Antonio Pierce finished off a very successful career in 2010. The linebacker finished a career that featured highlights as a Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl Championship back in 2008 as a member of the New York Giants. After retiring, Pierce moved on to a broadcasting career at ESPN, and remains a mainstay as an analyst talking Football.
Pierce showed up in support of the Conversion Sports and Entertainment Sean John NFL Pre-Draft Luxury Gifting and Style Suite event, organized by CC Carnie. We spoke with Pierce about everything from his experience as an undrafted rookie to his charity work.
Interview by Rafael Canton (@RafelitoC7)
You were undrafted, so what was that experience like and do you think that helped drive you when you started in the NFL?
That was the key. I was one of the most pissed off players after that Draft. I watched 30 linebackers get drafted before me. I thought I had a chance to get drafted because I had a solid to pretty good college career and things just didn’t work out. All I wanted was an opportunity, and when I got that opportunity, I said ‘You know what? Now they’re screwed’ because I had my list. I just constantly started marking off names and remembered every player that got drafted in front of me. My goal when I left the National Football League was to be more successful and prove people wrong, and hopefully I did that.
And it feels like you played a role in changing the way people look at linebackers. You were a shorter linebacker and that was the big knock on you rather than your ability. You proved that you could be dominant on the field and get the job done.
It’s funny to me. A shorter linebacker back then was 6'1", and now that’s the average height of most linebackers in the league. When I came out they wanted the bigger linebacker that was 6'4", 6'5", 250, 260. And the way the game is today, I’d probably be the guy they want because you have to run, tackle, and chase. That’s one of the things you see in the league. Guys like Derrick Brooks and Jessie Armstead and some other guys who got opportunities proved it too. It’s not about the biggest, strongest, or the fastest, it’s the size of the heart. I worked the hardest, I studied the hardest, that was my gig. You might’ve got through the front door and I came through the back door, but I’m going to leave through that front door.
How do you look back at your time with the Giants now?
It was the best experience and the best decision I made. At the time, it was a hard decision because I had more money elsewhere with other teams, but playing in the division with the Washington Redskins and playing against the Giants helped me learn more about the organization. Jessie Armstead who was a good friend of mine and Sam Huff who was with the Redskins spoke highly of the Giants. So when they came calling, obviously I wanted as much money as I could get, but I looked at the opportunity New York could give me. I was always told if I played good football and win a championship in New York, I would never be forgotten, and I think I pretty much achieved all those goals.
After you retired, you moved to ESPN as a broadcaster. What has that transition been like?
I love it. I think for a lot of guys, the post-career is where you struggle because for your whole life you train and structure your life around football. When that’s taken from you, the next thing you can do is either coach or get into broadcasting. I wasn’t ready for coaching, thought I was too young at 31. So why not leave one great brand in the NFL and join another great brand which is the sports mecca in ESPN. It’s like a locker room environment there. The atmosphere, you got guys like Keyshawn, Trent Dilfer, Steve Young, Jerry Rice. Hell I’m with guys that I grew up watching. For me, I’m getting the best of both worlds. And then, it keeps you relevant, a lot of guys when they retire, you forget about them after a while, but being on television, being apart of the game, and still talking football is what I love to do.
You do a lot of charity in your hometown of Compton and work all around the country. How have those experiences helped you?
I grew up in Compton, CA, and was raised in Long Beach. I always wanted the opportunity where someone came back and gave a little bit of advice that might’ve helped my transition growing up. I'm also in Newark doing stuff with the United Way and the YMCA. It gives me an opportunity to stay in the community, stay involved. I’m a people person and I like to be around people.
Do you ever foresee working as a coach?
I gotta get a little older first. I’m only 34 so I got a few more years to go, but I can see with the right franchise, the right head coach, or in the right situation. I have to get a little older. I’m not ready for for 14-16 hour days. It’s a little easier with an AC unit indoors talking about football rather than drawing up plays trying to stop guys. It’s something I can see myself doing in the future, but I don’t know how far that future is right now.
How do you feel about both New York teams?
The Jets just had the big news with Revis, and it’s shocking because rarely do you ever see a team trade their best player. But I think they got good draft picks out of it. With the draft picks being slotted into specific salaries, they’re not paying as much. Just looking at what the Jets have done over the years, they haven’t gotten better on offense. They have a defensive-minded coach, but they struggle on offense. It’s pathetic to watch them play offense. I can see them finishing last in their division because Buffalo got better, and the Dolphins definitely got better.
With the Giants, their success is about attitude. There are not many teams that can stop the Giants. They have to get that hunger and drive back. When I played there, we always talked about keeping wood chips in the fire. I think they let that fire go out a little bit, but they have the right people led by Eli to get that fire back.
Who do you think has positioned themselves to be a contender?
Gotta look at the Denver Broncos. They had the best record in the league last year. They got better by adding Welker, and they always have good drafts. It comes down to quarterback. Teams that have great quarterbacks like Brady, the Mannings, Drew Brees will always be in the discussion. Don’t leave out the 49ers, too. They’re built to win a lot of football games over the next four to five years. They’re a young and talented team, so if I had a favorite right now, I would go with the 49ers who were my favorite last year.
What advice do you try to impart on these rookies coming into the NFL?
Enjoy the moment right now, but get ready to work your ass off because everyday somebody is trying to take your job. Just because you were the first pick overall or in the top five doesn’t matter anymore. Every team is looking to get better. Come in and work the same way you got here. Hard work, dedication, and being humble is how you got here. It’s the hardest thing to do in the league when you’re making millions of bucks and people are patting you on your butt all the time. You lose your drive a little bit. Guys that keep that drive are the great ones. To maintain and play at that level all the time is what makes people Hall of Famers.
What’s the hardest part of transitioning from college to the NFL, in your opinion?
The speed of the game. The practice, the timing. Now, it's football, there’s no more classes. The class is in the film room, so now there are no more pacifiers and diapers. You’re around grown men. I remember when I came to the league playing with guys like Darrell Green, Bruce Smith. I was in kindergarten when these guys were rookies. When you play with grown ass men, like when they grab you, there’s sometimes where you won’t be able to move. It’s a grown man sport. It’s one of those moments where you better have your mind right mentally.