Fullfilling A Dream: Sam Alzahawi’s Interview With Mike Mayock

Mike MayockDraft season is here and every year there’s one name you will hear consistently during the draft process. It’s a former NFL player who won’t be strapping up his cleats for the combine, interviewing with teams for his own benefits and be exposed to the rigours of the draft. Mike Mayock is the sounding board to millions of fans and pundits alike, who all turn to the NFL Network’s number one draft analyst for all they need to know about what has become one of the biggest events on the NFL calendar. 

The National Football League Draft. The Draft is so big, it drew 50 million viewers in 2010, more than any playoff game in any other sport.

But Mike Mayock is so much more than just your average draft analyst. He’s still as versatile as he was a player. He’s the colour commentator on NFL Network’s thursday night game, works the Notre Dame games on NBC and has become the face of the draft. Mayock might be the busiest man come draft time.

But the former Boston college star defensive back still found time to grant me with an in-depth interview about his life, his daring choice to become an analyst and to elaborate on the 2012 NFL draft class.

Each year over 250 NCAA athletes will hear their names called at the podium of Radio City Music Hall and will see their life long dreams of becoming an NFL athlete being fulfilled. But there are hundreds more who are put through the same extensive research to determine their value and skill. Players get measured, weighed, tested on intelligence, football knowledge, asked about their history and in some cases about their mother’s resume. In the case of Dez Bryant, very inappropriately. There is no regard for emotions. When it’s all about the almighty dollars, feelings are shipped out of the building. It’s all about getting to the bottom of everything.

But let’s get one thing straight. If the interview process, the combine and the combine were all that’s needed to determine a player’s value. A lot of scouts, and media, would be out of job. To me, nothing is more important than the tale of the tape. The filmroom is where you can find the answers to the biggest question. Can this guy play football? Mayock is the king of the film room. None of the big TV-analysts spend more time in the filmroom. And I say this with the utmost respect, Mayock is a football junkie. I truly believe he would go crazy without football. Something he confirmed.

“Listen, I’m a coach’s son. I’ve been around sports my entire life. Nothing gives me more joy than being around the game I love the most.” The former Pittsburgh Steeler draft pick  is obviously referring to the game played on the gridiron. The all important game loved by fans all over the world. Football.

Mayock’s career with the Steelers was a short lived one. After a standout career at Boston college, Pittsburgh had nabbed him with 265th pick of the 1981 draft, but decided to release him very quickly. After a brief stay with the Toronto Argonauts, Mayock ended up on the New York Giants. He ended up playing two seasons with the Giants, the 1982 and 83 season. This is where he became a part of the Bill Belichick defense, who was the defensive coordinator for Bill Parcells at that time.

“I was fascinated by the great leaders in football, and obviously Bill Belichick was one. Such a big inspiration. And you could tell early on he was very gifted when it came to X’s and O’s.”

When his playing days were over, Mayock got into commercial real estate to provide for for his family. But soon enough, he discovered he absolutely needed football in his life. “I’m just happiest when I’m around football all the time. When I have to opportunity to talk football all day.” The story how Mayock got into the business is fascinating.

The sales business treated Mayock well, but there was something missing. Deep down inside he knew perfectly what that was. The former NFL player needed football in his life. “I just missed being around coaches and players. Missed being around the game. I knew that to find true happiness I had to get back to football.”

According to the draft expert the best way to do that was to call football games. Mayock worked the New Jersey area in his line of work. Coincidentally, the NFL Films office resided in the same area. So one day Mayock knocked on Steve Sabol’s door. The two vaguely knew each other, because both were alumns of Haverford, a school just outside of Philadelphia. Sabol made a tape of Mayock and off he went. To chase his dreams. In was a tough decision, especially since Mayock had his own family to provide for.

“On the surface it certainly was a tough decision. The money in commercial real estate was good and I was going out on a limb here. Trying to find a job in a world where jobs are scarce. But my kids had gotten older, and they completely supported me. That was a blessing. And everyone in my family knew, I would be happiest if I worked in football. And you can’t put a price on happiness. I came from a big family myself, and we were anything but rich when I was growing up. So, the financial straits we’re we about to face didn’t faze me one bit.”

