First off, I’d like to thank MetLife for setting up this interview on behalf of you, the loyal catcrave.com readers, so that you would be able to hear not just about current NFL players but former Panthers as well!
Without MetLife and their “Road to MetLife Stadium” promotion, it would not have been possible. But hey, that’s how things work behind the scenes – I mention them and they get me access to Mr. Rucker, whom I’ve interviewed below for you!
To set this up, I was in Bearden Park in Charlotte, NC, mere blocks away from Bank of America Stadium. Mike Rucker was there, a very busy man as he was being pulled one way or other for whatever event was going on at the time. There were kids playing all around me as I made my way to the designated spot in the park. You know all those pads you see in those “Play Safe” NFL commercials with their campaign? They were all over the place here with kids bouncing around with their boundless energy. Made me jealous – I remember wanting to run everywhere I went!
Ah, well. I, too, was a 4-year-old….at right around the time Richard Nixon was saying “I am not a crook.”
I was two and a half when my parents got me up in the middle of the night to watch Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon – live – so I could tell people I actually saw the thing on live TV. That, I did!
The memories these children playing brought back are priceless. Mr. Rucker was playing with some children, himself, as I made my way to a spot set out of the way of the rising future NFL stars. Yeah, warm fuzzies. Good feelings.
I’ve never been one to be star-struck, but if I were, Mr. Rucker would have made me feel at ease from the beginning. He is tall, as you might imagine, but surprisingly slender. Some retired linemen tend to be heavy, but not Mike. He would appear at a glance to be a nice, fit man to be a great spokesperson for NFL fitness, or “playing safely” for kids to look up to. He really looks, speaks, and fits the part well.
After a very pleasant greeting and firm handshake that I know he held back his strength on, we began. KD is yours truly and MR is of course, Mike Rucker.
KD: Hi Mike!
KD: Well, we’ve got limited time so I’ll get straight to it. I did a little research – I certainly do remember you playing, of course – now, you were the team’s second-round pick out of Nebraska in 1999…
KD: Please tell my readers a little bit about coach John Fox and what it was like to play for him, if you would.
MR: You know, coach Fox was a player’s coach…and he really took care of us in camp and was really a hard-nosed guy when it comes down to it. He wanted a physical, smart guy to play for him, and uh…well, the guys that weren’t smart or weren’t physical were weeded out and that’s what I love about him. He would shoot things straight with you. He wouldn’t sugar-coat anything, wouldn’t hold anything back. If you’re doing great, he’d tell you and if you weren’t doing great, he’d tell you that too, and that’s what I loved about him.
KD: Straight to the point and get to the meat of the matter. Okay. Tell me, who was the best offensive tackle you faced on a regular basis and what made him so special?
MR: I probably would say Willie Roaf, when he was with the Saints. Obviously, he went into the Hall of Fame last year. He’s a good friend and we had some epic battles. He made me better as a young football player, going up against a guy who has a lot of talent. He’s athletic, he’s strong, he’s tall so all that combined made him very good.
KD: …so he could defeat a lot of your moves.
MR: Absolutely! Absolutely. He was athletic, so it wasn’t like he was this stiff, big guy; you had to come with a game-plan against him and that was just to be competitive. That’s not saying you were going to WIN, but you had to come with a game plan just to give yourself a shot.
KD: How long does it take a talented, high draft pick like yourself to fully adapt to the NFL, and what’s the most difficult thing you had to do in order to successfully make the transition?
MR: I probably would say that, on average, year three either the light is on, or either it’s not ever gonna COME on. It’s about year three, and it’s a lot of hard work. A LOT of film study. In college, you had maybe a handful of guys that were really good so your athletic ability would take over and it might compensate for you not knowing plays, or something like that but here in the pros, everybody’s good. The kickers are good, the long-snapper’s good, everybody’s athletic….so, you have to do more. You have to get more film work and I think it separates a guy who’s going to be average from someone that’s going to be productive in the NFL.
KD: So it’s an intellectual thing as much as anything.
KD: Okay, great! What was it like playing with someone that gets all the limelight, like say…a Julius Peppers?
MR: It was great. You know, I have the type of mentality that I’m a team player and I know that his ability over there would help me out. And even though he was getting a double-team or he was getting the limelight, it just allowed me to be sneaky and work my magic on the back side -
KD: They can’t double-team you both.
MR: Yep. Yep. And so I’ve never been that guy saying “He’s got the limelight or THAT guy’s got the limelight.” You know what? I wanted to be productive and I wanted a championship, so that was the goal.
