A Conversation with Antonio Pierce

‘I've never had anyone backing me until I got here' Quick, let's play a little word association. First word that comes to mind when we mention Antonio Pierce? No question, it's ‘smart.' That's all you hear from his former teammates, current teammates, former coaches and current coaches. To wit:

"He's as smart as any football player I have coached and I have been doing it a long time," said veteran Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, who had Pierce when he was with the Redskins. "That was one of the things frankly that caused us to keep him when we did because he's very, very diligent in the way he works. As I said, he's extremely bright and it's enjoyable, quite frankly, to see him have this success."

TGI is going to use it's editorial right to add ‘tough,' ‘mean,' ‘nasty,' ‘instinctive,' ‘fast' and ‘Pro-Bowl bound' to the ledger when discussing Pierce. Now let's hear what he has to say.

Q: So far, so good for you after two games?

A: Production-wise, probably I could be a lot better. I had my hands on a couple balls that I feel that I should have had – two interceptions. I have high expectations for myself; I'm a tough critic. But I've done well. I'm trying to give them everything they want, trying to be vocal, to lead by example and be out there flying around and show them what I've got.

Q: You do have very high expectations for yourself.

A: That's because people claim that I can't do it two years in a row. I just listen to everyone say that I was a one-year wonder. That I was part of a great system, and it was a great system, but there are a lot of great systems that guys don't play well in. To come here and do well in another system – my fifth different system – I think would speak volumes about what kind of player I am. That's why I'm so eager and uptight because I don't want anything to slip through my fingers.

Q: You seem like you have a pretty big chip on your shoulder.

A: That's just me. It's hard when you have so many doubters. I've never had anyone backing me until I got to this organization. I feel this organization backs me, whereas in Washington I didn't feel like that. I came in as an undrafted free agent, then I didn't get a chance to play until it was because of an injury. Here I'm a starter, regardless. I'm a leader. I'm helping this team. That's what kind of guy I am.

Q: Do you feel the rest of the guys on this defense love having you here?

A: I think they do. I don't come in here with any big head or anything like that. I'm a real low-key guy. I like having fun and doing everything with the guys. When it comes to football, when it comes to defense, I look at it like this: when I was in Washington, I had so much success because we had a team defense. Here, our team defense makes everyone else look better. If we all ball, we'll all look good.

Q: What do you think they think of you?

A: Probably that I'm a little wild. I think after that first game, they all looked at me like I'm a little crazy. Most of the time, I'm low-key and mellow. Then when I get on the field and I'm playing with all that energy, it's different. Once the kickoff comes, all those thoughts that are negative go in my head and I play with all that emotion. I play with a passion. I love the game. I have a chance to play and I don't want to give it up.

Q: You smile much?

A: Yeah, I smile, man. Around here, I'm more laidback and go about my business. I just try to get all my work done. When it's here, it's work. This is a job, I'm trying to provide for my family and set a career for myself where I'm being talked about a little bit years down the road after I get done playing. I do have high expectations for myself and carry myself that way.

Q: Could you please talk about the decision you made to seek out another number besides Harry Carson's 53?

A: I never wanted to be compared to anybody. You come here, it's linebacker galore. Then they give me a guy's number that played that position well and they expect me to do the same things. I just didn't want to have anything to do with that number. I even told Harry one day ‘that's your number.' It's hard enough to get a 50-number around here, period. Now I have Carl Banks' number, but at least we don't play the same position. It's a tough crowd around here when it comes to the 50 numbers. The number 58 I was comfortable with and I wanted to represent that number with the New York Giants.

Q: What makes you so good?

A: I'm taking this as my job. I don't look at this as football. This is my job. This is how I feed my family. This is how I feed myself. This is how people look at Antonio Pierce. I try to go out and be a perfectionist. I try to make sure I know everything, all the tendencies and tips. If I know it, I'm screaming it out and yelling. Half the time, by the end of the game, I'm hoarse and I'm more tired from yelling than anything else. That's what makes me who I am. I just love the game, to be honest. Being on the bench for two years, I don't ever want it to slip away again.

Q: Look at this, we've already talked for more than five minutes and didn't even get into how smart you are. What gives?

A: I have a good feel for the game, but I also put in a lot of time in the (film) room. I try to get ahead of the guys and watch a lot of film. Marty Schottenheimer is the guy that set me up like this. He said, ‘the more you know, the more you learn, the better you'll be as a player.' He told me that during my rookie year in the spring, before I even made the team. I took that on and I've carried it through my career. It's true. I see guys that have great athletic ability and not know anything, and then I see the guys that supposedly can't do this and can't do that, yet they're great football players and are the most productive player on the field.

Q: What's something that happened so far that showed you that all your film preparation paid off?

A: The one interception I think I should have gotten against the Cardinals. The guy ran a crossing route underneath. Every time they bring someone right behind him, run a drag right behind him. It was late in the fourth quarter and I knew it was coming, but I only got one hand on it instead of two. That was a play I should have stolen. There were a couple plays in the running game where they come out and you know they're only going to run this certain play. When you know the game so well, the game gets real small, real quick. It looks like they're throwing a lot at you, but when you know everything they're going to do, all you have to do is make the play. A little anticipation and a little guessing and it all works out.

Q: What are your thoughts on this team and it's 2-0 start?

A: I think we think we can be a good team, especially on defense. Guys are looking to fix what's wrong, like the passing game. One of the problems is that we've been getting up on teams and they've been throwing the ball 50 times against us. As a team, you can see guys believing. Guys are playing with more of an attitude and more passion. You can see (Jeremy) Shockey's back to his old self, like the wildest man out there.

Q: How much have you been able to help the younger players out?

A: I've played with four Pro Bowl players – Jessie Armstead, Jeremiah Trotter, LaVar Arrington and Marcus Washington – so I've played with guys with a lot of age and experience. I just sat back and watched those guys. It's funny now to see guys come up to me and ask me what I think about certain things. It's cool. I'm all for the team defense. If this team defense looks good, I look good.

Q: How important is it to you to get to the Pro Bowl?

A: It's big. It's real big. To be honest, I never said anything about it last year, but I felt like I got robbed. By far, I had double the stats of the other guys, but the key was I was on a losing team. This year, I'm hoping that changes. Just two years ago, no one thought I'd ever be able to even be mentioned for the Pro Bowl. I'd really be able to smile about that.

Q: How many guys are left in that notebook of yours that you keep of guys drafted ahead of you that are no longer in the league?

A: I only think like 12 or 15. Five or six more dropped off that list this year. Less than half the guys are still there. One of the guys that beat me out for the Pro Bowl, Dan Morgan, went ahead of me. I always look at that. That's just more competition for me. I just want to go prove all these people wrong from day one. Scouts can't determine people's hearts, minds and determination. I want to make sure that everything everybody says, they end up swallowing that all back.

Q: What's one thing people don't know about you?

A: That I'm a big joker, a practical jokester. I like to play around, mess around and clown around a lot.

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