Kevin Mathis was as good a depth player as anyone could find in the NFL back when he suited up for the Falcons. A veteran cornerback when he came into Atlanta in 2002, Mathis provided plenty of excitement during his four years with the Falcons. Mathis is most remembered for a 32-yard game-winning touchdown he scored off an interception during the 2003 season to beat the Carolina Panthers in overtime 20-14. Mathis retired from the game in 2006. These days, Mathis is living in his native Texas and devotes his life to helping underprivileged children.
Jay Adams: Being a guy that's not too far departed from the game, how much do you miss playing?
Kevin Mathis: I don't miss the playing part. I think the main thing that a lot of guys realize once they're no longer able to play is just not being around the guys in the locker room. I think you miss that more than going out and playing on Sundays because you spend so much time with those guys. They're a huge part of your life and you're a huge part of theirs. That's the main thing that you miss once you leave football. But the game part? I can't say I miss a lot of that as far as the pain and punishment that goes on with your body. But you do miss your teammates and the camaraderie with the fellas.
JA: You spent four years in Atlanta during your career, more than any other team you played for. What are some of your fondest memories of being here?
KM: Just playing with some of the guys and playing in the rivalry games, playing against the Saints down at the Georgia Dome. If you don't know much about the rivalry like the Saints and the Falcons, man, you wouldn't understand how big that game is. I was in Dallas first (from 1997-1999) and I never realized the Saints and the Falcons rivalry was that but, so when I first got to be a part of it, I was like, "Wow, this is just like the Giants-Cowboys or the Redskins-Cowboys." You miss those types of things. That was one of those things that stood out being in Atlanta. Being a part of the team that went to the NFC Championship game (in 2004) and got beat by the Eagles, that's another thing that sticks out. But what I think sticks out the most is the Carolina game where I intercepted a pass in overtime and took it back for a touchdown to win it. That sticks out the most.
JA: You played for the Saints in 2000 and 2001 before coming to the Falcons, so you've seen both sides of the rivalry you mentioned. What are the differences between the way the fans and players approach those games for each team?
KM: It's very difficult to say how different the fans are. I've been on both ends of it. For instance, my first year in New Orleans, we played Atlanta in New Orleans and at the end of the game, all you could see was Falcons fans up at the top, still screaming, still yelling because they won. It opened my eyes and I said, "Hey, these guys travel all the way from Atlanta down to New Orleans for this game." It's the same on the other side, where we've gotten beaten by New Orleans in Atlanta. You see the fans there, too. It's just wonderful for that rivalry that the people love their teams and are that into that game. Like I said, if you haven't been a part of it, you really don't know it. It's not one of those rivalries that are brought up often, like the Cowboys and the Redskins rivalries and other rivalries like that.
JA: In 2004, you had two interceptions — both of which were returned for touchdowns. How difficult is that to accomplish for someone at your position?
KM: You know what, it's all about being at the right place at the right time. I think the record there for interceptions for touchdowns throughout a career (with the Falcons) is only three, and that's me and Deion (Sanders), unless somebody else has come in and taken that over (Mathis' and Sanders' record still stands). Just being in the right place at the right time and having scoring on your mind once you get the ball.
JA: I know you make your home in Texas, but what are your thoughts on the current Falcons and the direction the team is heading?
KM: I live in Texas, but I've got DirecTV and I've got the Falcons on every week. My youngest son, he's a diehard Falcons fan. He's got his whole room, it's all Falcons. Falcons, Falcons, Falcons. I like the way that this team is going. I love what they're doing on offense. I like the way they can score and stretch the field and also run the ball, pound it. On defense, I like the corners. ... But I think they're going in the right direction. I like Coach Smith and I like what he's all about, the things he's brought, the toughness he's brought to the team. I know that last year's playoff loss only drives those guys to get better and work harder. I believe here in the near future they'll be heading toward that Super Bowl.