ESM EXCLUSIVE: New York Jets OT Mekhi Becton previews 2021 season

mekhi becton, jets

New York Jets first-round pick Mekhi Becton spoke to ESM about the weeks to come and his new endorsement endeavors with Pepsi.

As the anchor of the New York Jets’ offensive line, left tackle Mekhi Becton already has some arduous tasks ahead of him on autumn weekends.

Thanks to a collaboration with Pepsi, however, Becton will not only be able to protect the stars of Gang Green’s revamped offense, but he’ll also have the time and ability to assist Jets fans in preparing their gameday snacks.

Days before the Jets open their 2021 season on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers (1 p.m. ET, CBS), Becton was revealed as the face of Pepsi’s new Jets-centered campaigns, entitled “Made for Jets Watching“. His participation is headlined by an augmented reality endeavor in which a mini version of the Jets’ first-round pick from the 2020 draft assists fans in conjuring up some Sunday recipes, including Pepsi BBQ Sauce, a dressing made with the official soft drink of the NFL.

“As fans across the country return to their favorite gameday watching and game day eating traditions this year, we’ve teamed up with the Jets to help fans unapologetically enjoy the experience all season long,” Kathy Kennedy, Sr. Director of Marketing, PepsiCo Beverages North America, North Division said in a company statement obtained by ESM. “Pepsi wants to give fans the magic of gearing up for game day no matter where or with whom they find themselves watching this season.”

Becton appears in Pepsi’s new league-wide campaign alongside other young talents like Jalen Hurts, Sterling Shepherd, Chase Claypool, and Sam Hubbard. Tenured veteran Devin McCourty and Hall of Famer rusher Barry Sanders likewise appear for their respective squads in New England and Detroit.

“Everything drew me to (this campaign),” Becton told ESM. “My parents they’re really big Pepsi fans and stuff like that. So I always grew up with it, with them drinking it and things like that. So it was just, it’s just a dream come true, honestly.”

With the season opener looming, Becton spoke with ESM about his new partnership and the upcoming trials and the Jets will face in the 2021 season…

mekhi becton, jets

Q: While this is an interesting and hopeful period on the Jets’ timeline, many choose to dismiss such hope as being a case of “Same Old Jets”. How is this team different from prior incarnations we’ve seen on this rebuild?

A: We’re really hungry, we’re a really hungry team. We go to work every day, we go hard every day. We have a lot of things ready to put on display and show the world. We’re ready to go out there and play, we’re ready to show the world what we can do. Our motto is “All Gas, No Brake”. I feel like that explains and defines us 100 percent.

(Robert Saleh) been really great. He brings the energy every day, he makes sure we’re bringing the energy every day. He’s just he’s a great guy, a great coach as well. He never sugarcoats things. He’ll always tell it how it is, so that’s already great to have.

Q: The team addressed its offensive needs in the first round through the selections of Zach Wilson and Alijah Vera-Tucker. What has it been like to work with them and almost guide them through the early stages of their NFL journeys? 

A: (Vera-Tucker) goes to work every day, just like I go to work every day. He likes, he loves to work hard, and I like to work hard. So it’s just great to have two hard-working dogs on the same side and I’m excited about that.

As for (Wilson), he has been great, he’s a great player. He’s going to do a lot of things that a lot of people aren’t expecting him to do and I can’t wait for him to prove the world room. The fact that he was named a captain speaks a whole lot of volume about how he just he’s just a leader already. So it has just been really great, and I can’t wait for fans to see it.

Q: In addition to the rookies, the team added several veteran talents that know to win and contribute. How they helped this team and what impact have the defensive additions left on you, namely DE Carl Lawson?

A: It’s was great to have them here. Guys like Corey (Davis), Sheldon Rankins, C.J. Mosley, they can take control of the team when things are getting out of whack. They are always people that everyone always listens to no matter what they’re saying. It’s been really great and it’s very helpful as well, too.

Carl helped improved me a lot, just helping with my hands, and my feet, just making sure I don’t give up on a play because he’s still going 100 percent. So that definitely personally helped me out a lot.

Q: What stood out to you most about the New York culture when the Jets chose you last season? Was there any additional pressure considering they passed on several elite receiving talents to bring you in?

A: It was love at first sight. The fans are the best, they’re always going hard no matter what’s going on in the season. They’re very loyal and the city has great. Everything in New York drew my attention. I can’t wait to have the fans back in the stands, that’s going to be really great. I’ve seen a little taste of it at the Green & White scrimmage. and when we played Philly, when we played the Giants (in the preseason), Once we get to the regular season, it’s going to be really great and they’re going to be really happy.

I don’t think I had any additional pressure at all (after the draft). I wasn’t even I honestly wasn’t thinking about those (receivers). I was just trying to go out there and perform, no matter who they passed up on. I was just trying to go out there and do what I got to do.

