Each week on the Bengals Radio Network pre-game show, I do a segment called “Fantastic Fun Facts” with a member of the team. It’s a mini life story of that week’s subject where we get away from the X’s and O’s of football and focus on their backgrounds, families, and interests off of the field.
Here are a few interesting nuggets from the segment this year.
Here in Cincinnati we’re constantly hearing and reading about city budget battles. When folks in Minneapolis do that, your mother is right in the middle of it. Tell us a little about what she does.
She does budget analysis for the city of Minneapolis and works extremely hard at her job. I’m very proud of her and what she does. Obviously we both have stressful jobs, so sometimes at night, we vent to each other. It’s something that I enjoy. I really love my mom, I love what she does, and I’m proud of her.
So even with that big-time job in Minneapolis, I understand that she’s never missed one of your NFL games – home or away.
No sir. She hasn’t missed any of my games ever since I was in high school other than one or two games. For the most part, she’s been to every last one of them.
How much did you weight as a high school senior?
Is that the reason why you played college football at the FCS level?
That had something to do with it, not to mention that I was 5’11” and I looked like I was about 10 years old. I was just a late bloomer. I got to college and started growing and became a better athlete. I dunked a basketball for the first time in college, so I was just a late bloomer.
In your final year of college you had 43 touchdown passes and one pick. What the heck happened on the interception?
It bounced off a guy, went in the air, and it was probably the longest five seconds of my life. I remember it like it was yesterday. Not to mention that it was against our rival Dayton – right up the street from here. That was the only loss we had and cost us a championship.
If you could meet anyone in history – living or deceased – who would it be?
My Grandpa Schaffer passed away when I was two years old so I didn’t really know him. That’s who I would go back and meet now. I hear from so many people how great of a man he was, and I know the type of man that my father is. So I would like to go back and meet my grandpa.
What do you like to spend money on?
Shoes. I think that’s the big thing – I love shoes. I’ve always liked them. Michael Jordan…I think a lot of guys nowadays are always buying the Jordans. That’s my hobby I guess you could say.
How many pairs?
I don’t even want to say. I’ll keep that off-the-record.
Strictly athletic shoes or dress shoes too?
I’ve got some dress shoes. I have to move to that side a little bit more now because you want to have appropriate attire. Being an NFL player, you don’t want to wear off-the-street clothes, you kind of want to be a business person. So you have to have the dress shoes in your package as well.
You’re from the Dallas suburb of Plano, TX where I understand one of the big tourist attractions is the Southfork Ranch – where J.R. Ewing lived on the TV show Dallas. Have you been there?
I actually have. There was a flag football tournament there when I was growing up. It was called “Let It Fly,” and they actually had it out there in the fields out by the ranch. We either had a prom or homecoming there as well at one of the banquet halls, so yeah, I’ve been out there. It’s a pretty cool place.
So you have been to Southfork Ranch and you went to the White House this past April with your friend Jack Hoffman – the 8-year-old cancer survivor who has been an inspiration to so many. What was your initial reaction when you heard that trip was going to happen?
I was kind of surprised, I guess, but it was very humbling at the same time that his family invited me to come with them. It was definitely a privilege. He’s got a great family and to be able to go there is something you never even dream about or think about when you’re growing up. To actually be able to go to the White House, meet the President, and go to the Oval Office was really cool.
According to your Arizona State bio, you are an avid guitar player who has written songs. Fill me in.
I’ve been playing since early in high school and that’s my big off-the-field escape. I try to play a guitar at least 30 minutes a day. It helps me unwind, and in the off-season I get together with a bunch of friends and we like to jam a lot. A lot of guys like to buy cars and jewelry, I collect guitars.
I’ve been treating myself to a new guitar every year, so my wife is kind of getting upset. It’s taking up too much room in our house back in Arizona, but I haven’t bought one yet this season.
Acoustic or electric?
I have both. I have a lot of both. I mostly like to play electric, but now that I have two small kids, I’ve been shifting to more acoustic.
