Today I’m really excited to share with you my phone interview with former Saints’ fullback Mike Karney. Mike has always been one of my very favorite all time Saints and he played recently enough that I’m sure most of us remember him as an absolute stud. I have to say, this is probably my very favorite interview I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing. Mike is honest, humble, and open about his career. He talks about wishing he had retired a Saint, his painful release from the team, the beautiful memories he shared with the city, and his time in New Orleans. We dive into lots of personal stuff and Mike was gracious enough to wear his heart on his sleeve. Just listening to him talk, you can really get a full grasp of his sincerity. Some guys just never stop being Saints.
A little Mike Karney anecdote: I had the chance to randomly meet Mike once. I happened to be in Whole Foods maybe four or five years ago with my mother in Metairie, and Mike walked in. At the time I was maybe 27 or so, and I told my mom discretely that that was him. She immediately embarrasses me by saying “Mike, Mike!” in an incredibly annoying high pitch voice, but under her breath enough that it was completely ignorable. Karney could have easily just let that slide because it was subtle, but instead he turned around with a big huge smile and said “Hey! What’s up!”. So we began to talk. In my years of blogging, he has by far been the most approachable and kind professional athlete I have ever met. I remember asking him where Saints players hung out and where I could meet more, and sure enough, the place he directed me to allowed me to meet Reggie Bush for the first time that very evening.
CLICK HERE to listen to the interview audio, or you can read the transcripted version of the interview by making the jump. Hope you enjoy!
(on what he’s up to)
Yeah, I’ve been doing some real estate. Started about 3 years ago out here and started a little business and I’ve kind of taken advantage of the market and had the opportunity to turn it into a business. The good thing about it is you’re able to do it from home so it’s a good little thing. I obviously own the business so it’s a good little thing to keep me busy. I joined twitter in September so I’ve been busy on there, kind of giving my insights on today’s game and where it’s at. Re-connecting with both teams I’ve played for and the fans, just trying to help out any way I can in that arena. Also, trying to eventually get into some radio or broadcasting, so kind of in transition right now.
(on coming back to the NFL)
You know man I’ve explored that option. I explored that with my previous agent and it’s just nothing was biting man. In today’s game it’s a new young game, and teams with the CBA [teams] are legitimately going with who’s cheaper, who’s younger. It’s not really a game of old anymore. You know, it’s a positive thing for the league, and it’s a negative for guys like me because I’m 30 years old and I can still physically play. Mentally I would entertain playing but just couldn’t get anybody to entertain it. I’m not one to hold on to something. The game was great to me while I played it for 7 years, and I’ve obviously been playing ever since I was 7 years old so 23-24 years of my life I’ve played football. It’s been good to me. Would I entertain it if something out of the ordinary happened? Sure, I’d entertain it. I still stay in shape and I don’t necessarily work out the way I used to to get ready for an NFL season but I still go to the gym 2-3 times a week because it’s a way of life, I enjoy staying in shape. I’d entertain it but I just don’t think it’s going to happen unfortunately. I think it’s the ramnifications of the new CBA. My last couple years with the Rams, you know, it was a tough situation out there. It’s all about relevance too. I wasn’t very relevant, they didn’t use the fullback as much. When I did play, I was still effective and played well but it was all about relevance and I lost that relevance and with the new CBA it just made it really hard for a guy like me to get back in the league. You just have to accept it and move on.
(on if the game doesn’t really allow for fullbacks to make it these days)
Yeah I have to agree with that. That’s really what it is. The old traditional guys, it’s gone. Maybe one team runs that now and that’s Baltimore. I don’t really see anyone else out there… there’s John Kuhn in Green Bay. Jed Collins with the Saints was very production and they’ve done a good job. But he’s not a very versatile guy either. Really I’d say Jed, the guy in Baltimore and your all around versatile guy that plays a little bit of running back as well is Kuhn in Green Bay. Other than that, it’s pretty much gone. Could I go out and catch a ball in the flat for you? Yeah. Was I going to do a Darren Sproles, run routes and one on one and make guys miss? No. Am I going to do the things I tight end does? I don’t have the height. It’s a tough thing when you’re limited but you’re still very effective at what you do. It’s just other teams are getting away from it and I don’t see it coming back because of the college game and that’s the NFL feeding pool. That’s where they get their talent and the college game is always spread and passing. You’re going to see it continue to deplete the position and I don’t think you’re going to see it anytime soon.