Q: What’s the message you want to send out as a leader and representative of the new-look Jets and how big would it be to make a statement in these early contests against noteworthy opponents (Carolina & New England)?

A: It’d be really great to make a statement early on. A lot of people aren’t expecting us to do good things on the field. But everybody in the locker room knows that we can go out there and perform and do those things that people aren’t expecting us to do. So it’s going to be really great.

To the critics, all I can say is be ready. Just be ready. That’s all I can say. Just be ready. That’s all I’m going to say. Just be ready.

(Special thanks to Katherine Hartley for making this interview possible)

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

ESM EXCLUSIVE: Football veteran Sean Salisbury on the modern game

Former NFL quarterback and current analyst Sean Salisbury has been in the game for decades. He spoke with ESM about the game’s modern affairs.

(Special thanks to Pickswise for making this interview possible)

Former professional quarterback Sean Salisbury has worked alongside several renowned teammates. He was protected by future NFL Hall-o-Fame Bruce Matthews during his freshman season at the University of Southern California. He, Roger Craig, and Cris Carter were part of the Minnesota Vikings’ offense in the early 1990s.

But perhaps the most fun Salisbury has had in his career came with a more-or-less fictional teammate…Adam Sandler.

After a decade in professional football, Salisbury made a return to the national spotlight at the turn of the century through an analyst and contributors’ role on ESPN’s NFL coverage. A trip from Bristol to Hollywood later came when Sandler began production on his 2005 remake of The Longest Yard, as Salisbury was called upon to oversee the football aspects of the film. Sandler also made the transformation from comedian to professional quarterback Paul Crewe (the role popularized by Burt Reynolds in the original 1974 film) thanks to Salisbury’s tutoring. Salisbury also held a small acting role in the film, joining then-ESPN colleagues Dan Patrick, Chris Berman, and Jim Rome.

Speaking with ESM, Salisbury referred to Sandler and his group at Happy Madison Productions as “some of the best people I’ve ever met”. He remains good friends with Sandler would later appear in two further Happ Madison films (The Benchwarmers and The House Bunny) 

“I’ve been fortunate to play at a big university, in a great rivalry between Notre Dame and SC. I was fortunate to be on a network where you’re on TV and you get to do SportsCenter. You’re on the radio, or you play quarterback in an NFL playoff game,” he said in reflection. “The Sandler stuff, the Happy Madison stuff fits right in. You’re out of your element in the acting world! I gained a great appreciation for the hurry-and-wait business and why they make the money they do. A two-minute scene takes a day to film or six hours. They give you your own trailer, and I was like ‘this is really cool!’.”

Salisbury’s current endeavors have placed in Houston, over two decades after he spent a brief stretch with the city’s Oilers, where he hosts the morning drive show on KBME (790 AM). He’s also set to pursue a Masters Degree at Texas A&M University, beginning the endeavor in the upcoming spring semester.

Football continues to play a large role in his life, especially with KBME carrying rights for the gridiron programs of both Texas A&M and the University of Houston. His decade of professional exploits took him through the NFL ranks of Seattle, Minnesota, Houston, and San Diego, as well as a two-year tour of the Canadian province of Manitoba, where he helped the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers capture the 76th Grey Cup. Salisbury threw the only Bomber touchdown pass in a 22-21 victory over the BC Lions.

In his conversation with ESM, Salisbury was quick to take note of how much the game has changed since his playing days. Unlike many modern observers, Salisbury doesn’t think the quality of athlete has changed, nothing that he played with and against several world-class contenders like Deion Sanders, Troy Aikman, and John Elway (though he notably expressed fascination with current Tennessee RB Derrick Henry and Seattle WR D.K. Metcalf).

Rather, Salisbury is intrigued by the modern innovations to the “X’s and O’s” side of the game, praising coaches for changing their approach to game planning and scouting.

“I think the state of the game, when it comes to the X’s and O’s of it, I love it because people are thinking outside the box. We’re doing underhand passes, shovel passes. We’ve got the Kyle Shanahans, the Andy Reids, the Sean McVays of the world who are elevating,” Salisbury noted, also praising the work offensive coordinator Greg Roman is doing with Lamar Jackson in Baltimore.

“Old-school is good in a lot of ways,” he continued. “But, instead of saying ‘you’re going to do it my way or the highway’, they’re now looking at (a quarterback’s) skillset. They’ll say ‘oh, you did this in college’. It used to be ‘oh, we don’t do what you did in college’. Well, now you do. Andy Reid knows what Mahomes did in college and said ‘we’re going to take what you do, we’re going to take what I do, I’m going to grab something from what the Rams do, I’m going to grab something from what Bill Belichick does and we’re going to apply it. What’s wrong with being able to apply a full-on smorgasbord? The ego of that is less. Instead of saying, ‘we’re going to put you, a square peg, into a round hole, this is our system, we’re going to put our system with what you do great and you’re going to be the MVP of the league’.”