Mike MayockMayock quickly found work. Although, it didn’t turn out to be everything he expected. He became the sideline reporter for Rutgers and Princeton. Where he was faced with the interviewing mascots and parents on the sidelines. The craziest thing he ever did was head out to Edmonton, Canada where he interviewed Wayne Gretzky. Actually, it was the 10ft Wayne Gretzky statue he interviewed. Talk about putting in the effort and doing what it takes. But Mayock hung in there, and never gave up.

His big break came in the mid 90’s, when CBS offered him the number 2 college package. But it wasn’t untill 2003,  when NFL Network came knocking that Mayock knew he had finally made it. They offered him the draft gig. It wasn’t exactly what Mayock was hoping for. He had his eyes set on Total Access. But undeterred, he made the best of it and went all out in his efforts. He convinced the network that they had to have coverage of the big events on the draft calendar. The Seniorbowl, the combine and the East West shrine game. He was finally where he wanted to be. At the big events, surrounded by coaches, players and scouts.

“I could finally talk footballl all day. Now when I wake up, I have to pinch myself. This doesn’t feel like a job at allI. I’m just doing what I love to do and  just can’t believe I actually receive a pay-check to do this.”

Mayock doesn’t just receive a pay-check from NFL Network for his draft work. As stated earlier, he also works the Notre Dame games as a colour commentator. I asked him what he prefers to do.

“I definitely love to do the games. Just being closer to the action, and being around the players. When that ball is kicked off, nobody knows what’s going to happen. But you have to be ready, and have stories and insights lined up. It’s just a great challenge. To be able to explain what’s happening on the field to the fans and quickly digest all that’s going on. It takes tremendous preparation. I make sure I watch every play of the participating teams, to know all the tendencies and skills the players have. And it’s very important to know the schemes the coaches love to run. Or else you will be lost. It’s all about preparation.”

Everyone that has listened to Mayock call games, comes away equally impressed. The man has footballl wisdom dripping out of all pores. It’s not just educational. It’s equally entertaining. Seattle fans will never forget a certain playoff game called by Mayock and Tom Hammond. The Marshawn Lynch touchdown run, where he seemingly ran over all 45 Saints on the roster, and even stiff-arming the 8 inactive players on his way to an earthshaking 67 yard scamper that led to six, became so much better because of Mayock adding his enthusiasme and true colour to the play. The “Get off me” when Lynch knocked Tracy Porter about five feet off the ground became legendary. But the play was accompanied by an even better line. “Are you kidding me?”. The line went viral. I started to notice that Mayock used this line more than once. Each broadcaster has a signature line. I wondered if Mayock’s was just that. I asked the former All American about it.

“I didn’t even know I had a line. But it’s probably true. My kids tease me with it a lot. It’s just such a great sport, where we get to see the best athletes perform. So there will be plenty moments where you will be left flabbergasted.”

Nobody becomes so knowledgeable without hours of studying the game. I asked Mayock how much time he spends in the film room.

“For the NFL game I make sure I watch every play of the season. I do the same for the Notre Dame games. I have to know what I’m talking about. When it comes to the draft, I probably watch tape 11 months a year. The time I put in varies from ten to fourteen hours a day.”

All draftniks know the draft is not an exact science, everybody misses on players but it’s moment that you get it right that will make a man smile. So I asked Mayock which evaluations made him proudest in hindsight.

“Probably Philip Rivers. A lot of evaluators downgraded him because of the side-arm delivery. But I truly didn’t care about that. I saw a franchise quarterback. The same with Jay Culter. He wasn’t as highly touted as his fellow first round picks, Vince Young and Matt Leinart, but I believed he would be the better passer. That rocket arm was just breathtaking.” I wondered how he grades footballplayers. How much stock Mayock puts into talent, and if he agreed that intangibles were even more important.

