defensive linemen match brute strength, while cornerbacks and wide receivers decide who can jump higher and run faster.

That’s why even the most minor edge in training is vital, and it perhaps explains why in recent years NFL players have started to do something creative. Led primarily by Jay Glazer, elite players like Jared Allen have done MMA training as part of their offseason routine.

Saints middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma–the defensive rookie of the year in 2004–hasn’t branched into MMA training yet, but he presumably has some insight about the growth of MMA training among his peers. That was a safe assumption for two reasons: he’s a huge fight fan (or so we heard), and he just signed on to endorse JACO Training Apparel, which has a line of MMA-specific clothing, and has former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans serving as a fellow ambassador.

But instead of just assuming that Vilma knows what he’s talking about, we had a novel idea. We should talk to him over the telephone, and document his answers after we asked questions.

In journalistic terms, we’re told this is an interview, and after we talked training, MMA, and some football, we learned that if he’s ever given the chance, Vilma would take the Lombardi Trophy out for a date.

What are your main training methods right now, and are your workouts similar to those done by MMA fighters?

I go down to the University of Miami in the offseason and do a combination of speed and endurance training. It’s not quite the same training that MMA guys go through, because I’m more about being explosive, and being able to maintain my explosion over a long period of time. I’m a big MMA fan, though, and I respect the way they train because I know it’s tough as hell.

What do you see in common between the ideal MMA body, and the ideal NFL body?

I’m looking at the top guys in the MMA right now, and longer limbs and longer extremities allow them to really keep their opponents at a distance with their length. At the same time, if they do get close you can see that they’re able to physically take over with a submission.

It’s about being longer and taller, and it’s almost like a 6’10″ receiver going against a 5’10″ cornerback. You throw the ball up, and naturally you expect the receiver to get it because of his ability, and because he’s a longer person.

Patrick Willis is among the NFL players who have done MMA training. Do you see any specific benefits for your position?

For my position I’d look at endurance. You’re talking about three five-minute bouts in the UFC, and on any given play I’m either running down the field, or I’m taking on 300-pound guys and tackling someone, so I need to be at that top-level endurance as well.

You mentioned that you’ve been a big MMA fan for a while. How did you get into the sport?

I’ve been following for about four or five years now. I just remember watching it and thinking ‘this is pretty cool,’ and then trying to learn the nuances of the fighters, and their styles and techniques.

As both a fan and an athlete, do you see a connection between MMA fighting and football?

There are direct parallels in the mental and physical battle. You see guys who mentally beat themselves before the fight even starts, and you see other guys who are just so tough mentally that they’re able to push themselves and win the fight. In the ebb and flow of a football game, you have to be tough enough for long enough to win the game.

Now let’s do something you’ve never done before in an interview: talk about football. Who’s the toughest running back to defend?

I can’t give it to one guy in particular, but those fast guys really scare me. Speed kills, so guys like Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, and DeAngelo Williams are scary, because if you take one false step, they’re out of the gate for a touchdown.

With the bigger guys, if you take that false step you can still run them down five, ten, or 20 yards later. But those fast guys, they put points on the board quickly.

So Darren Sproles, a player who you’re now facing in practice daily, must be pretty intimidating too then.

Oh yeah. I love him on Sundays, but I hate him during the week.

Your position is clearly important in terms of stopping the run, but you also relay the play calls from the sidelines from defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Do you have full freedom to call audibles and adjust before the snap?

I’ll get the call from [Williams], and then I’m allowed the freedom to work. If I see something and we’re in a bad alignment or we should be in a better defense based on what the offense is running, I can easily check into and out of plays.

Lastly, your defensive play contributed to the Saints’ Super Bowl win two years ago. Hockey is kind of a big deal up here in Canada, and each year the NHL allows every player on the Stanley Cup-winning team to do whatever they want with the sport’s most coveted trophy for a day. If the NFL did the same thing with the Lomdardi Trophy, what would you do with it?

First thing’s first: I’d definitely sleep with it. Then I think I’d take it on a date.

A date? So you’d take it to dinner?

Yeah, we’d go to dinner, and we’d have a great time at dinner.

What restaurant would you go to?

I don’t know, but we’d definitely want to be seen. I’d have to take it to a few hot spots, and make sure everyone sees me and my date.