In a bit of a gridiron twist, Salisbury’s qualms with the modern game come with the advent of rules that appear to cater to his former position of quarterback. Last season, an average of 4.25 flags were thrown for roughing the passer flags per game, a league-record.

Salisbury thinks the de facto coddling, which he labels as “too protective”, may go a little far. It also causes defensive players to get “hosed” in the process.

“I understand safety, but this is tackle football,” Salisbury said. “We don’t play seven-on-seven on Sundays. We don’t play tag football on Sundays. It’s a violent game, they get paid a lot of money. There’s a lot of money on the line. That’s why we’re playing football instead of staying home for COVID, because there’s a lot of money on the line.”

Salisbury also criticizes notes that quarterback penalties seem to primarily focus on hits to the head, with not as much regard paid to lower hits. He nonetheless expressed the importance of dealing with and praised the progress of diagnosing head injuries, having lost close friend and former San Diego Chargers teammate Junior Seau to suicide after a career of such trauma.

If the radio endeavors cease for Salisbury for whatever reason, quarterback-turned-motivational speaker would be quite the second career. He believes that football can teach its participants unforgettable life lessons.

“It’s a great sport. To me, it’s the greatest parallel of life. You get your butt handed to you, and then you get back up and go get yourself some more,” he said. “In life, you get knocked in the face, kicked to the canvas, and then you have two choices: either you get up and go get yourself 70 plays a game, or somebody else does. In life, life passes you by, because you’re going to get kicked in the teeth.”

Salisbury credits the sport for giving him both a career and a “post-career” as well, as he continues to remain active in the game through KMBE.

“I think in the parallel with professional football, or college, high school football, you learn how to be a good teammate, learning how to be a good teammate, a good person, help your buddy, yet still do your job. It parallels real-life more than any sport on the planet, period. I don’t think it’s close. I love that. You can have the quarterback playing well, but, if you don’t block for him, it doesn’t work. In basketball, if a superstar is having one of those days, like Michael Jordan, the other four dudes might not be playing as well, but I’ll still win because Jordan’s that good…get up, get punched in the face more. Know you’re going to get punched in the face more. That’s life. Then when you succeed at it, it’s the greatest thing in the world. But you never stop getting better or dealing with it.”

Salisbury was willing to put aside his Texas duties to look at things from a New York perspective, eager to parlay some advice on the area’s woebegone local teams. His lone experience with metropolitan football came during the 1993-94 NFC playoffs, when he relieved Jim McMahon in the Vikings’ wild card tilt against the Giants.

Returning to the postseason any time soon might be a tall task for both squads. The Giants may have a bit of temporary hope with their 2-7 record actually positioning them well in the garish NFC East.  Their green counterparts, on the other hand, are the NFL’s only winless team at 0-9. Each may have a decision to make at their quarterback spot, where Daniel Jones and Sam Darnold are respectively fighting to maintain franchise status. Perhaps siding with his passing brethren, Salisbury was quick to note that the Giants and Jets’ modern struggles are not entirely on the men under center.

“I think both are in similar situations,” Salisbury said. “On both teams, they’re still figuring out who’s going to lead the franchise. When I talk about the Steelers, the Patriots, the 49ers, the Cowboys of old, the Chiefs, the staple franchises, what do they all have in common? The continuity in the front office.”

“Unfortunately, there just hasn’t been a lot of continuity there. In fact, that’s true about a lot of New York teams. The Knicks haven’t had any. The Yankees have some. They’re always going to be good, but with Joe Torre, they had that continuity. There’s always going to be competitive, they have players. If you have a great quarterback and a great head coach, a great leader of men, things go from there.”

In that department, Salisbury believes the Giants haven’t had the proper leader since Tom Coughlin’s departure after the 2015 season.

But, putting his GM cap on, Salisbury said that if the Jets wind up with the top overall pick…and they’re well on their way to doing so after Monday’s last-second loss to the New England Patriots…he believes that the Jets must take Trevor Lawrence, the consensus top choice out of Clemson. But if the Jets must bid Darnold farewell, he maintains hope that his fellow former Trojan can make an impact in this league, if he breaks away from the tutelage of head coach Adam Gase.

“If they get the first pick, you have to take Trevor Lawrence,” he said. “Sam Darnold is going to go somewhere when that happens, and he’s going to be a success. That city, unfortunately, hasn’t gotten to see the best of Sam Darnold because he’s a player. I’ve talked to 10 or 12 people smarter than I am…not one of them think Sam Darnold’s a bust.”

“It starts with the leadership and the coach. And I don’t think, with the Jets right now, it’s where we want it to be.”

