Going outside the gridiron: Players detail lives outside of football
By Evan Webeck, Alex Squadron, SI.com
Comic book enthusiasts, avid aviators, brilliant inventors. You think you know everything about your favorite NFL players?
Let's go behind the facemask with some of the league's most interesting players.
If Gerald McCoy could have a superpower, it would be mind control.
Surely, everybody has thought about this at one point or another, but the Bucs’ Pro Bowl defensive lineman is a little more qualified than the average person. McCoy, like many others, was a big superhero fan growing up. However, for him, it’s remained a hobby and passion.
“You can’t not like superhero cartoons,” McCoy said. “My dad bought me some old black and white Batman TV shows -- back when Adam West was Batman.”
Not surprisingly, McCoy listed Batman among his favorite superheroes, though he admitted he likes just about everybody.
“It’s kind of a toss-up,” McCoy said. “I like Batman, and then the Hulk and Wolverine. … Batman is Batman … he’s just as powerful as everybody else but [without] powers. Then, the Hulk is just unstoppable and Wolverine is just a curious guy -- part person, part animal.”
McCoy’s mind control would come in handy on the football field, but he wouldn’t overuse it, he said -- only in “huge moments” in the game, so as not to be easily detected.
So far in his career, it’s been like McCoy has superpowers. He’s been a Pro Bowler the last two seasons and racked up more 119 tackles and 18.5 sacks over his career.
-- Evan Webeck
Normally, it’s the footballs Dan Bailey kicks that are flying through the air. This offseason, however, it was Bailey himself in the sky -- and he was moving a lot faster than any football.
As an avid aviation fan, it had always been Bailey’s dream to fly with the world-famous Blue Angels. On April 2 in Pensacola, Fla., Bailey’s dreams came true when he was an honorary Blue Angel and got to ride along inside one of the jets.
“It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Bailey said. “Just the raw power that those aircraft have, it was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
While flying with the Blue Angels may have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, flying in general won’t be for Bailey. He’s about halfway to getting his personal pilot’s license, which he works toward every offseason.
Aviation has long been a passion of Bailey’s. You could say it runs in the family. His father has a pilot’s license, and his grandfather worked on planes for both the public and private sector, including the F-16 and F-111.
“I’ve just been around people who have been interested in it, so I just adopted it,” Bailey said.
Through three generations of aviation enthusiasts, flying with the Blue Angels has been the coolest thing any of the Baileys have done, Dan admitted. His Cowboys teammates are split 50-50 on whether they agree or not.
“Some guys are like, ‘Oh man, that’s so cool,’” Bailey said. “The other half are like, ‘Dude, you’re crazy. I would never do that.’”
Bernard Pollard is best known for his hard-hitting, aggressive play as a safety in the NFL. But that might not be the case forever. The former Pro Bowler has already started to pursue other interests outside of football. Most notably, he has embarked on another career … as an inventor.
In 2012, Pollard founded his own company, Style Pro 31. It was inspired by one simple problem: clutter around his bathroom sink. That mess led to his idea for a heat-resistant, foldout tray that fits around most sinks and allows for significantly more counter space. The Smart Tray, as it came to be called, has been very successful. According to Bernard, “the business is going great. It’s definitely a blessing.” Even his Tennessee teammates have bought trays for their wives or girlfriends. “The guys have been huge in supporting [me],” Pollard noted. There are a couple of Smart Trays at the Titans’ facility as well, for the entire organization to enjoy.
Pollard has plans to further expand Style Pro 31. “When football’s over with, I want to work for myself,” he said. Bernard finds satisfaction in being able to help others through his inventions. He wants to create more things that people can just enjoy. “I have a handful of other products that I want to launch and do as well,” Pollard elaborated. I guess we’ll have to stay tuned.
-- Alex Squadron
On Justin Tucker’s drive to the stadium, he likes to sing along to music. You won’t hear Jason Aldean, Nine Inch Nails or Ke$ha blasting from his car, though. Rather, he’ll be belting out opera tunes.
The Ravens’ kicker graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in recording technology, but to get into the music program, he had to audition with an instrument, and he chose his voice. Part of the graduation requirement included taking private voice lessons. And like that, Justin Tucker, opera singer, was born.
Tucker emphasized that just because he can sing opera, it doesn’t mean he looks down on other music. In fact, he’s currently in a “post-grunge, ‘90s pop-rock” phase, listening to a lot of Third Eye Blind, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Goo Goo Dolls.
“If it’s good, I’ll listen to it,” Tucker said. “If it’s not, I can still appreciate it.”
Tucker has even made some friends in the Baltimore music scene. All Time Low guitarist Jack Barakat reached out to Tucker on Twitter a couple years ago and the two began to hang out. Later, Barakat introduced Tucker to lead singer Alex Gaskarth. Unfortunately, the three have been too busy with football and music to record anything together.
“Our band, Solo Cup Party, hasn’t been signed yet,” Tucker said, laughing. “We might go indie, but we’ll have to see.”
Collin Mooney, Titans
At the end of the day, football is just a game. No one understands that better than Titans fullback Collin Mooney. Mooney is a West Point graduate who spent three years fulfilling his commitment to the U.S. Army before signing with Tennessee in 2012. During that time, he served as both a strength coach and a field artillery officer.
Those years gave him a perspective that many players can never fully grasp. He understands how small football is in the grand scheme of things. “It’s not the end of the world,” he noted. It bothers Mooney when people compare the game to war or to battle. “You go play a game [and] everyone’s going home,” he said, “but in the army -- in war -- you’re playing for keeps, it’s life or death.”
