Anthony Mīc: From a player’s perspective, is it a night-and-day difference with the atmosphere, the preparation or the anxiety that you go through before a playoff game? Or do you approach it just like it’s another game?
Husain Abdullah: No a playoff game is completely different, man. Did you go to any bowl games while you were at WSU?
AM: (Laughs) NO.
HA: I remember my redshirt year (at WSU) and we were playing Texas. The way they talked up the game, the way they prepared us for the game; everything leading up to the bowl game was like, it was going to be the biggest thing ever. Going to the playoffs is kind of the same thing. Every play is a big play, every 1st and 10, every 2nd and 7, every 3rd and 3, every punt, every kickoff return…no play is just “another play”. When you see playoff football in the NFL, you see a new speed, a new intensity, a new focus. So when you’re playing against a team that’s fighting for the playoffs…it’s completely different.
AM: Well having said that, where’s the craziest place you’ve had to play?
HA: Regular season or playoff?
AM: I’ll say both.
HA: In Minnesota, I remember we had a home playoff game against Dallas. The Metrodome was NEVER as loud as it was that night. That was probably one of my most memorable games. Then I remember playing in the NFC Championship (also with Minnesota) against the Saints. I ran faster than I have ever run before in my life, played harder…so I could only imagine what it would feel like to play in a Super Bowl. No stadium compares to Arrowhead though. I was blessed to play in both games where we broke the noise record for loudest stadium...in the world! I had a pick-six in each of those games too. One against the Raiders and one against the Pats on Monday Night Football. In terms of regular season games, I like the historic stadiums; like a Lambeau Field or Soldier Field. Even when you visit the Raiders, there’s an atmosphere that just fits them.
AM: Has there ever been a player-teammate or opponent-that you’ve ever been star struck by?
HA: Yeah. I remember when we got to the playoffs (in Minnesota), and I saw Brian Dawkins. I tapped my teammate, Tyrell Johnson, and we were like “Look, LOOK! There goes Brian Dawkins! Look at B-DAWK!” We were just in awe that we got to share the same field as Brian Dawkins. And then the next year, when we signed Brett Favre, it was ridiculous. Everyone was trying to hold it together, but we were like little kids. It was cool playing with a Hall of Famer. But when Randy Moss showed up, EVERYONE was star struck. We were like, “Should I ask him for his autograph now, or wait ‘til the end of the year?”
AM: Did you ever ask for an autograph?
HA: No. I have a certain respect level for different people. So I feel that if we don’t interact constantly and become close friends…on all the teams I’ve played on I haven’t really asked one player for an autograph. I would get footballs signed by all the DBs, or by everyone who is on special teams. But as far as going to Adrian Peterson, Jamal Charles, or Dwayne Bowe, this guy or that guy…I really wouldn’t do that. If you look at all the footballs I have signed at my house, the majority of them are signed by defensive backs or guys who are on special teams.
AM: You have to have a certain craziness about you to be solely on special teams.
HA: Absolutely. Offense and Defense averages something like 60-65 snaps/game. Special Teams is anywhere between 20-30 I believe. But it’s 20-30 of the hardest snaps you’ve ever played in your life. With the structure of the NFL and no guaranteed contracts and people can get released at any time…you have that feeling like this is week-to-week. So if I don’t have a good game this week, I may not be here next week. Being just a special teamer…it’s a tough life.
AM: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
HA: I’ll go back to my childhood, and my dad would always tell me it doesn’t matter how talented you are, how athletic you are, “If you’re not coachable, you won’t succeed.” It related to everything we did in life. Even going to Wazzu, I was a lowly two-star guy, and they’re bringing in this Juco All-American or this #1 Safety; I’m still beating these guys out because they feel because of their natural, God-given gifts, they’ve arrived and they don’t have to do anything else. Working hard, being able to be coachable, and being respectful…that’s taken me a long way in life.
AM: Hardest transition as a player: high school to college, college to the NFL, or coming back to the NFL after taking a season off?
HA: Man…I’ve never thought about that. I would say coming to the NFL (from college). Not for football reasons, but for business reasons. People from the outside looking in don’t see it, but for people playing the game, the business is on your mind constantly. There’s a bunch of good players, but not everybody can make it on the team. There’s a 53-man roster. You may be good enough, but they might have to keep an extra tight-end. All of that stress, on top of, you know, normal life.
AM: Pretty much going from big man on campus, to being constantly reminded that your spot can be taken…
HA: …at any given time. I remember it was like Week 13 or 14 when I was playing for Minnesota, I was the leading special teams tackler by 10-12 tackles. I remember going to one practice, and my body was hurting and I was just trying to get through the day. All the vets were just trying to get to Sunday. I remember one of the coaches said to me, “Hey, you know this is week-to-week, right?” So even when you try to get away from the business aspect, that’s exactly what it is…a business. There are people out there playing that miss a tackle and think “That’s it, they’re gonna cut me.” Or guys that will score a touchdown and bring that to the table and ask for $1 million instead of $700,000. That was probably was the biggest adjustment. Everybody knows that the guys are bigger, stronger, faster, more intelligent…all of that stuff. But that business side…man, that’s a beast.