The Bengals brought you in for a visit before the draft and you told me in the pre-season that you could tell at that point that they were really interested. What was it about that visit that gave you that sense?
They were the only team that flew me in and showed that much interest. It really made a huge impact on me – especially after the draft when it was time to choose a team. They flew me in and showed me a nice time and (linebackers coach) Paul Guenther has not only been a great coach to me, but also a great mentor in leading me through the whole process of being a rookie in the NFL. He’s shown me the ropes along with Vinny, James, and Vontaze – they’ve really been helping me through everything. Paul has been a catalyst for that and I really appreciate it. On my visit, he was a huge factor in me coming here. He’s such a down-to-earth guy and an East coast guy like myself that we just got along. I knew that if I didn’t get picked in the draft that this would probably be the place for me. Not to mention that the orange and black matches my high school colors. I’ve got a lot of stuff that matches.
According to your bio in the Clemson media guide, your nickname there was “Yams.” Where did that come from?
It started my freshman year. I was talking amongst the defensive lineman and we were talking about things we liked and didn’t like. I was a country guy coming in with a southern accent and stuff and I told them that I didn’t like yams and they were like, “Huh?” So one of the players started calling me that and Tommy Bowden was the coach at the time and he started calling me that. It stuck and I’ve been “Yams” ever since.
Do they call you that here?
A couple of players fool around and call me that every now and then, but not really here.
You went to Boise State – home of the famed blue turf. Did you like it?
I loved it. We went 50-3 in my class so we won a lot of games. For me it was weird when we played on a green field. That threw us off. We were like, “Green…what is this?” It was definitely fun and if it psyched people out, that always helps.
As legend has it, birds mistake the blue turf for a body of water and dive-bomb to their death. Is that true?
I haven’t seen one, but I will tell you this. Ducks naturally want to poop in water, so during some practices there was doo-doo all over our end zone. So I would say that that part of the myth is true.
Your older brother was a college football player and I understand you were the waterboy for his high school team.
Yeah. He was a receiver but he played pretty much every position. I really wasn’t into football at that time but I would go to watch him and support him while my mother was at work. I always favored him to see if he needed water because he was my brother. I think that made me who I am today because I watched him perform out there and I was like, “Man, I want to be like my brother.” Any time that he didn’t have practice, he would come throw a ball with me and try to get me to like the sport. It turned out good because every Thanksgiving we would have a tackling-fest in the grass in our front yard. We would throw pads on and a helmet and he would always hit me hard and it made me want to hit people hard like he did. I cherish him for that and always look up to him for that.
You have a lot of tattoos. Is it addictive?
It is. They say after the first tattoo you’re going to want more despite how bad it hurts. After a few weeks of letting it heal, you look in the mirror and want more. You see tattoos on other people and it makes you think, “Oh man, if I could only have one in that spot on my stomach, chest, or whatever.” Only time will tell what tattoo I’m going to get next or where on my body that I’m going to get it. Hopefully when I grow old, they don’t look all wrinkly and bad.
When was the last time that you had a haircut?
The beginning of my junior year in college. I’ve trimmed it here and there, but it’s been like five or six years since I’ve shaved my hair off.
People that watched the preseason opener against the Falcons where you had a punt return touchdown and caught a touchdown pass heard Jon Gruden sing your praises and say he loves the sound of the name. But that was not the first time that Jon Gruden has gone crazy over Dane Sanzenbacher. Going back to ESPN’s Gruden Quarterback Camp with your college quarterback Terrelle Pryor, half of the segment was about you. What is it about Jon Gruden and you?
I don’t know. I still haven’t met him to this day. But that is where it started. I was watching on ESPN like everybody else. I was eating breakfast and all of the sudden the segment comes on that is supposed to be about Terrelle. I don’t know what his fascination is, but it’s probably helped my career more than a lot of things actually.
You were a high school basketball player. What position did you play and what kind of numbers did you post?