That doesn’t sound right, but it’s what the experts at Pro Football Focus have concluded based on a statistic they call pass rushing productivity (PRP), which is formulated like this:

Sacks + 0.75 (Hits + Hurries)/ Number of Snaps Rushing The Passer * 100

The idea, of course, is that a great pass rusher can’t simply be measured by how many sacks he records. And while it’s not breaking news that sacks are probably a tad overrated, a lot of people will still have a hard time wrapping their head around the idea that Carlos Dunlap, who has three sacks this season and 12.5 in his career, is the league’s most productive pass rusher.

Now, there should be an asterisk for Dunlap, because he’s a sub-package player who’s typically on the field in passing situations and off the field in running situations. And that was also sometimes the case earlier in the season for Von Miller, who ranks second on the PFF list.

After Dunlap and Miller are Trent Cole, Cameron Wake and Chris Long. Few would dispute their spots in the top five. But the league’s top two sack leaders — DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen — didn’t make the top 10. In fact, Allen was ranked all the way down in the 43 spot.

In terms of sheer pressure, no one has applied more of it than Chris Long, who has a combined 61 sacks, hits and hurries this season. But Long has also rushed the quarterback more than almost anyone in the league.

I appreciate what Pro Football Focus has done here, but I’d like to see how much the numbers would change if they were to give less weight to hits and hurries. There’s a reason why the same elite group of players lead the league in sacks every year. As author Khaled Elsayed noted, Aaron Rodgers’ completion percentage drops from 76 to 54 when he faces pressure, but it’s zero percent and lost yardage when he takes a sack.

So is a hurry really worth 75 percent of a sack? Or, put differently, is getting four hurries the same thing as getting three sacks? I have a hard time believing that’s the case, but I’m not about to challenge these football geniuses.

I talked sacks and pass rushing with Elsayed today. Here’s our conversation…

Are sacks the most overrated statistic?

It’s definitely one of them. It’s probably not as overrated as the tackle stat, but it can definitely be quite misleading.

Explain why the tackle is more overrated…

A tackle can be made 20 yards down the field or after a first down has already been given up. So it’s not necessarily a good play — it’s the kind of bare minimum you should be getting a lot of the time. So having big tackle numbers doesn’t necessarily equate to making a lot of good plays.

A lot of the same players are at the top of the league in sacks every year. Is that also a trend with PRP?

You tend to get the same guys near the top on a year-by-year basis. John Abraham’s always someone who’s been at the top or around the top. Same with Dwight Freeney, James Harrison, and DeMarcus Ware has always been there or thereabouts. So it does tend to equate to people who get more sacks being quite high on the list, because if you’re getting more sacks you tend to be getting more pressure. It’s just that there’s a bit of a gap there sometimes.

Jared Allen’s sack numbers are huge but he’s 43rd on your list. Why is he such an anomaly?

I think him and Jason Pierre-Paul are both lower down than their sacks would probably suggest. He’s just a closer, Jared Allen. He’s someone who when he gets to the quarterback he knows how to take him down. And he’s probably benefited quite a bit from going up against weaker tackles. I think he went to work on Levi Brown, but the last two weeks when he’s faced better tackles he hasn’t really done anything. I think against Will Svitek he didn’t get anything on him at all. And against Jared Veldheer he only drew one penalty and picked up another pressure. So he’s probably not the elite pass rusher like, say, Dwight Freeney, who can take over a game. But he’s got that kind of motor. And he plays a lot of snaps as well — someone like Dwight Freeney is rotated quite a lot, whereas Jared Allen rarely comes off the field, which is quite rare for a defensive end.

I always thought that Jared Allen may have benefited more than we believed from the presence of Ray Edwards. And we’ve seen Robert Mathis with Freeney in Indy and Anthony Spencer in Dallas with Ware. Do you think complementary pass rushers are a big factor?

I think it’s overplayed to a degree, because you don’t get as many double-teams as people would like to believe there are. A double-team does happen on occasion, but you’ll probably find it happens more on the inside and especially on running plays than in pass protection. I think the average NFL team will leave maybe five, five-and-a-half guys on every pass play — they’re normally sending their skill position players out. So I do think it’s overplayed to a degree.

You weight a hit or a hurry as essentially 75 percent of what a sack is. I feel that number might be a bit high. Have you done the calculations at lower or high numbers? And why’d you arrive at .75?

When we started this it was a bit of a round number and it was weighted more towards sacks. But what we’ve done is looked at our grading — so we’ve looked at all the times that someone’s got a hit or a pressure or a sack and we’ve created grades. We have a grading scale so a sack isn’t necessarily worth the same as a hit or a pressure. You can get a hit that’s worth more than a sack, because it’s all about the time or how quickly you beat someone to get that. So we looked at the average of what a hit and a pressure came to and compared that to a sack and it was roughly 75 percent of that.

