One-on-One with Super Bowl Champion Zak DeOssie
A native New Englander, Zak DeOssie grew up cheering for the New England Patriots and was even on the sidelines in New Orleans as a junior in high school when the Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI to claim the franchise’s first Super Bowl title.
Now, nine years later, DeOssie has won two Super Bowl titles with the New York Giants, both against his former childhood team.
I recently got the chance to speak with Zak. We discussed the Giants’ season, the design of the new Super Bowl ring, and whether he likes the idea of replacing the coin toss with Rock-Paper-Scissors
TSH: You won your first Super Bowl your rookie year, and now four years later you win your second. How does this one compare to the first, and do you appreciate it more now that you’ve experienced the grind and disappointment of not winning it in past seasons?
ZD: Oh yeah, totally. I mean, the first time through was incredible, you know, we beat an undefeated team and all that, especially my rookie year, but now that I’m five years day (45) we haven’t made the playoffs the prior two year, and being a special teams captain, I know how rare it is now and I can appreciate it that much more. It’s just incredible to do it all over again and come out on top.
TSH: You were drafted out of college as a linebacker, but now work strictly as a specialist. Was the transition from LB to long snapper a difficult one for you to embrace?
ZD: You know at first—I’ll always consider myself a linebacker in my mind—but the fact of the matter is I got thrown into the long snapping position my rookie year and sort of adopted that role over the last few years as strictly a specialist, as a long snapper. You know, I’ll never forget when my coach told me, “No more linebacker meetings, strictly just special teams.” It was tough at first, but you know what, the truth of the matter is that long snappers can play this game for a long time, assuming I keep performing at the highest level. To have a job over a longer period of time is very important to me and I’m just so fortunate I found a spot on the team that I’ve really excelled at. So, yeah, I do miss linebacker, I think about it a lot but I try to make up for those hits—or lack of hits—on coverage, and I just run down like a madman. Linebacker will always hold a dear spot in my heart but long snapping is where I make a living and I’m just going to keep doing that and excelling.
TSH: There was a point in the middle of the season where you guys were 6-6, having lost four straight games. People were clamoring for your coach, Tom Coughlin, to be fired. How did the players, and coach Coughlin, handle those rumors, and do you think that losing streak helped bring you guys closer together?
ZD: Yeah, looking back it helped. I think everyone in any sport plays better with a chip on their shoulder or their back against the wall, to use those clichés. In terms of coach Coughlin, he’s the best in terms of staying the course. Some management and some teams panic when things aren’t going as planned, but with coach Coughlin you know what you’re going to get and he expects perfection at all times. So when we were losing for a little bit there, it certainly put us in a bad position, but it was a lot easier for us to put it all in and just commit to turning the season around. We stuck with coach Coughlin from start to finish and also, adversely, he kept at it with us, and the media doesn’t mean anything. That’s the thing, when you play in New York, the media is just a little gnat in your ear you just got to ignore it and keep trying to win games. Doesn’t matter how you do it. As long as your winning, who cares? They’re going to be all over you if you win, they’ll be all over you if you lose, so you just throw that out the window and just go out and play.
TSH: You were a ball boy for the Patriots in high school and were there in New Orleans in 2002 when they won their first Super Bowl.
ZD: I was. I was on the sidelines for the entire game.
TSH: Do you ever stop and think how crazy it is that you went from Patriots ball boy to beating them twice in the Super Bowl?
ZD: Yeah, I mean, talk about irony. I grew up a Patriots fan, my old man (Steve DeOssie) finished his career there. You know, I’ll always be a Patriots fan at heart, but fact of the matter is I’ve had so much success with the Giants and I love this organization. At the same time, if the Patriots are playing and they don’t affect our schedule, I’m rooting for the Patriots. But if they have anything to do with our schedule, I’m rooting against them. That’s just how it goes. But to be a ball boy my junior year of high school and fast forward five years I’m playing against them in my first Super Bowl, it’s just unbelievable.
TSH: Is there a little trash talking going on now that you have the most Super Bowl rings among the DeOssies?
ZD: We’ll go around and say “the DeOssies have three rings,” and that’s what we’re most proud of, but when we’re out on the golf course talking a little smack, I always remind him that not only do I have two rings to his one, but both are way better looking. It usually works, too. If he’s lining up for a putt I’ll pull out that Trump Card. It’s just a lot of fun.
TSH: You’ve been a part of some memorable moments lately, namely the game-winning field goal against the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. Being a specialist, do you change anything in your preparation for those types of moments, or is it just work as always?
ZD: Work as always, and that’s what we do as specialists. We put our mindset—even during the week—in sort of those types of pressure situations because you know it’s going to happen no matter what. It could come down to a field goal in the biggest game of the season. Every week you assume you’re going to kick a game-winner. On the sidelines, everything is going through my mind, but what do I do with it? Just block it out. Tell myself a hundred times, I’d say, “You know what? There’s no difference from the first preseason game snap than what I’m doing now. Same thing. You snap the ball, Steve catches it, kick it. We went out there, the play clock was running down, we got a penalty that moved it back; went back out there and the ball was an absolute mess, all soaked and muddy and covered in grass, and I just said, “Hey, all you got to do is snap the ball to Steve (Weatherford).” Steve picked it up, put it down, and we’re off to the Super Bowl.
TSH: At the beginning of last season your quarterback, Eli Manning, said he felt he was in the same class as Tom Brady. People were quick to criticize and dismiss Eli’s claim, yet at the end of the year he was the one who bested Brady in the Super Bowl. Do you view Eli as an elite quarterback, and why do you think people have been so reluctant to view him as such?
ZD: Well, I think a lot of it has to do with him always having to live in the shadow of his brother, and Peyton’s one of the all-time greats. For a quarterback to come out and say something like he’s the elite quarterback—and it’s true, I always thought he was from day one, but I think maybe it got taken out of context a little bit, shining it all in a different light, which we didn’t necessarily appreciate. But we knew what Eli was saying and to have that sort of confidence is pivotal with our team. We all want to have faith in our quarterback, so for him to lead us in so many last minute drives over the season and become the Super Bowl MVP of this most recent Super Bowl, it just goes to show you that he’s certainly one of the most elite quarterbacks in the league, and now, without question, is definitely up there and always will be.
ZD: Well, you know I think Tebow to the Jets is great. It’s going to be fun for the city. New York City is the best place to play, whether you’re for the Giants or for the Jets. It’s the most electrifying place in the world. That being said, you know, I wish him the best and I’m glad he’s getting all this press and everything. You know, if he was going to Jacksonville or wherever else it doesn’t matter. It’s Tim Tebow—it’s a great story to follow. That being said, in terms of the Jets overshadowing us in terms of the limelight as of late, that doesn’t matter to us. We get our rings on May 16th, we’re the World Champions. You don’t need to read a paper to know that we’re the best team in New York and we’re proud of that. When push comes to shove, we want what’s best for every team and all that, but as of right now it feels really good to say that we’re the World Champions and no one can take that from us.
TSH: So do you guys get to see the design of the ring before you get it or is it a complete surprise to the players?
ZD: The captains decide what the design is along with coach Coughlin and the ownership and Jerry Reiss as well. So, we all sat down in a room, Thursday after we won. We did it that about three times before we came up with a solution for Tiffany’s. And we all had our fair share in terms of designing the ring and pushing it along to what we wanted. That was a fun experience and I’m glad to say that I had a little part in how the design came out. We’re really proud of it.
TSH: Do you think this ring is better than the 2008 design?
ZD: Haha. I mean, it’s certainly different. A little here, a little there. It’s a very, very sexy ring. But you know, now that I have two, both hold a very specific and near and dear place in my heart so I can’t sort of value one more than the other. They’re both fantastic.
TSH: I saw you calling the coin toss during the playoffs and the Super Bowl. Is there a specific method you have or do you just go in and pick heads or tails?
ZD: My method is I know I’m calling tails. No matter what. I called tails every single time this entire year. Every game—away game—where we got the opportunity to call the coin toss, I’m the one who decided to go with tails. And yeah, we lost the call in the Super Bowl but, you know, that’s the way the cookie crumbles and I’ll never ever deviate from tails because, I guess, tails never fails. It was a lot of fun calling the coin toss.
TSH: So, is that the reason you always call tails? Because it never fails?
ZD: Well, you know, I’m very superstitious. It’s the first one that came to mind when it was time to call it, so I said, “You know what, I’m going to stick with it.” I think I was like seventy percent throughout the year. In baseball, that’s like Hall of Fame type numbers, so I’m pretty proud of that.
TSH: I’ve always favored Rocks-Paper-Scissors as a system over the coin toss. What do you think of that?
ZD: I think that’s brilliant. I mean, that takes a little strategy, a little mind games. I can get into my opponent’s head real fast. I could throw at the wrong time, you know? There’s little intricacies you could fix in there. Next time—next year—at the competition meeting, I’ll try and bring that up and see what happens. You think back to the XFL and the two guys wrestling for the ball, so, hey, once we can get away from the coin toss with Rocks-Paper-Scissors, who knows? It’d be a lot of fun.
TSH: If you could be on superhero, who would you be and why?
ZD: Woah, that’s a tough one. I mean, everyone would go ahead and say Superman because you can fly and your strong, etc. But I’m going to go with Spider-Man because that takes a little more finesse I think, a little more athleticism to swing from those strings all over the city. So I’m going to go with Spider-Man just because I love the suit and I think I’d be a pretty badass Spider-Man.
TSH: You’re getting married soon, what do you think is more nerve-racking: walking down the tunnel to play in the Super Bowl or walking down the aisle?
ZD: Haha. Well, as of right now, I’m going to have to say walking out for the Super Bowl, but you’re going to have to ask me the day after my wedding. As of right now, I sit here calm and collected and say it’s going to be an easy feat. But I’m super excited for the wedding, I couldn’t be happier. I’m a very lucky person to have my fiancée. I think the day after [the wedding] it’ll certainly change my idea of which is more of a pressure situation.
DeOssie and the Giants begin their defense of their Super Bowl Championship September 5th against their division rival, the Dallas Cowboys. If we’ve learned one thing from these Giants over the years, it’s that we can expect them to compete until the very end. After what they accomplished last season, that shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us.
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