The Sean Salisbury Show is available to listen to and download on iHeartRadio

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

ESM EXCLUSIVE: NFL Hall of Fame K Morten Andersen on the current state of football

NFL points master Morten Andersen spoke with ESM about pro football’s current state of affairs and what needs to ensure a fall return.

(Special thanks to Bet Pennsylvania for arranging this interview) 

Morten Andersen loves football. It’s hard to dispute that after the Copenhagen native spent over two decades in the NFL (including a single-season with the New York Giants in 2001), a tenure that ended with Andersen becoming only the second placekicker elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Speaking with ESM via Zoom, Andersen looked back on an illustrious NFL career, fondly recalling how the love of football has gone international. The Michigan State alum became a source of Danish pride at the turn of the century when his 38-yard overtime field goal at the end of the 1999 NFC Championship Game in Minnesota sent the Atlanta Falcons to their first Super Bowl. When Andersen returned home sometime later, his fellow countrymen were more than happy to express their appreciation of a mini-Danish invasion of American football.

That kick not only earned Andersen a trip to the Super Bowl but also free drinks upon visiting a local cafe/bar in the city of Horsens after a speaking engagement. The Crown Prince of Denmark later invited Andersen to Amalienborg Palace after his induction into Canton.

“People knew there was a guy from Denmark playing football, but it was like ‘eh, that’s cute, that’s quirky, that’s a sport we don’t know (anything) about,” Andersen said. “But when I made that kick, the national pride swelled. ‘That’s one of ours, that’s our guy, that’s our Morten, red and white rocks, Danish dynamite!'”

The game certainly looks different than it did when Andersen, who reached the NFL’s all-decade teams twice (1980s/1990s), was in his prime. Changes go far beyond his familiar kicking territory of adjusting the positions of both kickoffs and extra points.

Each of those relatively recent updates has already become an essential part of the gridiron lexicon. Andersen is now interested where football goes on its continued path of change, one that has seen the NFL insert itself into national conversations about systemic racism and injustice.

“The overarching statement from me would be that kindness, love, and tolerance wins the day all the time,” Andersen said when discussing the NFL’s decision to play “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, commonly referred to as the “Black national anthem” prior to games this season. “I think this is a matter of everyone in the world taking a good, transparent look at themselves and where they are as human beings.”

Promoting such a message prompted Andersen to think of The Beatles, one of his favorite rock bands. A noted music fan, Andersen feels like the concepts could be flow if one saw the world through an artist’s eyes. He has some experience in the pop genre, briefly exchanging his kicking tee for a microphone in 1985 when he and fellow New Orleans Saints specialist Brian Hansen wrote and performed the single “Take It To The Top“.

“Music, to me, it’s something that crosses all races. You just don’t feel the divide, to me anyway, in the music business,” Andersen explained. “There’s no much going on across all genres, all races, all beliefs. The common denominator here is the love of music, the call of music.”

“I’m not trying to make light of what’s going on the world, I’m just talking philosophically. If you take a page from the world of music, and music-making, there’s a tremendous amount of collaboration going on. Keith Richards, for example, he had his roots in blues and jazz. He was a big fan of reggae. He lived in Jamaica for a long time, he was part of that culture. So you get your influences in music from lots of different people. People who are successful had to start somewhere. That collaboration, I think, is a really great motivator for the world right now.”

Andersen is also looking forward to what the new collective bargaining agreement has to offer. Set to turn 60 in August, Andersen admitted he was most focused on the new pension benefits for retired players. Other new innovations include a higher share of league revenue for active participants and an expanded playoff field.

Now, the question becomes whether we will actually see the 2020 season come to fruition. Andersen commented on the current health crisis by remarking that he “can’t see” fans in the stands “in the beginning” But he’s hopeful that international developments, such as European soccer, can serve as a blueprint and inspiration to carve a path to football in the fall.

Even as a kicker, a position that probably hears the most toxicity from fans no matter how little his time on the field may be, Andersen would prefer to see stands filled…on a safe, healthy basis, of course.

“I feed off that energy. I think all guys would like a full stadium. Nobody likes to play in front of an empty stadium, that’s not ideal, that’s not we’re looking for,” he said. “But that would be the sensitive thing to do initially.”

“Let’s play ball in a safe manner if we can. When the curve says we can bring people back, let’s bring people back.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

ESM EXCLUSIVE: NASCAR Cup Series Driver Corey LaJoie

The driver of the No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford spoke with ESM about the challenges a mid-tier squad faces and the recent changes in NASCAR.

Corey LaJoie’s NASCAR machines have carried some interesting sponsors over the years. He represented all 23 of Dr. Pepper’s flavors when he drove the matching numeral for BK Racing’s Toyota. Last season, he joined the Mystery Inc. gang as classic cartoon characters Scooby-Doo and Shaggy appeared on his car. His current ride of the No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford has borne a close-up of his own magnified face, including a masked version at the recent Martinsville event.