The Interview: Michael Strahan

Football pregame shows have a problem.

A slew of former players trying to cling to a few remaining available scraps of public attention have crowded the desks at CBS, Fox, ESPN and NFL Network, making Sunday mornings borderline intolerable. The majority of these publicity-starved ex-NFLers bring nothing but phony laughter to the set. Their problem: they aren’t funny, they don’t bring research or original ideas to the table and they usually spit the same clichés that they were trained to dish in locker rooms back when they were relevant.

But Michael Strahan is an exception. He truly is a funny guy, enough so that he can make a room laugh out loud without much effort, and it’s not one of those artificial “you’re a celebrity so I’m forcibly giggling at your lame joke” laughs. He actually has the ability to entertain crowds off the football field.

That’s why he’s become such a star since he retired from football in 2007. In addition to serving as an analyst on Fox NFL Sunday, the four-time All-Pro has also worked as a spokesman for myriad products (Right Guard, Snickers, Vaseline Men, Subway), has served as a co-host on Live with Regis and Kelly and even co-starred in the short-lived Fox sitcom, Brothers.

GLS met up with Strahan at Toronto’s Real Sports Bar and Grill, where he was hosting the launch a new line of products for Vaseline Men. He sat down with us to chat just moments after Canadian Dominic Lacasse (unofficially) broke the Guinness world record for most chin-ups in the human flag position.

Dominic Lacasse just blew my mind. I know you can’t do chin-ups in the human flag position — who can? — but what about straight-up chin-ups? What’s your personal best?

The most chin-ups I’ve ever done? Two weeks ago I did 27.

And you weigh…

I think 250 now. It was good, trust me. I’m proud of myself. And I was with my trainer, it was a test. He made me do it. I did 15 the first time and a month later I had to re-test and I did 27.

Why are you training? Just keeping it up?

I’m training now so I’m not that guy on TV who you go, ‘Boy, looks like he’s given up on life.’ I’m just trying to stay in shape so they don’t say, ‘He looks like the fat ex-athlete.’ I’m trying to go against the stereotype.

Makes sense. You’ve been doing quite a lot of television work, including Regis and Kelly. With Regis Philbin leaving the show soon, are you in the running to replace him?

I don’t know if I’m taking over for Regis. I have to go to do the show with Kelly again October 12. So I’m having fun with it — whatever happens happens. It’s a great show, I love working with Kelly. Who knows what’s gonna happen in the future with that.

You’ve sort of gone Hollywood, eh?

Ya know, I’m fortunate enough to have options and I enjoy doing what I’m doing. So as long as I enjoy doing stuff I do it. They keep calling me with it, and I’m not gonna turn that down.

Sadly, we’re seeing more and more former players dealing with debilitating health issues at young ages. Guys are dying young. I’m sure you had your share of concussions and took some beatings. Do you fear you’ll suffer from similar problems? Is that part of the reason you’re staying so active and busy?

I think I try my best not to think about it and I don’t think I have a lot of the symptoms that a lot of other guys have, or at least the severity of them. I hope not. But I do try to just keep myself busy. I think you have to stimulate yourself as much as possible. I used to think you retired in your thirties and just sit at home every day, and you can’t. I have kids and it’s great being at home with the kids, but even for them, you’ve gotta show them work ethic. You’ve gotta keep yourself going, give yourself some goals. Especially when that’s what you’re used to doing. So I love working, man. And that’s why I do it.

That blatant fake injury incident last week in New York was pretty comical. You’re a former Giant — did Tom Coughlin ever tell you guys to fake injuries to slow down opposing offenses?

You know what’s so amazing to me? I’ve heard people say, ‘Well, they practice that.’ I’ve never practiced it, ever. I don’t see why you’d waste time in practice practicing a guy being injured. Now, have I ever been in a game where we’re exhausted and a dude is kinda slow getting up but you just say, ‘Just lay there’? Yeah, of course. Who doesn’t do that? Just lay there. Let them come out and get you. And when the training staff comes out and the dude tries to get up right away you’re like, “Dude! Lay there for a little bit, we need a little more time!” That’s common. That’s been there since the day they started playing football. The problem is with my Giants — that’s just some bad acting.

