The greatest tight end in NFL history talks about his last season and how he can get all LeBron on you.
Photo: Getty Images | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2013
The Falcons’ camp breaks today. You set to start training for your 17th NFL season?
Well, I never really stop training. But, yeah, I’m ready to roll.
We thought you were gonna retire. What made you come back?
I was 97 percent sure I was going to retire. I have a 12-year-old son, Nikko, who lives out in L.A., and I wanted to be around him more. Then a few weeks after the season, he came up to me and said, “Dad, you guys are so good, I think you should play one more year.” You look at the players we have, guys like Roddy [White], Julio [Jones], and Matt [Ryan], it’s sort of a no-brainer to go out there once more and maybe get it done.
You had a fantastic playoffs last year, with 14 catches and two touchdowns.
That was fun. And we got so close. But now we’re 0-0 like everyone else. Hopefully we get over the hump and finish this season in New York.
The NFL is a punishing league, yet you’ve been around all these years without any serious injuries. What’s the key to your longevity?
I take good care of myself. Five or six years ago, I switched to a plant and whole-foods-based diet, and that’s helped tremendously. As far as avoiding serious injury, this is a game that can be taken away from you on any play. So, you know, I’ve been lucky. Hopefully I can make it another six months.
Who’s the hardest hitter you’ve played against?
Probably Rodney Harrison. Faced him a lot when he was on the Chargers. He could really hit. That’s who I got hit by mostly, safeties. The rules have changed. It used to be, if you went across the middle, they could take your head off. Now they can’t blindside you like they used to. I don’t have a fear of going over the middle anymore.
Where were your favorite places to play?
As a Falcon, I love playing at New Orleans. That place is loud. The fans are always screaming and cursing you out. I enjoy it though. I get a kick out of fans acting crazy and ridiculous. When I was with the Chiefs, I loved going to play the Raiders. The stadium wasn’t that good, but it was fun to play in front of those fans.
So what are your post-NFL plans, maybe go on Dancing With the Stars?
Well, if I could dance…But that’s not happening. Probably sit at a desk and talk about football, the game I love. Hopefully, someone will be kind enough to hire me. Otherwise, relax and hang out at the beach with the kids.
So what kind of wheels do you like to take to the beach?
My favorite car is a ’66 Pontiac GTO. Classic muscle car. And it’s a convertible. Living in California, it can’t get any better when it’s sunny out.
Do you tinker with it yourself?
No, not even close. My dad had the same car when he was my age, and he didn’t work on it. So I never learned.
You were pretty good at hoops, too, right?
Yeah, played at Cal Berkeley. Went to the Sweet 16, baby. I’m a big basketball enthusiast. I played yesterday. It’s part of my routine. I believe the reason I’ve achieved the things I have on the football field is because I play basketball. I don’t pick up a football much in the off-season. It’s a lot of hoops. The jumping, stopping switching, getting open in confined spaces, that all translates onto the football field.
What kind of hoops games do you bring? Pound the boards? Shoot the threes?
I guess I’m pretty much like LeBron James. Kidding. I used to be that athletic guy who takes it to the hole and dunks on you. Now I play the midrange game. I’ll hit that 15-foot jumper if you give it to me; if you don’t I’ll go around you. I hope the guys I play against now don’t read this. They’ll know my moves.
You have a pretty good quaff. Is it because of the product you represent?
Yeah, Clear Men Scalp Therapy. I teamed up with them—it’s designed to stop dandruff at the source. As a guy who wears a helmet for a living, sometimes I get a little flaky up top, and its great shampoo for that. It doesn’t dry your hair out. It works out for a guy like me. For anybody out there trying to get their hair perfect and make a good first impression, it’s a great product.
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