As NASCAR’s current schedule presents several sweltering challenges in spring’s final days and summer’s opening, he’s particularly thankful for his latest partnership.

LaJoie recently welcomed in Built Bar to his cause over at Go Fas. The protein and energy bar adorned his vehicle for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway earlier this month and will work with him as an associate for at least the remainder of the 2020 season. As temperatures have soared and weight has been lost inside the cars, which have gone through locales like Martinsville, Virginia and Homestead, Florida, LaJoie was pleased to get some of his calories back when the checkered flag waved.

Lately, LaJoie was caught in the midst of a social media-induced confrontation that involved 2020’s four-time race-winner Denny Hamlin. The two drivers took thinly veiled jabs at each other through Twitter with arguments stemming from the idea of Hamlin owing his success to superior equipment at Joe Gibbs Racing compared to LaJoie’s relatively meager setup at Go Fas. LaJoie recently called an end to the feud this week, remarking that the situation “escalated to a point it shouldn’t have“.

In the midst of a busy schedule, LaJoie took the time to speak with ESM about his current trials and tribulations…

Q: What kind of role can Built Bar play in the continued success of a team like GoFas?

A: I think it’s a unique case for the sport in general because there really hasn’t been a protein bar company to really see the demographics of racing. I think that the assumption of race fans is that they’re kind of old and kind of out-of-shape, but I think when you look at the actual people working on the cars, doing the pit stops, obviously the drivers are fairly in shape just because we have to be, that’s not the case. I think it’ll get some brand recognition out there to people if they’re looking for a great-tasting protein bar and haven’t found one yet.

Just looking back through my social media mentions since we’ve had the partnership, it seems like a lot of people have enjoyed the taste of the bar and a lot of people are supporting the sponsorship.

Q: You’ve had some interesting sponsors over the past few seasons…including your own face! How does Built Bar compare to some of the other partnerships you’ve had?

A: Well, Old Spice was the brand behind the face car. It certainly wasn’t me because that would be some Ricky Bobby-type stuff!

I’ve been lucky enough to have some great partners throughout my whole career. When I first started in the Cup Series, I was sponsored by Dr. Pepper. Then a company called Schluter Systems has been following me for years now. They’ve kept growing their investment because they see the value in the hospitality and bringing customers to the racetrack. It doesn’t really matter what the company is. If we can keep finding the niche and they get the return on investment, they’re all good. For me personally, I like to stay in shape and I’ve got a sweet tooth, so Built Bar checks both of those boxes. The car was great, the new rebranded boxes and wrappers look cool and it was great to unveil. I’m looking forward to doing it in the future.

Q: How does the economic instability facing this country challenge a lower-budget team like GoFas?

A: Most of the company’s payroll is the hardest thing to stomach just because you’re not moving. Our product that we essentially sell is the real estate on the car via the paint scheme and the purse money on the backend. We weren’t racing just like anybody else (in March and April), everybody was inside. We weren’t able to get that purse money to offset payroll’s expense and the sponsorship revenue wasn’t coming in. It was tough times for the team. It’s a tough time for the country and the world to deal with, but luckily my team was able to weather the storm and we were able to sign Built Bar to get them partnered up with us. That was really cool to be able to do. I’m looking forward to building that relationship going into the future.

Q: This is your second year in the No. 32 car. How pleased have you been with the 2020 developments?

A: We’ve had a couple of mechanical failures that we’re trying to clean up because I feel like we should have more strong runs to show for than what we’ve had. But, overall, the speed is a lot better. We’ve got some new, newer to us, Stewart-Haas cars. There are some parts, pieces, engine packages that could be upgraded if sponsorship dollars end up coming in toward the end of the year. I feel like GoFas has always done a great job of doing more with less. But, this year in particular, we got a crew chief in Ryan Sparks. He brings a lot of knowledge to the table. Him and I have been communicating well. So it’s been fun and it’s been fun to race in such a weird manner like we have been with no practice, no qualifying, just going out to battle. I feel like the preparation in the shop has been fairly good and I’m looking forward to getting to some of these race tracks for a second time and applying the notes we’ve gained without it.

Q: What have been your thoughts on NASCAR’s navigation through these trying times?

A: Our sport is unique in the way that, when we’re competing, we’re not doing it body-to-body. We’re separated, we’re sitting in the racecars and you’re not getting that up-close, you don’t have to get that up-close contact. NASCAR is putting in a lot of protocol to separate the drivers, separate even the pit crews and stuff like that. Social distancing, wearing facemasks, stuff like that, to adhere to any sort of guideline. They’re going through and they’re being very thorough with this process, which is cool because I think you have to be, that way you’re not reckless when you get back to the racetrack.