Maybe they need acting lessons from Hollywood’s Michael Strahan…

They don’t need acting lessons from me but they’ve gotta go to some kind of school. But that’s something that every team does, and the problem is — how are you going to enforce it to say that the guy’s hurt or not hurt? You can’t do that.

Once again, DeMarcus Ware is off to a fast start. Is your single-season sack record in jeopardy of being broken?

I talked to DeMarcus yesterday after the game. He’s the one guy. He, Peppers, all of these guys are really amazing players, the kind of guys who definitely can do it. And records are meant to be broken so if that’s the case then good for them. And DeMarcus is a great guy, man. Wouldn’t be anybody better.

I hope you’ve been sharing your Vaseline Men freebies with Terry, Howie and Jimmy…

It’s funny because Vaseline Men sent some products and we have it in our dressing rooms. And Curt Menefee ran out of it in his dressing room so he comes in ours for it. Like, c’mon dude. Don’t go through yours and then go through ours. But yeah, the guys use it and the guys love it.

The Lingerie Football League baffles me. I realize that men love women and sports, and that the two meshed together should be gold. Still, it’s not overly good football, and there are thousands of alternative locations where men can see half-naked ladies. So why pay to watch these games?

Regardless, the league has been relatively successful. For what it’s worth, league representative Stephon McMillen says that “in comparison to the UFC or WWE through their first two seasons of operation, the LFL has achieved far more growth and business prosperity in the same period.”

On Saturday, the LFL expanded to Canada with an open tryout in Toronto. I caught up with league founder and chairman Mitchell Mortaza to discuss his unique and controversial league.

What’s the showing like at today’s tryout?

“It’s pretty much in line with (other tryouts). It’s not so much the number of girls. We’ll see if we have the caliber of girls — or ladies, I should say. We’ve got about 120 here, and we’re looking for the top 25 to take into minicamp. From there it’s dwindled down to the top 20 in training camp.”

How many of these girls actually take this seriously?


There have to be some who are just here for the cameras…

“Ya know, you get that, but then in the first speech I let them know that it’s not cheerleading camp and I use a couple choice curse words with that. It lets them know that this is real and I’m going to take this seriously and I’m going to compete out here.”

I heard you make some sort of reference to the CFL in your opening speech. Do you view your league as a competitor?

“We’re never a competitor with the NFL down in the States nor the CFL here. We’re really a complementary brand to it. So you’ll go to a CFL game on a Saturday afternoon and you’ll go to our game on a Friday night. Our game is football but it’s also an incredible party atmosphere. You’ve got a massive tailgate village. Before the game you’ve got a DJ spinning. It’s just a fun atmosphere.”

Do you think that the existence of the word “lingerie” in the league name hurts its reputation?

“It’s a double-edged sword. It’s done a lot for us, too. It gets you a lot of media attention, a lot of curiosity, and a lot of people come out and check it out. But that’s all we’re trying to do. If we can get ‘em in the doors or we can get them to watch it on TV, they’ll be hooked. And we’ve seen it in the States — our audience numbers have grown there to second in prime time. As far as our attendance is concerned, we’re drawing almost 40 percent more from the first home game for the second home game, which never happens. And we’re drawing sell-out crowds. So people might come in thinking one thing — maybe for the sex appeal or the atmosphere of it — and within three or four plays they forget what the girls are wearing and end up watching a football game.”

What kind of criteria is there in the assessment process? Do you consider appearance or is it all about football?

“Looks are definitely a part of it. We don’t pull any punches there. We have to be able to market this sport. There are a lot of women’s football leagues out there that you never hear about — there’s a reason for that. We didn’t invent sex in sports. You have Anna Kournikova in tennis, who was never really that great of a tennis player but was always the most marketed tennis player. Gabrielle Reece in volleyball. Heck, on the men’s side you’ve got David Beckham in his underwear in Times Square on a billboard. So don’t tell me sex doesn’t push sports at times. Tom Brady? Yeah, he’s a three-time Super Bowl champion but he’s also a good-looking guy and the marketers use his looks to push their products. So it happens.”

These girls aren’t paid. Will that change?

“Like anything, we want stability. We want to make sure this league survives beforehand. A lot of these leagues just put money out there and then they fold within a year or two. That doesn’t do anybody any good. So when we become financially stable, absolutely we’ll move to a salary cap and the top top-echelon players will get paid more. Just like the NFL.”