(on the adjustment to life outside of the NFL)
It’s been really tough man, football has been my life. I made the decision the first time I put the pads on and had that contact at 7 or 8 years old that this is what I wanted to do. You go about your whole life when you’re dedicated and you want something so bad, you live it every day – that’s all I thought about. Now that it’s done, and don’t get me wrong I was still very fortunate to play 7 years… not “bah-humbing” me. I was fortunate. Like you said the NFL average is about 3.2 years. I couldn’t have asked for a better career. I wish it would have been a little longer but at the end of the day it’s your way of life man. You talk about your body and you’re constantly training and constantly preparing for the upcoming season. You kind of find a way to trick your body and get through all the aches and pains. When you don’t have to trick your body anymore [it becomes] what do I have to do just to make it right and feel good? You know, my body is doing great. Physically it’s great. Daily it’s a tough battle mentally – it’s man, it’s over. So it’s like what’s next? What can I wrap my head around that really gives me the same gratification and satisfaction that football did? And it’s tough to find. When I go look at a property to buy or I meet with a tennant, there’s not 70,000 fans watching me doing that. It doesn’t give me the same adrenaline rush. And you can’t hit your clients (chuckles). No one is going to cheer for you if you hit them or do any of that. That’s the biggest battle daily for any retired guy. What can I wrap my head around? It’s almost like you’re a recovering addict from adrenaline and competition. That’s what you yearn for every day and that’s what you love about the game. The competition, the commraderie. I hear military guys talk about coming out and having the same withdrawals being intense. Obviously there’s is much more off the charts, life and death, than playing football is. But it’s tough man. The Junior Seau thing really hit me hard. It’s not that I’ve ever dropped myself to that level of ever thinking those kind of thoughts. But it resonated, man, guys really are having a hard time. You’re not alone. It just about not being able to wrap your head around anything that can satisfy you the way the game did and that’s a tough, every day battle. It’s a struggle. That’s why I want to get into radio and broadcasting. It’ll keep me close to a game I love and I can talk about it. And I can talk with fans. I’m a fan of the game and give you a fan’s perspective. At the end of the day it won’t be the same. But I’m very fortunate and very lucky.
(thoughts on bounty gate)
It’s just unfortunate, man. It’s a tough subject to talk about because I knew a lot of the guys that were part of the whole deal. Everyone plays the game at the highest level and compete hard. No one is [trying] to hurt anybody. If it’s being promoted that’s one thing, players actually going out there and doing it – I just don’t believe it. I don’t agree with the suspensions of the players. We’re grown men, if a coach tells you to go out and hurt somebody, we’re not going to do that. We’re in a fraternity, we obviously want to hit other players as hard as we can, we want to win games, but you’re never trying to hurt anybody man. It’s not like we’re 8 or 9 year old kids and coaches are telling us to do something and we don’t know any better, so we do it. We have our own way of thinking at that level. I don’t agree with why it was so strongly imposed. You don’t need to motivate players at the NFL level. We’re already instrinscally motivated. At the end of the day with the health and safety issue and the battle between the PA and the league – something had to done to protect the image and the shield. Unfortunately they took it to the highest level, the stiffest penalty you could have with the head coach and GM involved. I don’t agree with the players punishment and it’s a tough pill to swallow for Saints fans. To see a great team and the coaches take the fall for it. Unfortunate.
(memories of time with Saints and his 3 touchdown performance against Cowboys)
Yeah that was a pretty big year. That whole year. Coming back from 2005, Katrina, in the Dome. Trying to give the city and people a light they haven’t seen [after Katrina]. That year as a whole was one to remember for me on the field, but more so the impact we made on the community and giving everybody that ray of hope that they had lost from everything the year before. For me that was one of the best memories, is that entire year more so than anything else. Really my 5 year career with the Saints, can’t really complain. It was very fun time, a very productive time, one of the best cities. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to go coming out of college to get the full feel of what a city like New Orleans is all about and what it has to offer. I don’t think one thing stands out more than the other. I think overall my time there was extraordinary. I wish I had retired a Saint but the business side some things you just can’t control. All I have now is a bunch to look back on and smile about. Teammates, people I’ve met, the times we had, and what we did to help the city out in some tough times.