Overall, I think NASCAR has done a great job with getting us and our partners back on the racetrack, as well as getting race teams back on and getting that purse money put back. Our sport has its own economy within itself. You’re so dependent on the league distributing TV money to the teams. If the network pays the league, the league pays the team per event on a weekly basis. If the league’s not getting paid, the teams aren’t getting and paid, and if the team’s not getting paid, the guys aren’t getting paid. It all trickles down from the top. Obviously NASCAR knew the imperative need to just figure out how to get the cars back on the racetrack and they’ve done that by doing above and beyond what needs to be done. In these times, I’d rather be way more cautious than reckless and getting shut down because we are being too careless. That’s not the case, and I’m looking forward to more fans being back at the track soon.

It is a little bit deflating when you don’t see any fans at the racetrack. You don’t get to sign any autographs. But, hopefully, that returns to normal here soon. It may not be this year where what we’re used to comes back but, hopefully, it will look somewhat normal in the next couple of months.

Q: How do you feel NASCAR has responded to the current events in our nation?

A: I like the effort NASCAR has been putting in because they are well aware of the stigma that NASCAR was a southeastern, southern sport. There have been opinions, even that the sport has made with alliances they’ve made with people in politics in the past, that they have to recover from or even repair the image. I do applaud NASCAR for being on the forefront of this movement. We have to be there. We can’t just sit back and let everyone else do it for us. I’m glad to be a part of it in a small sense. I’ve been trying to educate myself. I’ve had people on my podcast, Sunday Money, to talk about it. We had the pit crew coach from Chip Ganassi Racing on last week and we had some great conversations.

I’m trying to use my platform to impact and if it changes a couple of race fans’ point of view toward what other people are going through, ones that might not look like them, that’s what we’re all called to do. Overall, I’m really happy to be part of the sport and the direction it’s going.

Q: What can you say about NASCAR’s Confederate flag ban?

A: NASCAR made a call several years ago for several tracks that Confederate flags weren’t going to be allowed. I hadn’t really seen a whole lot, you’d see one every now and then. We need to not allow that banner to be at the racetrack, personally. I don’t really care how you can justify what it means. I think, if anything, you can justify it as being insensitive to people it offends. This might not be a practical analogy, but if my brother is definitely allergic to peanuts and I love peanuts, I’m not going to eat peanuts in front of him, right? Just because it has the possibility to hurt him, physically. If there’s something that I consciously do to offend somebody emotionally, I wouldn’t choose to do that, even if I enjoy eating peanuts.

If race fans think that they have some southern tradition to upkeep with the Confederate flag, do that in the privacy of your own home. But when it comes to supporting our sport, we need to have everybody feel welcome. No one should feel offended by anything, no signage, no opinions by anybody. Really, we’re one community trying to entertain people and that’s what we love and what show up 36 weekends a year to do. We don’t want to exclude anybody, we want everybody to feel welcome coming to the NASCAR track.

Q: You’re one of several legacy drivers in the sport, your father Randy having won in the NASCAR Busch Series. What’s the best piece of advice he has given you?

A: Dad always lets me figure it out myself and then yell at me and let me learn, take care of it afterward. My dad has been a supporter of mine for my whole career and is my biggest fan. He might not verbalize it toward me as often, but I think that, growing up, he wanted me to branch out and form relationships with other guys because he knew he’d always be there if I needed something. Rather than him critiquing everything I did, he’d be like “hey, man, go down there and ask Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, what those guys are doing”. Whatever comes out of your dad’s mouth, you really don’t believe, but if Jimmie Johnson says the exact same thing he says, you’ll go “oh yeah, that makes sense now”. That’s kind of what it was.

There’s been a lot of things that I’ve learned the hard way. Those stick a little bit more than someone just telling you. Dad has had a great relationship with the guys in the garage and that kind of trickled down to me. It’s cool to be able to carry the LaJoie flag on Sundays for sure. When Dad was at his peak in the mid-90s, he passed up several opportunities to go Cup racing on Sunday because he knew the time commitment that it was. He’d stay home with me and my brother, invest some time into us. It’s cool to see that investment pay off for him.

(Special thanks to Azione PR for arranging this interview, which was held in mid-June)

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags


ESM EXCLUSIVE: Shaun O’Hara talks about the Giants, Rutgers, and football’s future

The Super Bowl champion spoke about the future of his Giants and Scarlet Knights squads and what football without fans would be like.

It’s safe to say that each of Shaun O’Hara’s former football squads could use him right now.