KD: Just let you play speak for itself.
MR: That’s it.
KD: We fans hear about “waiting for the game to slow down,” and I get that – it means they’re waiting until they’re so well-trained that they’re able to process a lot more info more quickly – kinda like the “year-three” thing you just spoke of.
KD: How much of an adjustment did you have to make, coming from one of the better conferences in college?
MR: There wasn’t an adjustment; I think my conference and my school helped me maybe be ahead of some other guys coming from different schools. We come from a physical conference – Big-8, Big-12 at the time – so it was physical, a lot of running the ball. Our defensive coordinator, Charlie McBride, had a high standard so everybody ran to the ball regardless of whether you were gonna make that play or not. You never know what’s gonna happen so the standards were really high coming out of Nebraska, winning three championships, so we were doing some things right so I was able to bring some of those things with me to the league that helped me maybe be ahead of SOME, but at the end of the day, you still need to develop. You still weren’t a Hall of Fame player when you stepped onto the field, so you needed to get better so that’s something that we did.
KD: Good stuff! Well, the NFL is a young man’s game -
KD: What in particular made you face your own NFL mortality and decide it was time to hang up your cleats?
MR: Well, it was a couple of things. You know, all the weight lifting and kinda taking a toll on the body…one of the biggest things I wanted to say is it’d be an honor for me to be able for one team. Nine years, one team.
KD: Yeah I noticed that, that’s great.
MR: And that was by design. That didn’t “just happen” that was by design. And I think that, the three kids, the wife…I wanted to spend more time with them and I wanted to go out on top. I wanted to have control. I didn’t wanna be traded, I didn’t wanna be released, I didn’t wanna be injured and not be able to walk off the field. I wanted to have control and walk off the field [on my own terms] and that and those three things probably contributed to when I wanted to retire.
KD: Okay. I’ve only got time for another question or two. Well, a guy like Kris Jenkins was like a brick wall against the run…
KD: How did he doing his job help you in your doing your job so well? You’ve got over 55 career sacks.
MR: Yeah, he’s got the big body, helped in the run, helped take double-teams…you can’t block him with just one guy. So when you have myself, you have Jenks, and you have Pepp, it’s kinda like “pick your poison” where you can only double-team so many people and so that’s why I think it was a team effort as we progressed and we were getting sacks.
KD: Yeah you guys really had a young, talented defensive line while you were here. Last question: and I’ve always wanted to talk to someone who’s actually been there. What’s it like to walk out onto the field and reality hits you that you’re in the stadium of the Super Bowl. I mean, it’s the SUPER BOWL. What’s it like?
MR: Of all sports, all games to me, that is the number one game and the WHOLE WORLD is watching. You got two teams vying for this trophy that’s hard enough to get to, let alone play for, and it was just tremendous. You know, the lights, and there was just a lot of action…and to have your family there, it’s just a memory I won’t forget.
KD: It’s gotta be a special thing.
MR: It’s definitely special!
KD: Well, we had five minutes and we used six, so I appreciate your time.
MR: Yes sir – a pleasure.
KD: And it was nice meeting you, you’re a VERY nice man.
MR: Yes, sir! Thank you! You too! You have a great one!
KD: You too.
With the victory yesterday, the Panthers are certainly staying on the straight and narrow now en route, hopefully, to MetLife Stadium and the Super Bowl in February. They certainly exploded against the hapless New York Giants and pretty much extinguished any dreams THEY have of getting there – to their OWN HOME STADIUM – for the event….unless they buy tickets just like everybody else!
One final note: Mike Rucker is a co-founder of Ruckus House Learning Centers, along with former Panthers players Mike Minter, Stephen Davis, and Mushin Muhammed. It’s a charity for under-privileged children and their goal is to get one in every city that has an NFL franchise. Please take a couple of minutes, click on the link above, and do some reading on what they do. It’s a great cause – anything for kids, I’m all in favor of – and if you’re looking for a good charity that will put your donations to good use for a great cause, please consider Ruckus House. I know they’ll appreciate it far more than you know!
Also, you can click HERE to see event photos posted on the MetLife Central Facebook page!
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In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve partnered with MetLife as part of the Road to MetLife Stadium Preferred Blogger Program. Throughout the year I’ll be receiving special access to MetLife Stadium events and be conducting reader giveaways, with prizes provided by MetLife. However, NO payment was given or expected for posting about the program, and as always, all opinions given here are fully my own.