AA interview: JJ Birden talks Kansas City Chiefs, new book and more

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Q: Once you retired, did you become a fan of football or distance yourself?

A: I went thought the period like many players after they retire where you are done with football. You played it; it was your job, 24/7. You watched film non-stop, it is all you did. I don’t think fans realize how much film you watch during the season, at home and at the office. When I was done, I wanted nothing to do with football for five years.

Then I slowly started becoming a fan, and then I realized I was part of something special. I was part of a very rare fraternity. The average player plays 3.2 years and I played nine years. Since then I became the ultimate fan and I would say the Chiefs are my team. I played for four teams, but I’m a loyal Chiefs fan, and I love it. I love what they are doing and I’m hoping this is the year they get to the big one.

Q: So, what do you see with this current Chiefs team?

A: They need more playmakers. They have a solid defense and have a solid player at running back, and the quarterback is fine. They need more weapons, especially at receiver. The wide receiver position can open up the passing game, when you have speed guys that can really stretch the defense. I think they need to add more depth to the receiver position.

De’Anthony Thomas could be a superstar. He could be that complement to Jamaal Charles. I’m hoping they pick up some good, quality receivers in the NFL draft in a few weeks. … It really does take a couple years to adjust to that level of the game. Everyone is athletic, fast and strong. It’s the mental part and really refining your skills. You expect to see a better De’Anthony Thomas this year.

Q: After nine years in the arena, how are you feeling these days?

A: We’re all banged up, we all pay the price. It’s a physical, demanding game. I had two knee surgeries during my career and one post. I had just had shoulder surgery about six months ago. I have a bad back and aches and pains. I’ll tell you one thing that has helped, though. Since I retired I’ve never stopped being active, working out, being strong on my nutrition. I can’t control how my knees feel but I can control what I put in my body. I’m in pretty decent shape for a 49-year-old. I run, I hike, I do a little of everything.

Q: Do you wish you had not played?

A: I was a track athlete at Oregon. I qualified for the 1988 Olympic trials. When I got drafted in my senior year I was in the middle of track season. At camp, I tore my ACL with the Browns. That was the only reason I played in the NFL. Because I hurt my knee I couldn’t run track anymore. … I always tell people if I didn’t get hurt I wouldn’t have played in the NFL. But regrets? No. I’m glad I got the opportunity.

Q: What are you doing these days? It seems your post-NFL career is going well.

A: I’m one of those athletes who took a while to figure out what he wanted to do after his career. I did a little coaching to see if that was the route I wanted to go. I had this love-hate relationship with college and the pros because I didn’t want to take that time away from my family again. Then I did corporate for nine years. The last five to six years I found my niche. I want to help people to take advantage of the opportunities that come their way. I have a powerful message because I played against the biggest, baddest and toughest athletes in the world.

I had a lot of challenges I had to go through, so I’ve taken my brand and finalized it that I’m about helping with health, wealth, and people’s opportunities in life. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited about my book — which is coming out next month — When Opportunity Knocks, 8 Surefire Ways to Take Advantage. I’m sharing eight principles that helped me be successful in sports, business and life. I believe it is going to help people.

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  • Q: Are you still looking to expand what you are doing, or have you found your groove?

    A: I think I have it down. It really incorporates the health and wellness aspect. Once an athlete, always an athlete. I’ve focused on my nutrition. I love the company Isagenix because they have good clean nutrition. … If I can help anyone who wants to live the healthy lifestyle, I want to do that. The second component is the book, and that is something I really want to do; keynote speaking. I started doing that with the Chiefs, going to schools and graduations. I really loved that. Any time I can inspire people I want to do that. … It looks like we’ve streamlined it. I’m really excited. I’ve found my niche.”

    Q: Why should people pick up your book and listen to you?

    A: There’s no substitute for experience. I have experience in inspiring and motivating people. I’ve spent a year writing this book and I’m writing it myself. I didn’t have a ghost writer. I wanted people to see how I reached my level of success. It wasn’t handed to me.