O’Hara, who turns 43 on Tuesday, was born to be a New Jersey gridiron legend. Having grown up in Hillsborough Township, O’Hara would go on to star for the local high school’s Raiders before embarking on a five-year journey at Rutgers. An 11-year career in the NFL awaited him afterward, one that was primarily spent just about 45 minutes away fro Piscataway in East Rutherford. As a New York Giants, O’Hara served as one of the most consistent protectors for Eli Manning as the Giants’ center for seven seasons. His vital role in the team’s fortunes was commemorated with three Pro Bowl invitations and he would hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of Super Bowl XLII. O’Hara is currently a regular on NFL Network and has provided game day analysis for ESPN Radio, Fox, and Big Ten Network.

The former center recently sat down with ESM to discuss his new endeavors and how his old squads can recapture their glory days…

(Special thanks to Vegas Insider for making this interview possible)

(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Q: As someone who partook in plenty of classic moments with the New York Giants, what’s your favorite and why?

A: There are a lot of really cool ones. The coolest moment I experienced as a Giant, the coolest thing, the most memorable thing I ever got to do as a New York Giant was the Super Bowl parade down the Canyon of Heroes in 2008.

The NFC Championship Game in Green Bay was special, the Super Bowl was special. Those were games, the pinnacle of the game of football. But the Canyon of Heroes was nothing that I had ever dreamed about. I didn’t even know you get a parade! It’s the most memorable because it was something that none of us had ever experienced. None of us really knew what to expect. It was so memorable because it was an entire city, a city that is thought of as a hard-nosed, not-very affectionate, has a very chew-you-up-and spit-you-out kind of label and identity. And yet, here was this entire city embracing us as a team, as champions.

I remember when they told us we were going to have a parade and we got on the buses, we went into the city, we went through the tunnel. We were all talking, everyone’s running on fumes, we hadn’t slept. It was on a Tuesday. We flew home Monday as a team, nobody slept Sunday night or Monday night. Nobody knew what to expect back then. When we looked down the street, all we saw was people, just a wave of people. I’ve never seen a crowd like that in New York City. I had never seen that big of a crowd in the street. That took all of our breaths away, seeing that and seeing that day. That was so special.

Q: What can the modern Giants do to recapture those glory days?

A: The Giants have really, to me, struggled in the last four years in not just winning games but also not losing them. I feel like, many times when I turn on film and I’m watching the Giants, a lot of the losses are self-inflicted. It’s inconsistent play, both physically and mentally. When they have had the lead, they don’t have the confidence or the ability to close out a game. That’s been really tough to watch over the past couple of years.

I think a lot of the problems stem from accountability and I don’t think that, for whatever reason, the players have not been accountable to be a pro and do what you’re asked to do week in and week out. Don’t beat yourself. It’s in techniques, it’s in assignments, but it’s also in game situations. I think that’s what they have to get back to.

New York Giants, Andrew Thomas, Georgia Bulldogs
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Q: You know better than anyone about the impact a stable offensive line can have on a team. What sort of effect can a selection like Andrew Thomas have on the Giants?

A: I think Andrew Thomas is going to bring a really great pedigree at tackle. I think that he can easily play right tackle as a rookie. He has also shown the ability to move to the left tackle position. I think he’s got unbelievable length. Any time you’re talking about playing at tackle, you’re talking about playing in space. If you’re going to be playing in space, you better have strong arms, you better be able to keep the defenders at bay. That’s something he did a really good job at Georgia. I thought he did a really great job at handling power rushes. I thought he was athletic enough to handle the speed rushers. He does a good job with his hand placement.

I think all of those things are going to give (the Giants) a much more competitive and a much more consistent right tackle. It’s absolutely an upgrade not just in year one, but it’s an upgrade that’s only going to continue to get better over the next couple of years. I think he’s going to be a cornerstone draft pick for the New York Giants, like their previous two first-round picks (Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley) have been. I think that he has the ability to become a Pro Bowl-type player, now he just has to go out and do it.

Q: What’s the one piece of advice you can offer Daniel Jones right now?

A: My advice to Daniel Jones, I think right now, would be to not let a day go by where you’re not calling plays, pretending to be in the huddle, saying them over and over. The formations, the plays, the snap count, the rhythms. Don’t let a day go by where you don’t spend time either on the phone or via Zoom or Facebook, whatever they’re using now, where you don’t spend time with your offensive line and your receivers going over different parts of the offense.

I think he can handle it. He’s a great kid, he’s ambitious, he’s got the right demeanor. But the fact they’re installing a new offense makes it a bit tougher. With OTAs and minicamps potentially lost, it’s less physical and more mental things. That would be my advice: not to lose those mental reps. You can’t be hesitant and be a leader. You have to have confidence and you can only do that by knowing every aspect of the offense in and out.

Q: What are your thoughts on the NFL’s developing stance on current events and demonstrations?