Those distinctions are tragically real for Mooney. In 2011, he got an unexpected call from his mom, telling him that his childhood friend and West Point roommate, Dimitri del Castillo, had been killed in combat in Afghanistan. “It had a huge impact on me,” said Mooney, who thinks about his boyhood companion all the time. The tragedy made him realize how quickly things can be taken away, and so he makes sure to value every snap on the football field. Castillo’s death occurred just before the 2011 NFL lockout, a year in which Mooney ended up not getting signed. “I knew I had to keep pushing on,” he explained, “for guys like Dimitri that had given so much.” His determination paid off a year later, when the Titans picked him up.
While training for the 2011 NFL draft, Daniel Kilgore’s attention was not solely on draft preparation. He was busy working with special needs elementary students, while getting his degree in K-12 physical education at Appalachian State.
Kilgore would wake up before the sun had risen and lift weights, then spend the day working as a student-teacher and helping the special needs kids. He’d then go back to Appalachian State to work on positional drills with coach Mike Kent. Often, Kent would find Kilgore asleep in his office after the long days.
“It was a life-changing experience,” Kilgore said. “I look back on those kids, and they put a smile on my face. That’s one thing I’ll take with me forever.”
His favorite memory with them was when he took the class on a field trip to Appalachian State, where they got to meet Kilgore’s teammates and go to a baseball game. Kilgore still has a photo of him and his class from that day, and he makes sure to visit at least once a year.
Andre Brown, free agent
Art and football. Two things not commonly paired together. Running back Andre Brown would beg to differ. The former New York Giant and Houston Texan is passionate about both traditional art and fashion. Though his interest in those things faded when he was at NC State, his time in New York brought it all back. He enjoyed attending Fashion Week and visiting numerous art exhibits. “There’s one popping up every other week and you can just find great pieces of art there,” he said, about the exhibits in the city. His former teammate Keith Bulluck, the imposing linebacker, would often accompany him on his art excursions.
Even though Brown is no longer with the Giants, he maintains his passion for the art scene. In his opinion, “it’s all about the creativity.” Whether it’s painting or fashion, he appreciates imaginative design. He especially likes modern art. “I’m not a big history fan. Whatever’s in the past is in the past. I’m a guy who lives in the present. Something I can relate to is something that I’d probably buy.”
Jeremy Mincey, Dallas Cowboys
A lot of athletes like to joke around and rap with their teammates. Jeremy Mincey, however, takes it a little more seriously.
The Cowboys’ defensive end has his own mixtape out, which is “making noise,” he said, in his former hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., where he played for the Jaguars from 2006-13. Mincey also has a recording studio in his house, which helps him balance the time commitment that comes with being a rap artist and professional football player.
His tracks aren’t the only thing making noise in Florida, though. He’s also the co-owner of a chicken wing chain, Wing King, that he claims people are addicted to.
“I go hard in whatever I do,” Mincey said of his rap-football-business career. “Just got to keep that yin and yang, and keep grinding hard in all of it.”
When the NFL season ends, most players are anxious to get home. They hop on the next flight and are back in a hurry. But not Oakland Raiders linebacker Nick Roach.
Since 2008, Roach has made a habit of driving cross-country. While it has become a passion of his, he admits that its roots are rather simple. “My wife [and I] just like to be able to have our dogs with us when we travel,” he explained, “Flying the dogs is kind of just stressful on them at times.” So, the family began renting cars and hitting the road, allowing the dogs to enjoy the cool, fresh air as opposed to being cooped up in uncomfortable cages.
Their trips from Oakland to their hometown in Chicago became adventures. What is normally a 33-36 hour straight drive is sometimes drawn out over 5 days. “We kind of just get on the road and Google stuff or ask people that have been through those parts before where we should stop,” Roach said. They’ve seen the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, the Flaming Gorge and more in their travels.
As Roach’s love for driving grew, and the cross-country trips became routine, the family decided to invest in an RV. For the last year and a half, they have been doing their road trips right. Nick knows, however, they haven’t seen it all yet. “Haven’t been east of Chicago yet,” he noted, “but we plan to hopefully get over there if we can someday.”
Tony Bergstrom, Raiders
It’s hard to imagine a household as sports oriented as Tony Bergstrom’s. The offensive guard for the Oakland Raiders is married to Jessica Bergstrom, a newly established MMA fighter. When the opportunity to join the MMA presented itself, Jessica jumped at it, and Tony was all for it. That is, until her debut match came in April. “I was probably more nervous for her than I am before any game,” he said. The fight only lasted around 45 seconds, with Jessica coming out on top. “I completely lost my voice in that 45 seconds,” her husband chuckled.
Every once in awhile, Tony and Jessica find time to train together. They bring their two kids to the gym, where there is a little area designated for children. “We help each other as much as we can,” Tony said. On family vacations, they try to do some joint work as well. Tony often holds the mitts for Jessica while she does her punching workouts, and then they’ll switch. When visiting a lake this past summer, Jessica even threw on a couple life jackets and tried to give Tony a little pass rush. “That was kind of experimental,” he explained.
At the end of the day, they try not to discuss their professions much when it’s family time. That being said, Tony didn’t hesitate when asked who was stronger, he or Jessica. “Me, every time,” he laughed, “She’ll try to throw something at me every now and then and I’ll just give her a big bear hug or something.” He noted that she sometimes forgets he outweighs her by around 200 pounds.