“Good point, it’s not just about measurables. Or else everyone could play fast. There’s a certain benchmark all players must pass, depending on the position they play. Then it comes down to the intangibles. Obviously the most important position in football is quarterback. If the QB passes that benchmark, then the most important evaluation comes down to what we can’t put into stats. Does he have a high football I.Q? Does he truly love to play football? At the end of the day, that’s what’s going to decide if he can become succesful at his craft. How bad does he want it? That’s what counts.” If wouldn’t be a complete Mayock interview if we didn’t touch on the 2012 draft class. I asked if he would enlighten us with some players that might be a bit under the radar, but really impressed him. And what positions impressed him the most, especially at the Senior Bowl.

“That South defensive line was downright impressive. There’s a tremendous amount of talent available at those positions in this draft. I really liked Melvin Ingram and Courtney Upshaw, who don’t exactly fit the prototype, but can flat out play. They’re both tweeners. Ingram might be too short to play his collegiate position of defensive end, but I think he could be a great fit at outside linebacker. A bit like James Harrison and Lammar Woodley, who excel at that position. When a player doesn’t fit in the benchmark, teams have to become creative in ways they use them. Their success will rely mostly on schemes. There is nothing more important in football than scheme. But those kids can play. Another kid I really like is Dwight Bentley, the small school kid from Louisiana-Lafayette. He’s quick, extremely confident and he’s a competitor. Just like I was. I have instant respect for players like that.” The word benchmark came up a couple of times during the interview. So I asked Mayock if he could share what he believes is the benchmark on some positions. Starting out with running back.

“First of all, unless you’re Adrian Peterson, I’m not drafting you high in the first round. History has taught us that there can be quality found in the later rounds. Running backs drafted in the 3rd or 4th round have seen major success in the NFL. First thing to determine when picking a back, is what role you want him to play on your team. Are you looking for a 3rd down back? A change of pace back? Or are you looking for an every down back? Those every down back’s are rare. The NFL is a passing league so the most important part for those players is being able to pass protect. Not just the blocking ability, but also being able to read blitzes. And we’re obviously looking for great feet, good speed and toughness.” How about wide receivers?

“The most important skill is seperation. You have to get open, and that’s easier said than done with these great defensive backs. And of course the hands come in play. Can you catch every thing thrown at you? But let’s not forget scheme in this. Teams running a West-coast offense are looking for bigger receivers with great hands. In other systems you’re looking for smaller and quicker receivers who can make something happen after the catch.”

Tell us about the men that will be covering these tremendous pass catchers, Mr Mayock.

“Teams are looking for new age cornerbacks and safeties. Players who can cover these receivers, who are seemingly getting bigger and faster by the day. You’re looking for speed and great instincts. You have to factor in college production. But the most important part are instincts. Being able to read and react. To understand the situation and know what to do. Again, preperation is key. The same goes for linebackers. We’re looking for size, speed and instincts. You have to be a smart football player. The best tandem in the NFL last year was Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman, the San Fransisco middle linebackers. And Bowman might have been even better than Willis last season. Just great footballplayers who are prepared for everything that gets thrown at them. Even the kitchen sink. But no skill is most important for linebackers than toughness. The willingness to take on blockers, and to run straight through ball carriers. That’s why a kid like Zach Brown is heavily scrutinized in this draft. He will probably run faster than almost any linebacker in the draft, but the biggest question is his toughness. On tape you see him run around blocks a lot. At some point you have to disengage and be physical. He needs to prove that he can.” If it was up to me, I would have picked his brain for two days straigth. But like stated early, Mike Mayock is a busy man. But mostly, he’s a happy man. A man who decided that all that mattered in life was happiness and that he needed to do everything in his power to fulfill his dreams. Today he can truly say that he achieved those dreams and even went beyond.

“I’m a blessed man and again, I can’t believe I actually get paid to do what I do.” Oh, but we do, mr Mayock. We all truly do.

Sam Alzahawi is a writer for “USA Sports” in the Netherlands. A former professional football player himself, he now covers all of the NFL and College Football for the “USA Sports” publication. Follow him on twitter @SamAlzahawi.

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