The Interview: Mike Pereira

Former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira has gotten quite the makeover. Both literally and figuratively. His new job with Fox is quite revolutionary, but he’s also dressing a hell of a lot cooler than he did during his reign as the league’s officiating czar. And while that last point is pretty much irrelevant, it made this introduction flow more smoothly. Here’s a recent conversation I had with the coolest former referee in sports:

This transition you’ve made from the face of officiating in the league to a guy who is now paid to frankly scrutinize and analyze good and bad calls is quite drastic. How has it been for you?

“I actually think it’s gone better than I thought it would. It’s such an interesting perspective from the standpoint where I’m watching the same thing but I’m in a position where I have to comment on it. And I said going in, I never wanted this position to be controversial, I wanted it to be educational. I wanted it to be educational for the broadcasters so I can work with them in real time from the studios in L.A. or with Joe [Buck] and Troy [Aikman] in the booth during the playoffs. And I wanted it to be educational for the fans, too — maybe give to them a little bit of an insight on a) what the referee’s looking at under the hood, or b) a little bit about the philosophy behind the rules. And that’s been basically the way it’s been, and I’ve been happy with that aspect of it.”

So you feel you’ve sort of avoided controversy?

“I haven’t gone out of my way to avoid the controversy, but honestly, I said going in I was never going to say — I mean, these are guys, my buds — so I said going in I was never going to say that they blew a call. I was never going to say it was a bad call. When I think it’s incorrect, I will say the call is incorrect, and then I will explain why, and I’ve done that frequently. But that’s not anything that I didn’t do before, when I was on the NFL Network. So that was never uncomfortable to me. I think the officials were a little bit worried. They didn’t know what I might do — if I might end up being more controversial versus educational. And as I see now during the course of the season, they’ve all been appreciative and they’ve all embraced me and think it’s been a good thing for officiating.”

Do you think this is something that other pro leagues will try in the future?

“I think it depends a little bit on the sport. In the NFL right now, fans have such a huge investment in this game — especially with fantasy football — that they want to know the rules. And they deserve to know the rules, and they deserve to know whether the official’s calls are correct or incorrect. And so I think that probably the first thing that’s going to happen is [this] will probably put pressure on other networks to come up with somebody to fill a role like this. Because I have a lot of good friends at the other networks, but clearly Fox and the broadcasters at Fox were more accurate than the other networks this year. But that’s only because I was in their ear all the time. And I don’t think that CBS’s or ESPN’s or NBC’s philosophies are any different — they want their announcers to be right, but yet if you had a chance to read our rulebook you’d know why it’s so difficult to master. I think other networks will probably go this way and try to find a person, and then I do think that if this is deemed to be successful other sports will try to get involved in this too.”

Is there anything that you did in your career that you look back on with regret?

“People ask me if I could change one rule, which would it be? And I’ve said all along — although the league gets really testy when I say it — I don’t like the pass interference rule. I think it’s too punitive. It’s a 50-yard penalty in waiting that could be wrong, could be incorrectly called by the officials, and all of a sudden a team gets a gimme 50 yards. And my complain about it was that you could kick a guy in the teeth and the maximum penalty is 15 yards; you could get a pass down field and get a little jersey pull and get 50. So I just don’t think it’s a good rule — I actually like the college rule better, which maximizes it at 15 yards and doesn’t lead to cheap yardage in my mind.”

Challenges have to be changed, Mike. If you win a challenge, you should always get another. I don’t care if you get eight a game — it’s the official’s fault if he got a call wrong, not the team’s. Why do they cap it at three, even if a coach has gone three-for-three?

“I think those are basically the feeling that most people have. Here’s the deal, though. You have to go back to the old system (between 1986 and 1991) when there were basically unlimited challenges, and all of a sudden you’d get up to six stoppages a game, and in one game there were like 13, which made the whole system implode. Every time you stop the clock for a challenge, it’s gonna be a three-minute delay. So if you get up to eight challenges, that’ll add about a half-hour to a game and the league doesn’t want to do that. ”

But getting it right is more important than the time, isn’t it?

“That is true, and you hate to get caught in that period of time near the end of the fourth quarter where you’re out of challenges and something big happens. And I don’t disagree — I think they should maybe at least consider a fourth if they get three right, but it’s a slippery slope.”

The Interview: Bryan Scott

As far as NFL players go, Bryan Scott is a different bird. The 29-year-old Bills safety rides his bike to work every day. In Buffalo. In November. On Thursday, Scott and I hooked up to discuss the environment, his mad piano skills and how it feels to be drafted between two Pro Bowlers.

