ALL ACCESS: A lot of networks do TV interviews, but have you ever wanted to know the juicy details that never make air? You can tell a lot about who people really are when the cameras aren’t rolling. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the interview with Falcons wide receiver Roddy White.
If you bring up the wide receiver position, you know the attributes that will follow: diva, moody, selfish … making these exceptionally talented players so maddening. For whatever reason, we’ve been programmed into thinking this is how receivers are, especially the most talented ones.
It’s simply their birthright. While we were screaming for our blankie from the crib, they were screaming for the ball. Talk to a quarterback (off the record) and you’ll often hear the exasperation when they talk about the players they need to get along with but don’t necessarily understand.
Talk to Roddy White about wide receivers and you’ll actually hear the same thing. Roddy will tell you that he and his quarterback Matt Ryan have never had an argument.
They discuss, dissect and communicate constantly, but he says they respect each other too much to turn it into a shouting match, especially on Sundays when emotions are already very charged. They come off the sidelines after every series — good or bad — and compare notes. You have never seen Roddy stalk Matt up and down a sideline because, as Roddy told me, "If I dropped five balls, the last thing I’d want is someone chasing me down the sideline yelling ‘Catch the ball!’ That wouldn’t inspire me but annoy the heck out of me and take me off of my focus and my game."
Roddy becomes visibly disturbed when he talks about his wideout brethren who do employ that approach, telling me about the rule he’d love the league to implement aimed at wideouts: No yelling at your quarterback and hit ’em with a fine every time they do.
I told him that concept, especially coming from him, won’t make him too popular among his peers. But his reply is typical Roddy. He laughs. And it’s a great laugh.
Let me just say that it is impossible to be in Roddy White’s orbit without smiling. He is warm and engaging with a smile that literally lights up the screen in this week’s episode of "PROfiles." The soundtrack that accompanies Roddy everywhere, at practice, during games, walking through the halls of the Falcons training facility, the grocery store, everywhere and anywhere, is his laughter. His former coach Jim Mora calls it a giggle and that giggle is one of the reasons Jim didn’t quit on his late 2005 first-round draft pick when so much of the rest of the organization was urging him to do so.
In his first two years in the league, Roddy’s game excelled — unfortunately, it was his off-the-field game. His career on the field was going nowhere while he was going to clubs and parties until 4 a.m. and rolling into meetings at 7:30. He had 29 catches his rookie season and 30 the following, with no touchdowns. It goes without saying that his teammates didn’t think too highly of him, urging the youngster to get his act together. But like so many other small-town kids who wake up one morning and win the lottery, Roddy thought he had already made it … because he had.
He was young, rich and an NFL player.
The one thing that his teammates didn’t know was that Roddy was partying to mask what was going on his life. We talk a lot about this time period on "PROfiles" because it’s the first time he’s really opened up about what was happening in his life back then and the first time Mora was allowed to talk about his role in it.
Jim had to bench him. There was no way he couldn’t. Roddy’s play and his attitude guaranteed that, but what Jim didn’t have to do was spend hours after practice throwing the ball around with his benched first rounder who was on the way to becoming a bust. Jim and Roddy would go inside the Falcons bubble, just the two of them to throw the ball around … and talk.
Roddy thought they were working on his ball-handling skills (because he was dropping so many), but Jim had other motives. They didn’t talk football, but about what was going on in Roddy’s life — and there was plenty. The most significant thing was not knowing if the mother of his newborn baby son was going to live. She made Roddy keep her condition a secret from everyone, including their families. He kept it to himself. He wondered if he was going to raise the baby boy on his own. And he dropped balls.
But he did start to open up to his coach who benched him, yet kept promising he wouldn’t give up on him, the first man in his life who Roddy heard that from. Neither Jim nor Roddy had ever told anyone about what they talked about in their hours throwing and talking (in fact, Jim was taken aback when I approached him for an interview, surprised that Roddy had told me). While people around the organization were asking Jim why he spent so much time with his young wideout and wondered why he didn’t just cut him loose, Jim kept his faith in Roddy and kept encouraging him to share what was happening in his life. Conversations and revelations that Jim could not share with anyone because Roddy told him everything in confidence.
When I asked Jim what he saw in him that no one else was seeing, I didn’t have to wait for his answer. Knowing Roddy, I already knew what it would be. It goes back to that soundtrack that accompanies him everywhere. While others saw a party boy or a first-round bust, Jim saw a young, naive, small-town kid with a big heart … and a great giggle. You simply can’t fake that. Have you ever been around a bad person with a giggle? You haven’t, because they don’t exist.
And what makes it even more special is that, for his first two seasons, Roddy didn’t laugh. He hated getting out of bed, especially on Sundays, dreading the drive to the stadium or the practice facility and knowing he wasn’t a part of a game plan. He certainly didn’t feel like he was part of the team.
He tells me he didn’t smile much during those years and while I just can’t picture that, I believe it, because I see how he makes up for it now, by wearing a smile that is as dependable as his hands. And Roddy’s hands have been pretty good so far this season, as he stands second in the NFL in receiving yards and was the first player in the league to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving this season.
I asked Roddy what regrets he has about those first two seasons and, as you can assume, there’s a million things he’d do over. He would’ve hit the weights and film room like he does now. He would’ve been a more disciplined player and better teammate. But there is only one regret — and it has nothing to do with stats or catches that would’ve beefed up his career numbers. He wishes he had gotten his act together for Jim Mora, who believed in the receiver when no one else did, including White.
I told Jim that and he waved it off quickly, saying he’s simply happy Roddy got it together period because he knew he had it in him all along. I asked him what he thinks when he watches Roddy dominate games the way he does now and he said it gives him goose bumps. Roddy’s play makes him proud. But what made Mora happy was a few weeks back when he watched Roddy get interviewed after a monster game.
It wasn’t what he saw, but what he heard …
PROfiles with Roddy White appears on FSN all this week. Check your local listings.