Behind the Facemask: Matt Bryant

Frank Kleha: I heard you were a big-time defensive player on your high school football team?

Matt Bryant: I was a middle linebacker. They wanted me to play tight end too but I didn't. I was the leading tackler on the team my senior year and was all-district. The funny thing about it was I had all the equipment. I had a big neck roll, elbow pads and I had on these receiver gloves. I looked like a linebacker. I was a middle linebacker all my life and I prided myself on wanting to make that big play. I remember watching Mike Singletary and Brian Bosworth growing up. When it was time to kick though, I kicked barefooted (on both punting and placekicking duties).

FK: How did that work as a starting linebacker and then having to kick?

MB: I would kick off (barefoot) and run down and make the tackle and then a guy from the sideline would hurry up and run on to the field, so I could slip on my sock. We took the laces out of my right shoe and replaced it with Velcro so it was easy to put on. So instead of sitting out a play to put on your shoe I was always in the game. My dad came up with that idea and it worked.

FK: Any kicking exploits to speak of in high school?

MB: I still have my high school record for the longest field goal, which was either 51 or 52 yards . (Ironically, the exact same distances on his final two kicks to help register the win over New Orleans in Week 1.) One time I had a 70-yard punt.

FK: You worked in a pawn shop after college before getting a tryout with the NFL. What's the weirdest thing someone tried to pawn?

MB: Every day you'd see some sad stuff and you'd see some crazy stuff. A guy comes in with gold capped teeth and he needs some money. But I can't give you money for your teeth, just the gold. So he took his teeth out and you go in the back and you have to bust those teeth out of gold and you weigh the gold. He needed the money more than he needed the teeth. That's the craziest thing I saw. Their motto in the pawn shop business is "anything and everything is for sale."

FK: What's the most expensive thing that came into the shop?

MB: A $20,000 Rolex. All he wanted was $1,000. That's the thing that people don't understand about a pawn shop. Basically, the main purpose for a pawn shop is to help somebody out. A pawn shop doesn't want your stuff. A pawn shop makes money off of you paying interest. All the guy needed was a $1,000, but he didn't come back for the watch so he lost it.

FK: What do you think of the popular History Channel show "Pawn Stars"?

MB: I used to watch "Pawn Stars" all the time just because of the interesting stuff that would come through there. "Pawn Stars" is more geared towards TV, it's more showy. "Hardcore Pawn" is closer to reality. Those guys get crazy.

FK: You spent some time playing in NFL Europe. What was it like?

MB: I was supposed to kick for Berlin (Germany) Thunder but training camps back then were in Tampa, Florida. I injured my quad and had to go to Birmingham (Alabama) to rehab for three months. So I ended up going over there to play for the Frankfurt (Germany) Galaxy for four games at the end of the season. I just kicked off for Frankfurt because in NFL Europe they had two kickers; a national player and an American.

FK: How did you feel about being in a different country?

MB: It was an extremely tough transition because I went over there and basically I was alone. Those guys have been together playing for months and I had been with a completely different team at training camp and I didn't know anybody. But I got to drive on the Autobahn and visit some castles, so that was cool.

FK: What's home life like with seven children? 

MB: There's always something going on and everybody is into something. The twins are three years old now so they are doing their thing. All four of the older boys play football and baseball and Trey plays basketball, too. Madison is into cheer, gymnastics and competitive cheer.

FK: What was your dream car?

MB: As a kid I can remember having a poster of a Porsche or Lamborghini. But when the Hummer's came out I thought if I ever get the chance to get the money I'm going to buy me a Hummer. So when I signed my first significant contract I bought one. I got it in 2006 and I've kept it this long. But with seven kids I don't have a fetish for cars.

FK: Favorite sports memory growing up?

MB: When I was 10 or 11-years-old I kicked a 35-yard field goal playing for the Cardinals. The big thing about little league football too is if you kick an extra point it's worth two points. So we always had an advantage because we kicked extra points (and tried field goals).

FK: Tell us about your experiences as an intern at the Georgia Aquarium this summer. Were you treated like an intern?

MB: It was great. And yes, I was treated like any other intern. There was one day we made 10 tons of salt bags for the LSS (life support system) and dumped them into the tanks. I was pretty dirty that day. I also cleaned tanks, washed windows and fed the fish. I did it all. Whoever I was shadowing that day I did their stuff with them.

FK: What did you enjoy the most?

MB: The neatest thing was feeding the sand tiger sharks. They are about 8-10 feet long. Also, I got the chance to feed the whale sharks and the rays in the big ocean voyager tank. The thing I enjoyed the most though was the tropic diver tank because I'm into the corals and tropical fish. FK:You recently finished your dream house on the beach that has a rather large fish tank. How big is it? 

MB: My tank is about 1,100 gallons. In contrast my tank at home here is 240 gallons.

FK: What does that look like?

Matt Bryant is suiting up in a different kind of uniform this offseason. The kicker has a love for marine life and is spending some of his time this summer interning with the Georgia Aquarium.

MB: It is 9 feet and 10 inches long. It's 4 feet tall and 44 inches front to back deep. So you can see it on three sides. If you are sitting in my living room and you're looking at the TV the wall on your left is my fish tank and the wall on the right is a wall of windows looking out at the Gulf. It doesn't have any fish in it right now because we are not there. It's going to be the focal point of this house. Right now in my tank of 240 gallons there's probably 40 fish in it. So in a tank of 1,100 gallons there will be few more than that. (laughing)

FK: You've been in the NFL for 13 years — what's been the coolest experience you've had since coming into the league?

MB: I was on David Letterman. In 2003 with the Giants, I'm sitting in the players lounge one day and our PR guy comes in and asks me if I wanted to go. I thought he meant to go *watch *it. But they wanted me to stand on the roof and kick footballs across the street through a goalpost. Back then one of their skits was, for example, they would have a tennis player serve to try to bust out a window. So they wanted me to kick a football (to try to break something), but it was like a 50-yard kick and by the time a football gets to that point there isn't anything behind it (to break anything).

I grew up watching Letterman so it was cool. A week later I actually got a paycheck from them. The thing was, I was on the roof the entire time and I never even met him. (laughing)  So I was on David Letterman but I didn't meet him. I was in the green room and they sent me to the roof and I was there the whole show. I was hooked up to an earpiece and every now and then he come talk to me and then I would kick a ball.

FK: So who then would you say is the most interesting person you've had a chance to (actually) meet?

MB: I've had a chance to meet and see some really interesting people. I have a signed ball from President (George W.) Bush when he came out to practice one day in Tampa so I would say him.

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