I played center and I didn’t stray too far from the paint. My high school coach had a rule that I could only dribble twice. That was probably a good thing. I liked basketball a lot and had a lot of fun. I would say that I was an average high school player.
Did you average a double-double?
I would say so just because I was so much bigger than everybody else at the time.
You did not play football until your senior year of high school. Why not?
I was a basketball player. I always wanted to play basketball and was on an AAU team so I never had time for football until a couple of my friends went out there and I was forced to play football. It’s a good thing that I did.
How did they force you?
Some things happened and a couple of my teachers and the principal told me that I had to (play football) or they would have to call my mother about some things. That was an easy decision because my momma don’t need to know anything negative.
Your mother ran for parliament last year in Sierra Leone right?
Yes. Unfortunately, she didn’t get elected but she works very hard and the people in her community love her. She does so many things for her community and felt like she would be a good voice for them.
You have her name tattooed on your chest. Did she know that you were going to do that?
She didn’t know until after I did it.
What was her reaction?
She’s not a big fan of tattoos, but when she saw that her name was on my chest, she was pretty excited about it.
You grew up in Wilmington, Delaware. The so-called “first state” for being the first one to ratify the Constitution. When you tell people that you’re from Delaware, do they have any idea where it is?
No. Whenever I tell anybody that I’m from Delaware they always say that I’m the first person that they’ve ever met from there. Then they ask me where it is. My response is that they need to pay more attention in geography because as you said, we’re the first state so everybody should know where we’re located.
Vice President Joe Biden is from Delaware. Have you ever crossed paths with the V.P.?
I haven’t, but hopefully that day is coming soon.
Every year at the Super Bowl, they have something called the Madden Bowl where NFL players compete at the video game. You are a two-time champion. Have you – a proud Stanford grad – actually wasted a lot of your time playing Madden?
Unfortunately. When I told you that I wasn’t paying as much attention to my economics classes (at Stanford) as I should have been, it was because of Madden. I still dabble every now and then, but definitely not as much as I used to. I have kids now and I’m getting a little older so it seems like the days go by a little faster. But going out to those Madden Bowls was always fun. Of course, they retired me after I won too many times. I still peek in and see who is winning.
What does the Madden Bowl champion receive if anything?
A trophy and bragging rights. That’s pretty much it. I’ve got a couple of trophies sitting in the house and I’ve been able to tell everybody that I’m the Madden Bowl champ. Because of that, everybody thinks they can beat you and wants to play you, so that definitely comes along with it too.
When Brian Kelly wanted to motivate you at Notre Dame, what buttons did he push?
He would just coach me and tell me what I needed to do. He wasn’t big on yelling at me or things like that – not that he wouldn’t. All you have to do is tell me what to do and I’ll try to do it.
What gifts did the Notre Dame players get for playing in the BCS Championship game?
We got a gift card from the university with some money on it and then we got to go to a gift suite. But they didn’t send us the gifts that we picked out which was a little surprising. They sent us like a cheaper version of them. I wonder if the winners got them? I guess that’s what you get when you lose. It’s all good though. I’ll take what they gave me.
Who was your favorite athlete growing up?
His name is Virgilijus Alekna and he’s a Lithuanian discus thrower. I actually was able to work with him in 2007.
Is he famous in track and field circles?
Oh yeah absolutely. He’s a two-time Olympic winner and a two-time world champion – just an absolutely tremendous discus thrower.
What were some of your favorite places to travel during your track and field career?
China was really great. Turkey was unbelievable – it’s a crazy culture over there. South Africa is an absolutely beautiful place. Spain is really cool as well.
For the final game of the regular season vs. Baltimore, Bengals owner Mike Brown will be my guest. Among other things, we’ll discuss childhood memories of his father’s great Cleveland teams, the summer he worked for George Steinbrenner, and the Bengals loss that hurts the most. Hope you tune in on Sunday morning at 11:30.
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