KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The legend says that Dee Ford once locked himself in a room for six months — a little chunk at a time, we hope — and wouldn’t come out until he had mastered the keyboards. Mastered it.
He was 12 years old.
Kid got good.
"Crazy good," James Ford Jr., Dee’s older brother, said, "within a span of six months. So it took a lot of mental toughness."
The Kansas City Chiefs’ newest outside linebacker/designated Peyton-killer may be a bit undersized (6-foot-2, 252 pounds, and he looks leaner up close), at least as edge rushers go.
"He gets that from his momma," said Debbie Ford, Dee’s momma, who would know. "Yeah, his dad is quiet. But me? I love people. I love to talk. The church work has instilled that into us. Because getting up and talking in front of everybody, and loving people, and knowing who you are."
The newest Chief once played in a gospel/jazz quartet called "Potential."
"He likes to say he was the leader," James Jr. said. "But I was the leader."
Cannot make that stuff up, kids.
"Of course, I want to be a Hall-of-Famer," Ford said. "But right now, my short-term goal is just being a teammate."
"I didn’t walk out of any meeting and think I would never see (coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey) again," Ford said. "I was thinking, ‘Hopefully, they can get to me in time.’"
"I wasn’t really good at the pretty-boy game," Ford said. "I was good at the dirty stuff."
So, yeah, it’s safe to say Big Dee won his first Chiefs news conference late Friday afternoon, just as he won just about every meeting with Reid and Dorsey in the months and weeks leading up to the draft.
The No. 23 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft praised Chiefs fans, again. He praised Kansas City, noting that it felt like home (Odenville, Ala., roughly a half-hour out of Birmingham, population: 3,629), what with its world’s-biggest-small-town vibe. He dropped the name of ex-Chiefs great Derrick Thomas in hallowed tones, as one of his heroes. Twice.
Win. Win. Win.
He was asked about the time he said he thought he was better than ex-South Carolina star pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, the top overall draft pick.
"It was nothing personal to him," Ford says. "We have a great relationship. I do think I am the best in the draft."
"You learn how to manage your emotions when learning music," said Ford, who’ll start out as a Jedi Padawan to Tamba Hali or Justin Houston and may very well be groomed to replace one of them, 12-15 months from now. "It’s just a different discipline and a mental thing. It’s a mental discipline. You learn how to manage your emotions."
Your learn timing, too. With then-No. 24 Auburn leading at then-No. 7 Texas A&M, 45-41, in College Station, Texas, last October 19, the hosts faced a 4th-and-13 with 18 seconds left. Ford lined up wide off of right tackle, exploded forward, and forced 300-pound Cedric Ogbuehi back, ever closer to a back-pedaling Manziel, then shook off his blocker.
Against Johnny Football, one-on-one, Manziel tried to feint right. Ford kept coming. Then left. Ford kept coming. Stiff arm. Ford kept coming, wrapping his big arms around the reigning Heisman Trophy-winner and corralling him to the turf. Ballgame.
"I just get very intent, very focused, naturally," Ford explains. "I love the moments, love the adrenaline. That’s what you work for, those big moments."
Big stage. Big motor. Modest youth. Nice family. Dad, James Sr., drives a truck. Debbie is a nurse. Salt of the earth. Work hard. Pray. No, sir. Yes, ma’am.
One Mother’s Day, Dee and James and some pals at church got together, pulled out a phone book, rang up family and friends in the congregation and serenaded callers with "A Song For Mama," by Boyz II Men.
"And I think they made every mom in Alabama that they called cry," Debbie said. "And then their parents would call us back and say, ‘You know your kids just sung to me? And I’m in tears right now.’"
At 2, it was pots and pans. A few years later, Dee liked to line up little 5-gallon buckets, street-drumming style, and bash away.
"And you could hear him all over the neighborhood," Mom recalled.
But child drummers can test a parent’s patience, to say nothing of their eardrums. One day, Dee’s grandma decided she’d finally had enough and was on her way to confiscate the drumsticks when Grandpa intervened.
"(He) would say, ‘Leave that baby alone,’" Debbie said. "’He’s going to be something one day.’"
Grandpa knew. Grandpas usually do.
As the teens neared, Dee had figured he might switch to horns, until one day, the family found their church group needed a piano player.
"It was an ambition-type thing," James Jr. explained. "He loves music, so he just started playing."
He’s big on ambition, our man Dee. You name it, he’s played it. Jazz. Ragtime. Boogie-woogie. Classical. Pop standards. Hip-hop. Hymns. Soul. Fusion. John Coltrane. Snarky Puppy.
"I don’t feel like it’s a hard thing for him," James Jr. said. "On the field, it’s totally different. You’re trash-talking on the field. Dee, he’s a big trash-talker."
It ain’t bragging if you can back it up.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.