You ride a bike 2.5 miles to work every day in Buffalo. Are you crazy?

I’m an avid bike rider. I really enjoy it. I was able to ride until yesterday — it’s been snowing the last two days so I had to hang up the bike, even though guys were telling me to put some snow tires on and make it through the snow.

And this is also your way of being “green”?

Well it actually started out as a training method for me this offseason and then I carried it into training camp. But then I saw the benefits of just riding and the going green initiative, and I thought, ‘Well, I guess I’m doing my part of saving the planet.’

And you’re from Philly, right? So you’re used to the cold. Your teammates from, like, Florida and Texas, must shake their heads.

Exactly, they’re not used to this Buffalo weather and the snow, so they’re definitely in for a shock.

Another non-pro athlete thing about Bryan Scott: You’re a trained pianist who has performed with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. You also play the drums and the sax. You’re a different bird aren’t you?

Oh yeah, no question. I don’t think I fit the stereotypical mold of a professional athlete.

But do you listen to that music? Like, are you a Yanni fan? You were also in a film called “White Men Can’t Rap,” so I’m guessing you’re a fan of hip hop and rap, too?

Yeah, I listen to any type of music. It can be classical, country, rock, hip hop, R&B, easy listening, jazz. You name it, I enjoy it.

There are a bunch of dudes on YouTube who cover hip hop and alternative songs by artists like B.o.B, Eminem and Travie McCoy on the piano? You ever do stuff like that?

Oh yeah all the time, and actually because I can’t read music, a lot of times that’s how I’ll learn songs. I’ll go on YouTube and just see what’s happening. And when I come across people playing that on the piano I’ll just kinda listen to it and pick it up.

So if I asked you to do Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie” right now on the piano, you could do it?

Pretty much. When I listen to it, yeah. Give me till tomorrow and I’ll have it ready to roll.

That’s crazy, and you also play tennis, right?

I do, I do. My parents were avid tennis players growing up and they forced me to pick up a racket at a young age. Then I kinda rebelled and put it down but picked it up again once I got to my adult life.

I heard you once picked choir over a high school basketball game. This is making me upset.

I did. It was one of those things where our original basketball game got cancelled, and they rescheduled it for a night where we had a choir concert. And I actually had to choose the choir concert over the basketball game. It was a previous commitment that I had and I had a pretty big role in the choir concert. I didn’t want to leave them hanging like that.

Well, that’s being a good teammate, regardless if it’s sports or not.

Exactly. I mean, if there was anything I could have done to make both I definitely would have. But I was happy with the decision I made and it all worked out in the end.

I was talking to your teammate Paul Posluszny, who also went to Penn State, and the guy is so smart, so mature. A class act. You’ve got so much more to you than football. Lots of you guys do. Do you ever feel like a few bad apples — guys like Plaxico Burress who are shooting themselves in clubs — make you all look bad?

Oh, no question. If you think about the structure of the league and how many guys are actually playing in the league, and then most of the stories you hear always seem to be negative. And I’ve always been a big advocate of trying to change the perception of professional athletes. Because playing professional sports is our job, but it doesn’t define who we are or the type of people that we are.

Looking back now, how weird is it that you were drafted 55th overall, yet you were wedged between future Pro Bowlers Anquan Boldin and Osi Umenyiora?

You know, the draft is such a crazy thing. And my career has kind of been up and down. And looking back at the time, I knew who Anquan was, I didn’t know who Osi was. And obviously they’re two great players in the league right now. That is kinda cool that I was drafted right in between there, but I wish I was going to Pro Bowls. I still work every day towards it and who knows what’s going to happen in the future.

Yeah, there’s still time, man. You sorta bounced around early in your career. Do you consider Buffalo a home now?

No question, no question. I started in Atlanta and once I was traded to New Orleans, things looked good there. But then I signed with Tennessee and it didn’t work out, but Buffalo picked me up quickly thereafter. And I feel very comfortable here, I love this organization, I love the community and the city. And I’m happy to be here. I hope that — as we turn things around — I’d love to be a part of this organization when we get to the playoffs.

What car do you drive when you aren’t riding your bike?

I have a Cadillac Escalade.

Don’t worry, Al Gore won’t blame you for busting out the Escalade as the snow starts smothering Buffalo.

Oh exactly, that’s why I didn’t feel too bad at all. It’s all over the place.

Good luck the rest of the season.