(about his departure)
Oh man that’s a loaded question (laughs). I thought the whole way I was released and how it went down was kind of classless (he was released the day before his wedding). I felt like it was something that could have been handled better, I felt like it was a personal attack. To this day I don’t understand why. When you’re a player and you work hard and you give everything you canto the team, and they go that route it’s tough for anybody not to be bitter or to be upset at the organization or the people involved. That’s just human nature for us to be that way. Do I have any hard feelings anymore? No. It was over 3 years ago now, what done is done. You wish it could have been handled better/differently. Am I a fan of the people still – do I forgive them? I forgive them, I’m not a fan of them. It’s a tough thing because it’s hard to feel good about something like that when you’ve given so much and it’s handled that way. But I’ve moved on from it. To be honest with you, if I saw Sean or Mickey down the street I’d apologize and say “i’m sorry for whatever made you do that, but hey I forgive you guys and I wish you the best.” I’d honestly do that. I couldn’t say that 3 years ago! Who knows what I would have done in person because I thought it was really low. At the end of the day, and this goes for anyone, what goes around comes around. You gotta be careful how you do things. If you look at the bounty gate thing, as tough as it is… the businesses in the NFL, a lot of guys are having things happen to them. It’s a tough gig. Anyway, I’ve forgiven them and I’ve moved on. I’m a Saint at heart. The Saints gave me my first opportunity to play in the national football league. I’m forever indebted for that. I’m a fan of them.
(on Deuce to the Saints Hall of Fame)
It’s a huge honor, I’m so happy for him, I love Deuce. He’s like a brother to me. What a great pro to learn from coming into the league. I was a very very small piece of the puzzle but it’s gratifying to know that my work had a little bit to do with his success. It’s really exciting and i’ve taken into account that I was hopefully able to help out. And a lot of offensive linemen and other fullbacks probably feel the same way.
(on his thoughts about the Saints winning the Super Bowl after he left)
I probably felt a little bit like Tiki Barber in 2006 the year after he left and the Giants won the Super Bowl! Aw man, I missed out! But I focused on like you said, I focused on the fact that I helped in building for that. Yeah I wasn’t on the team, I didn’t get a ring. People ALWAYS ask me, if I’m travelling, here in town “oh you played for the Saints – did you get a ring”? And I’m always like “no, I didn’t get a ring”. But for me personally I focus on the fact, I hope that I had something to do with getting to that point. We were one game away in 2006. We were close. But I’m so happy for the organization and the city, they completely deserve it. I know how staff, players, the organization work so very hard, diligently, and they do it the right way. I was more happy about that. That was the goal when Sean Payton first walked into the door. We’re gonna win a Super Bowl. I know a lot of coaches say that, especially a first time head coach, and many guys get fired before they come close. But I couldn’t be happier. A little piece of that I can take away and say I had a little something to do with that. I don’t have a ring, but at the end of the day I couldn’t be happier for the city and fans.
(on him not being on the team maybe, but a huge part of the team and foundation)
I appreciate that. It means a lot. You don’t know if that’s how everyone always feels about it. It’s a tough thing for guys to accept that you kind of missed out on that. I really appreciate the kind words and I feel the same way deep down, I really do. So thank you.
Hey, you know. Going through some tough times again. It’s almost like another tragedy again. And I think you know what I’m talking about with bounty gate, players, coaches and front office being suspended. But the Saints have rebounded before and they are going to rebound again. It only makes them stronger, it’s only going to make you better. I’ll say this: you’ve been through WAY WORSE with Hurricane Katrina, and look what great came with that. I just hope Saints fans will understand and focus more on that that something good will come from this again. Just keep your focus on that. If you can do that the Saints will always be a success and victorious. They definitely have what it takes, the people and the personnel. That city is a reflexion of the team. I appreciate Saints Nation and the support during the time I played there. I couldn’t have been a better place to spend my career.