Linebacker Mike Vrabel is in his 12th NFL season and has three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots. He helped create the 2nd & 7 Foundation to promote literacy in disadvantaged students. Along with co-authors (and former Ohio State teammates) Ryan Miller and Luke Fickell, he has written a kids’ book called The Hog Mollies and the Pickle Pie Party. He is also a member of the NFL Players Association Executive Committee. We spoke about the Patriots’ season, what lies ahead for the NFLPA, and his budding career as a children’s author.
TC: You created this foundation to encourage kids to read. Why was that important to you?
Vrabel: Our whole slogan is “try to tackle illiteracy.” In college, we had gone to a school and we had read to kids and could relate pretty easily to them. It was something that wasn’t out there. There are a lot of great causes, a lot of great charities, but this was something that was relatively untapped. The kids really enjoyed us coming into their schools and having us read to them and talk to them about the importance of comprehension and understanding what they would read and carry that through.
TC: I have two sons and you have two sons. Getting boys to read isn’t always that easy. What are your secrets to getting the boys to read?
Vrabel: You’re supposed to read 20 minutes a night. Pick something up that you find interesting. Tyler brings home every football book in the library. It’s the Giants, the Jets, the Chargers, and everything on down the line. As long as it’s something the kids enjoy reading. We try to make it fun. Really, the basis of our book was to give out a fun book that these kids wouldn’t mind picking up and reading. They’ll think it’s fun, they’ll think it’s entertaining, and they won’t think of it as a chore.
TC: You mentioned the Giants, Jets, and Chargers. I would hope he brings a Pats book home once in awhile.
Vrabel: They eventually get around to the Pats books, but they’re pretty unbiased. If it’s got a football on the cover, they bring it home.
TC: If you were writing the story of this season, with all the adversity and injuries you guys have battled, how would it end?
Vrabel: Obviously we would like to win out and give ourselves an opportunity to make the playoffs. First and foremost, if I were writing a book about the season it would be about preparation, hard work, and playing tough. Not quitting, not giving up, and not looking around at who we’ve had and what injuries we’ve had and a lot of the extracurriculars, and just be worrying about your job and going out there to try to execute it.
TC: You’ve been on some very good teams here in New England, but does the resiliency this team has shown make it special to you?
Vrabel: Every team I’ve ever played on in the NFL would be pretty special to me, because such a select group of guys get to play in this league and go out and compete. People watch college football every week, and there are a lot of really good college football players, but they don’t necessarily make it to this level and get to play. So, anytime that I’m on a team in the National Football League, I’m going to think that’s a pretty special feeling.
TC: A lot has been written about the injuries you’ve battled this year, but you’ve been pretty stoic about it all, just battling through it all. Has that been the theme to your season, keeping your head down and toughing it out?
Vrabel: Nobody’s going to feel any pity for the Patriots, I can promise you that. People aren’t going to look around and make a big deal about who we’ve got in there and who we don’t have in there. Really, all you can do is just try to not feel sorry for yourself and your team and just go out there and play. Every time we win we’re excited and every time we lose we’re disappointed, because we prepare to win and try to go out there and execute and win the game.
TC: You’ve been outspoken about the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (NFL owners voted to opt out of the current agreement, which is now scheduled to end after the 2010 season). No one wants to talk about these things, but do you see potential labor trouble for the NFL?
Vrabel: I don’t see it, but I’m not on the side that’s asking for any more, you know what I mean? We’re just saying, “We’re not taking any less.” I don’t know. I think you’re asking the wrong side, to be honest with you.
TC: We’ve seen this happen before, and fans ask, “How do these things happen?” When you hear comments from the other side, do you get concerned about where the labor negotiations could be headed?
Vrabel: No, not really. I just think at the end of the day these things usually work themselves out.
TC: But you usually need to get to that deadline before things happen.
Vrabel: In the past, that’s been pretty true. I will say, we weren’t the ones who opted out of this deal. We were happy with the deal. We weren’t the ones who opted out and terminated the contract or terminated the CBA.
TC: Back on the field, you’ve got teams tied for first and people talking about tiebreakers. As players, do you even have the luxury of paying any attention to that?
Vrabel: You’d be crazy to look around and think that by watching the Baltimore game on Saturday we were going to play any better on Sunday. That makes no sense to me. Us watching and figuring out what these other teams are doing is not going to help us win. It doesn’t concern me one bit. Those other teams are going to go out there and try to win the same as we are. Somebody will lose eventually. Whether it’s us or them, I don’t know, but I can’t worry about them. They’re the ones who have to worry about how they play. We’re not going to play those teams again.
TC: J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and never thought she’d be a best-selling author. Ten years from now, do you see Hog Mollies sequels and movie premieres?
Vrabel: I don’t know about movies, but it could be a cartoon, I’ll tell you that. When you see the characters, your kids will like them if they’re around seven or eight years old. I know that Tyler read it, and he said it would be cool to have them have a Halloween party and dress them up in costumes. I guess if you want to write another kids’ book, you just give it to a seven- or eight-year-old and they’ll help you write the next one.
TC: They’ve got better imaginations than we do.
Vrabel: Absolutely. They’ll tell you what they want to read.
OT contributor Tom Caron is the studio host of Boston Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network.
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