TIME Outtakes: Philadelphia Eagles Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha

  • Share
  • Read Later
George Gojkovich / Getty Images

He’s one of the top pass defenders in the NFL. He’s also one of top philanthropists in sports. Here’s what didn’t make it into this week’s magazine.

This week’s issue of TIME features a profile of Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. In 2010, Asomugha won the prestigious Jefferson Award for Public Service, often dubbed the Nobel Prize of public service awards. He has spoken three times at Clinton Global Initiative meetings, and the Obama administration is considering him for a spot on the President’s Council on Financial Capability (Asomugha, 30, holds a corporate finance degree from the University of California, Berkeley).

The prized free agent of this truncated NFL offseason, the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys were the most visible suitors for the former Oakland Raider. But the Eagles, who play the New York Giants Sunday afternoon, swooped in with a 5-year, $60 million offer. Asomugha could have made more money elsewhere. But the Eagles, Asomugha felt, were the right fit.

“They were the top choice in March, when I started looking at figuring things out,” Asomugha says. “They had everything you are looking for, when you talk about stability in coaching, a first class organization, talent on the team. For me, Philadelphia made more sense.”

TIME subscribers can read the story here. Below, some material from our reporting that, because of space constraints, couldn’t make it into the print piece:

– Since Asomugha covers receivers so well, quarterbacks often don’t even bother throwing the ball in his direction. So when people watch his games, they sometimes wonder if he’s been benched. The cameras never pan to his side of the field. “I get friends that ask that all the time,” Asomugha says. “And I remember my mother asking me a couple of times, because there was no action during a game, ‘did you play?’ It’s so weird. Everybody’s like, ‘Great game, great game.’ And because I demand so much of myself, I’m like, ‘Well, I didn’t do that great, because I didn’t have any stats.’ But you go back to see the film, and see how well you played, you’re like, ‘Yeah, all right.’”

“My feelings are kind of mixed about it. Because there are times where you feel really bad, because you’re like, ‘I want to be more involved. I want to be a part of it.’”

(READ: Is the NFL a Bunch of Fakes?)

– When asked if Michael Vick was fairly punished for his dogfighting crimes, Asomugha declined to comment. “We won’t go there,” he says. “I’ll just say this – watching him and being around him, his work ethic and how he carries himself, as it pertains to football, as it pertains to this team, he is definitely a guy I look up to.”

– Asomugha is the rare defensive back that doesn’t jaw with the receivers he covers. “I don’t talk smack because I feel like it’s a waste of energy,” Asomugha says. “I have so many things I’m focused on, in my head. Then the receivers won’t talk smack because I’m not doing it. So we have a pretty quiet game. . . . It might be an advantage, because the receiver doesn’t know what’s going on.  ‘What am I thinking? How confident is he?’”

Andrew Cutraro for TIME

Asomugha commends the NFL’s attempts to curb violent hits to the head. But he’s not convinced stricter legislation will work. Has he adjusted his tackling technique? “I think everyone has,” he says. “Because you don’t want to think about it, but you have to think about it. It’s like, ‘here comes a big hit, what do I do? Do I lead with my head. Do I lead with my shoulder?’ And if you’re already coming full speed with your head, and you have to change in that split second, God help you at that point.”

–  Asomugha’s charitable foundation supports two programs: OWIN, or Orphans and Widows in Need, and ACTS – the Asomugha College Tour for Scholars. OWIN pays for health care, job training, and others services for orphans and widows in Nigeria, where Asomugha’s parents were born. “My mother is a blind widow,” reads one letter of appreciation from Nigeria, addressed to OWIN. “Nobody to help us, we are four, 2 boys, 2 girls, but the OWIN has been helping us to go to school. They paid my first school leaving certificate exams, they take my mother to hospital, they gave us food, money, and cloth. God bless OWIN for me.

(TIME Cover Story: How to Make Football Safer)

ATCS takes select inner-city high school students on springtime college tours. Amber Adams, a current freshman at Howard, went on the 2010 tour, which visited D.C. schools like Howard, Georgetown, and American University. “This is the perfect school for me,” says Adams. “And without Nnamdi, I never would have been able to realize that.” Adams, who is from Oakland, imagines a very different future without that cross-country trip to D.C., sponsored by Asomugha. “I’m pretty sure I would be unhappy in some random school. I didn’t have faith in my ability. After the tour, I realize I didn’t have to settle. I’m very grateful – it’s really hard to comprehend. All I can say is that I’m really grateful.”

– One hot question among NFL fans: who is the better cornerback, Asomugha or Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets?  We asked Revis that question. “Call it RevNnamdi,” Revis says.  “It’s a tie. It’s a tie.”

– Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice, who is now an ESPN analyst, gives Asomugha props, but say he’s at an advantage these days. Too many receivers, Rice insists, do not run routes fundamentally. “Guys aren’t as elusive off the line of scrimmage,” Rice says. “I don’t see today’s players working on that craft.” Rice agrees with Asomugha’s assertion that cornerback is the toughest position in football. “Let me tell you something, defensive backs are the best athletes on the team,” Rice says. “They have to backpedal, read and react – as the receiver, you never know where I’m going . . .You have to be really forgetful. If you get toasted, and dwell on it, it’s going happen again. You can’t have a conscience.”

– Drafted by the Raiders in the first round of the 2003 draft, Asomugha struggled his first two years, as Oakland moved him from safety, his college position, to cornerback. Alonzo Carter, then a Bay Area high school track and football coach, had trained Asomugha before the draft. One day early in Asomugha’s career, Carter took him to a Golden State Warriors basketball game. One of Carter’s friends approached them. “’Hey, Zo, isn’t that your boy?’” the man said, according to Carter. He then glanced at Asomugha. “’When are you going to do something?’” Carter laughs when recalling that period. “I’m like, ‘come on, dude. He’s trying to enjoy the basketball game.’”

– Carter is a former backup dancer for MC Hammer, the famed rapper, and huge Raiders fan (Hammer used to be a batboy for the Oakland A’s). Hammer and Asomugha met at Carter’s wedding a few years back. Asomugha says that in order to be a good cornerback, you have to have dancing skills. We asked Hammer if he agreed.

(PHOTOS: Making Super Bowl Footballs)

“It absolutely makes sense,” Hammer says. “It has a lot to do with balance. A cornerback has to go back, go side to side, still maintain his eyes locked in with the quarterback. You are processing a tremendous amount of thought and actions. And you’re asking your body to move in all different directions. You’d better have good feet, you’d better be a good dancer.”

“I’ll break it down for you another layer. I not only have to hear the music, but I have to sing it in time. My pitch has to be correct. My shoulders, my feet, not only have to move, but have to move in time in rhythm, to the track. So make the analogy of anticipating what the play is, and having to now calculate: I’m going to go ahead and jump the play, and intercept the ball. You’re processing all of that at the same time. The dancer’s process, the way he processes his thoughts to execute a song, live, is very similar to a football player anticipating a play. He has to get his body in the right position, go from being in one direction, going backwards, to now bobbing forwards, and try to take the ball in the other direction if he intercepts it. So there are very similar parallels between a dancer and a corner back.”

Professor Hammer is not done: “Not only is it great footwork, but it’s also a dance in deciding how you’re going to cover or defend each play. For all running plays, it’s a dance. For all passing plays, it’s a dance. ‘Hike, da, da, da, knock the ball down, play over. Hike, da, da, da, I intercept it, boom. That rhythm goes into a cornerback’s mind. That’s the dance.’”

Would someone hire this guy for a coaching gig?

Sean Gregory is a staff writer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @seanmgregory. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.