AM: You’d be hard-pressed to find an industry that’s more cutthroat.
HA: Just think about it. Think about the people who are some of the all-time greats at their positions. There are guaranteed Hall of Famers…and [teams] are releasing them. If they’re doing that to those guys, just think about a guy who is an undrafted kid out of Washington State who plays special teams. You’re really expendable.
AM: Speaking of that…being undrafted, do you wear that as a chip on your shoulder?
HA: You have to, because that’s the opinion that everybody has of you. Even though I’ve made a name in the NFL…they still look at me as an undrafted player. Even if you try to forget it, it’s going to be a constant reminder that you came into the league undrafted or 7th round, or whatever the case may be.
AM: When you took the season off in 2012, what did that time away teach you most about yourself?
HA: There are a lot of different answers. We could talk about that for days. It taught me that football isn’t life. The ability to not be forced out, but to say, “You know what? I’m not going to play football.” And people said, “What if you never get back in?” I was content with that. From an early age, through high school, through college and into the NFL, football dominates your life. You’re training, you’re in practice, you’re in meetings, when you get home you’re watching film, you’re hanging out with teammates. You’re doing football constantly. A lot of guys, when they transition away from the game, it’s very difficult because they’ve done football for so much of their life. And it’s controlled and consumed so much of their life that when they get out, sometimes they feel like they don’t have anything else. So taking that year off and meeting people, traveling, going to different places; it really broadened my horizons and changed my perspective on a lot of things. It reminded me that football is a small part of my life.
AM: Regarding fasting during Ramadan…aside from prayer, are there any mental exercises you do to get you through those 90 degree days where you can’t take even a sip of water?
HA: Just a reminder that I’m doing it for the sake of God. For me, there’s nothing else that can get me through a practice without eating or drinking, other than I’m doing this for the sake of God. Trust me, when I’m out there, sometimes even during warmups I’m thinking “It’s gonna be tough today. How am I going to make it through?” Then it’s just a reminder, “You’re doing it for the sake of God.” So when you have that little reminder, it kind of helps propel you to new heights; things that you weren’t really sure you could do, now you’re able to accomplish that.
AM: I gotta ask you about the TD celebration. Did it surprise you regarding the media attention it received?
HA: Going into the game, I told myself, “If I score, I’m going to make a Sajda. I’m going to prostrate to God in the end zone.” I had a feeling I would get penalized just because it’s something that people hadn’t seen before. I don’t even know what the rules are because it’s not like I score a bunch of touchdowns. But just because it was something different, I knew there would be a possibility of a flag. I’m just thankful that it wasn’t in the first or second quarter that [the penalty] could change the course of the game. But, I got the flag and I didn’t really expect to get a lot of attention. If you’re familiar with soccer, there are guys all over Europe and the Middle East and they do it all the time. Some of the biggest names in soccer, they’ll score a goal and make Sajda. I didn’t think it would be that big, but I think the reason why it caught a lot of heat is because I was penalized for praying. If the flag would have never been thrown, it would have been like, “Oh cool. There’s a Muslim in the NFL, for people who didn’t know.”
AM: Let’s say you took that year off in 2012 and never came back to football. What would you have gotten into?
HA: I definitely have plans of going back to school and getting my masters. I’m looking at a couple programs for that. During that year off, I got to meet tons of new people from all over the world…and I want to formally learn Islam. Because what I know is from what my parents taught me, what I’ve read in books, seen in a couple videos…so I’m kind of like, you know, your average Muslim. But I would like to do not necessarily seminary school, but I do want to get some traditional learning. I’d like to get deeper into religion. In terms of providing for my family, I love sports. I’d like to do something that’s closely related to sports…
AM: Are we talking commentary or coaching?
HA: Definitely not commentary. You know I really don’t talk too much.
AM: What? You’re a natural on the phone so I’m sure that would translate to radio.
HA: That’s because you and I get along and have known each other for years now. To get out there in front of millions of random people…that’s not me. I think I would like to help start and build leagues. I’d like to get involved in the administrative side so I can help run things smoothly and then on game day I can show up and be a fan.
AM: Gotcha. Knowing what you know about head injuries and the research that’s coming out about concussions, do you see yourself letting (7-year old son) Jalaal playing football?
HA: I’m going to introduce him to other sports that I wasn’t really introduced to when I was younger. I definitely want my children to be in sports, especially team sports…they teach you a lot about life. But if he takes to football and says, “Hey, I want to go out there and play football,” I’ll let him play. It’s not helping that we live in Texas. These dudes play tackle football every day at recess. Tackle football at recess. Being in Texas where it seems like everybody plays football, there’s no getting away from it. But we’ll see. I’ll still put him in different sports, but if he says [football] is the one, I’ll say go for it.