Leading off the 2012 NFL regular season on Behind the Facemask is 14-year linebacker Mike Peterson, one of the most decorated veterans in the Falcons locker room who also doubles as one of the team's all-around good guys.
I sat down with "Mike Pete" to discuss fatherhood, what playing in the NFL has meant to him, embarking on his 14th NFL season, and his impressions of the young and emerging Falcons' linebackers.
Reggie Roberts: Fourteen years big fella? Did you ever in your wildest dreams think that you would be just two days away from beginning your 14th season in the National Football League when the average NFL career is about three years?
*Mike Peterson: *"No. Never. Never, ever! My dream was to get in the league. To get one chance... just get one shot, one opportunity. I knew that going to the University of Florida would give me a strong chance to get that shot. I am one of those guys who took advantage of an opportunity."
RR: What's been your secret to longevity, and don't tell me it's because you are from the great state of Florida and that Florida produces the best of everything?
*MP: *"You know that's what I want to tell you, that I come from Florida and that Florida does produce the best of everything (laughing). But the real deal is that the good Lord has blessed me with a lot of ability. The biggest part of it is that I have taken advantage of all of my opportunities. Everyone gets opportunities and they may come in different shapes and forms, but you've got to make them count. The other part of my longevity deals with doing the little things like taking care of your body, getting enough rest, proper nutrition, and doing all of the right things like staying out of trouble and keeping your nose clean. The final part is staying focused and staying humble. I've seen guys make rosters, get a little money, and they think they have made it. They stop doing the little things that landed them in the league in the first place and that can lead to problems. Staying humble has taken me a long ways."
RR: What's it like being the elder statesman in the Falcons' linebackers room that features OLB Sean Weatherspoon and the emerging MLB Akeem Dent?
*MP: *"It's been great. The most rewarding part of it is seeing the outcome of it. I've seen those guys be receptive of what I have to say from being in this game for 14 years. I can preach all I want, but if the guys don't listen and don't go out and put what I tell them into action, then I might as well be talking to a wall. So to see those guys accept me and to accept what I am saying as an older guy and then come out in practice and to come out in the games and put what I've told them into action is extremely rewarding for me."
RR: Akeem Dent makes his first NFL start on Sunday at always loud and raucous Arrowhead Stadium. Is he ready?
MP: "He's ready. He's preparing himself to perform and he's been doing it all week. I've seen him put in the extra study time, he's asked questions, he's gotten his rest, he's watched extra tape. As I mentioned earlier, to have long-term success in this league, you have got to prepare yourself for your opportunity, and that is what Akeem has done this week in getting ready for Sunday."
RR: There was a period where it was uncertain as to whether you were going to be back for the 2012 season. What was that like and what did you do to stay engaged in the game?
*MP: *"The first thing is that I was injured. I knew that I had to get myself healthy, which was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in the 14 years I've been in the NFL. I had to get myself healthy when I didn't have a job. I was rehabbing, strengthening my body, and training when I basically knew that I didn't have anything on the table (no NFL contract). So that was very hard. When I finally got the call from the Falcons, I was ready. I had been training. I train hard. I try to beat myself up during my offseason training so that when I come out here for training camp, it's a cakewalk for me because I've trained and prepared. I knew that I wasn't going to have to convince the Falcons or anybody else that I was in shape because I was in top shape based on the way that I train."
RR: You are a relatively new father with Mike, Jr. and Gavin. What's that been like?
MP: *"Love it. If I would have known that being a dad is this sweet, I probably would have done it five or 10 years ago. Just seeing my boys try to duplicate everything that I do and tell me that they want to be like me is the most rewarding part. When your sons tell you that they want to be like Daddy, that is the greatest feeling in the world." *
RR: You know we couldn't interview you without getting an update on the "Mike Pete" wardrobe, which without question is the hottest and most fashion forward on the team. Any new pieces?
MP: *"Come on, Reg. You know I got some new pieces, but I think I am going to change it up on the young fellas this season. I am going to fall back this season. I am going to let the young fellas wear all of their new stuff during our first couple of road trips before I break out my new stuff. My wife (Chantal) has been telling me that I need to wear all of my suits, but I think I am going to wait before I pull out my new stuff." *
RR: What does the new stuff entail?
*MP: *"I've updated my shoe game, my hat game, my shirt game and my tie game. I've got some of the new skinny ties that I plan to break out later in the fall."
RR: Are you a Rolex or a Breitling wristwatch guy?
*MP: *I am definitely a Rolex guy.
RR: Why are the offensive line guys seemingly the worst dressed guys on the team?
MP: "Offensive line guys are good guys, but they just don't care about clothes and looking nice. All you have to do is check out their vehicles. I look at a guy's vehicle and I can almost tell you how he dresses. When you see the offensive linemen, you see big guys with their big trucks. Most of the time, the trucks are dirty and they have McDonald's wrappers and cups all over the floor and seats. These guys ride sitting on french fries, so you know they don't care how they dress. Looking at a guy's car tells it all."
RR: Did you do anything cool during the offseason?
*MP: *"My wife is from Belize, so we went there. We also went to the Dominican Republic and zipped down to the Bahamas for a quick minute."
RR: Did you stay at the Atlantis?
MP: Yep. The Atlantis, The Cove — I'm a regular there, Reg. I also did a lot of West Coast trips.
RR: Have you been following the Republican and Democratic conventions at all?
*MP: *"I've been trying to. I saw the President (Barack Obama) do his thing last night, and I saw some of the Republican convention last week, as well. I've been trying to see as much of the convention as our work schedule will allow."
RR: I heard a rumor in the locker room the other day that Mike Pete can really sing. Is that just a bold face lie, or can you really sing?
MP:"That is a bad rumor. Trust me. I can't sing."