A: I think the NFL is trying to react positively to everything that’s going on, and that’s not always easy to do. I think that each athlete is a different kind of athlete. You can’t just put your helmet on and say you’re not going to participate or be aware of what’s going on. Today’s athlete is much more aware and much more engaged and I think the NFL is trying to embrace that as best as they can. I think every team is going to listen and they should be because what I see is that the NFL is reacting to how the players are handling all of it. If the players didn’t want to participate in this and not want to use their platform to promote certain aspects, I don’t think the NFL would be after that. But because the players are being so outspoken, being so emphatic and passionate about their causes and their platforms, I think the NFL is trying to be supportive and rightfully so.

Q: If and when we get a season, games may be played without fans. As someone who has called NFL games, how can broadcasts adjust to these settings?

A: It’s definitely going to take away from the gameday atmosphere and the action. Any time I call a game, whether it’s on the radio or on TV, one of the cool parts about is the raw emotion and energy that erupts in a stadium. Hearing the noise, people getting into their seats as the game initiates, even the national anthem being played, there’s just so much emotion because of all the people that are there. That’s definitely going to be something that you have to adjust to, but I think, as far as calling the games, I don’t think that it’s going to change the way that you call it.

I think one that will be different is, without the crowd noise, you will be able to hear everything that’s being said on the field. Anything said by the quarterback, anything said to an offensive lineman, to a receiver, or a protection call, you might hear. I’ll be curious to see if that happens and how teams will have to adjust week-to-week knowing that everyone can hear what they say.

Q: How can Rutgers football recapture some form of glory, especially with head coach Greg Schiano coming back into the fold?

A: To be honest, Greg coming back to Rutgers feels a lot like Joe Judge coming to the Giants. I mentioned the accountability aspect for the Giants, and the same thing is happening right now in New Brunswick. Back when he was a head coach, I got to know Greg. I respect Greg, I really appreciate everything he’s done. He’s a good man and I’m excited that he’s back on the Banks. I think the kids all respect him.

That accountability is a crucial part. Too many Rutgers teams beat themselves, not give them a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. I think that has to be eradicated and it can’t continue. I think, first and foremost, that’s one thing Greg is going to try to instill in these guys. But I also think that, because of Greg’s track record already, he’s creating a lot of belief, a lot of belief on campus and a lot of people who may be thinking about going to Rutgers. I know what I’m going to get with Greg Schiano. I’m going to go for Rutgers, I’m going to play for Greg. Too many kids from, say Don Bosco Prep, end up going to other places. We got to keep the kids from Bosco here, we got to keep the kids from Bergen Catholic here. We’ve got to keep these guys in-state.

Q: What do future endeavors hold for you, Shaun O’Hara?

A: Well, I have my foundation. It’s something that has been extremely rewarding. It can impact other people’s lives. The main benefactor of the Shaun O’Hara Foundation has been cystic fibrosis, a disease that affects your digestive system and your lungs. Especially given this climate that we’re in right now, where COVID-19 attacks your lungs, this is a very dangerous time for everybody in the CF community. One of the things that really turned me to the cystic fibrosis community is that it’s considered an orphaned disease. Less than 200,000 people have it, so it receives zero funding from the government. While the government every year allocates millions of dollars in research toward finding cures for things, like cancer and other diseases, cystic fibrosis gets no federal funding. So any money that goes towards research, towards finding a cure comes from private donations and other stations that raise money them. That’s something that’s near and dear to my heart.

I also want to give my wife Amy a shoutout here. She was my nurse, I was at the Hospital for Special Surgery. I gave her my phone number and we’ve been together ever since. As a former nurse at HSS and Hackensack hospital, when this pandemic hit she was checking in on some of her former co-workers, asking how they were doing if they needed anything. They were relaying to her how overwhelmed they were. So many patients were coming and so many lives were being lost because they didn’t have the capacity. She started off by delivering meals to the hospital to help out and then a lot of other people started helping out.

She decided she wanted to help the patients out too. She heard from the nurses about the patients who were battling COVID are isolated by themselves. They can’t talk to anybody, they can’t see anybody. The only time someone comes in to see them is when the doctors make their rounds and they all go in at one time, put on the PPE. You’re kind of like a leper in there. A lot of patients that were dying, a person would come in and hold an iPad or a phone and their family members could FaceTime them and give them a parting wish virtually. It was really heartbreaking for her, or anybody, to hear that. She decided that she wanted to try to do something for the patients that were alone in these hospital rooms. She reached out to a friend of hers who does paper labels and paper crafts. They created the Be A Rainbow Project and she delivers single roses with these tags on them, that have a rainbow heart on them with a message. She has delivered almost 3,000 roses now to hospitals that have COVID patients. I think one of her biggest deliveries was 200-300 roses for one hospital. The numbers have come done since then, thank goodness, but it’s been something that she has been doing for the last couple of months.

For more information on the Be A Rainbow Project, visit their website here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags