Saturday, November 23, 2013

Former Vikings Great Matt Blair Discusses NFL Safety, Concussions, Life After Football And More

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing former Vikings linebacker Matt Blair via email. With a lot of controversy in the NFL surrounding concussions and player safety these days, I wanted to get his take on the topic, among other things. Here is what he had to say:

Anton Joe: What is your favorite moment of your career?

Matt Blair: It had to be simply making the Minnesota Vikings team. You always dream you’ll play professionally but to actually do it, is something else!
Some of my favorite playing moments was my rookie year in Super Bowl IX, blocking a punt for the only Vikings score. (As seen in the picture below)

Also, against the LA Rams, I intercepted a pass and ran it 99 1/2 yards to return it for a touchdown! Another one was my first interception, as a rookie against the Chicago Bears. Against the New Orleans Saints I blocked a field goal that put us in the playoffs; and another blocked punt against the Bears and returned it for a touchdown. I could go on and on…

AJ: Who was the one player in the locker room that you just loved to be around? 

MB: Hands down, my room mate, Fred McNeill. We challenged each other to make the team because he was the Vikings #1 draft pick in the linebacker position the year I was drafted.

AJ: When I asked you for this interview, you told me you were a week removed from a knee replacement. When you were in the NFL, did you ever fear for your health later in life? If so, would you have chose a different career path? 

MB: I just had both knees replaced (70 days apart) and the fear of my health and my life was never a concern when I played in the NFL. Having made over 1400 tackles, I've had one big concussion during the playoff game in 1976 against the Washington Redskins during the 4th quarter. I took down one of the greatest running backs, Calvin Hill on a passing down. I was on top of him after I make the tackle, my helmet came off, I broke a tooth, cut my chin and I was out. They carried me off the field and put me in the hospital. We won the game - which put the Vikings in the NFC Championship game - but back then, your health wasn't a factor if you played in the NFL. After that concussion, the coaches asked me if I was going to play in the game against the LA Rams for the Championship. Of course I said, "Yes!”

AJ: I see that you're a photographer. How did you get into photography? 

MB: The road I chose in life, gave me the opportunity to see different things. God shows you things along the way. My rookie year, during the offseason, I bought a camera and took a trip to Europe and started taking photos. I took over 300! I came back and showed them to my friends and family and they liked them. That encouraged me to take more photos during the offseason. The I began taking them of my teammates. I have so many photos of them, that are on slides and film, that I could do a book today of my past. I’ve completed four photo books and my first book benefited the homeless shelter in St. Paul, raising close to $100,000. My latest book is called Each Day Is A Gift.

AJ: You accomplished a lot in your 12 year career with the Vikings. Is there anything else that you wish you could have accomplished while playing in the NFL? 

MB: My only answer would be to have won a Super Bowl - that would have been the greatest!

AJ: When you played at Iowa State, what was the one thing that you were thinking about accomplishing in the NFL? 

MB: It all started in Oklahoma NEO Jr College. I was a walk-on and all I wanted was a full scholarship and to get my degree. Playing in the NFL was not on my mind at the time. I was a starting player and we won the Jr College Championships. But I still didn't have a full scholarship at the time. So, to continue in college I tried out for the basketball team and made it, which qualified me for the other half of the scholarship. Between my freshman and sophomore year, I grew 2 1/2 inches and gained 40 pounds. I ended up 6’5 1/2” and 225 pounds. Over 40 colleges came offering me scholarships and meeting with me to come play with their teams either for football or basketball. I had narrowed it down to Iowa State and Florida State. The reason I chose (Iowa State) was because Johnny Majors and Jackie Sherril (my coaches), told me that I would be placed on the fourth team on defense and I had to work my way to the first team. Working hard was a challenge and a goal I was determined to make happen.

AJ: What is your take on safety in the NFL? 

MB: The NFL is doing a better job now than they did when I played. You learn from the past so you can have a better future. Concussions are the biggest thing right now in the NFL.

AJ: What is one thing that you want people to remember you for? 

I would want people to remember me for never quitting, setting goals and working hard in life. I was one of those players who just wanted to remain positive and make big plays.

Big thanks to Matt Blair for doing this interview. You can follow him on Twitter @MattBlair59! Once again, big thanks to Matt Blair. Keep doing great things, man.

Follow me on Twitter @antonjoe22

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