A Week in the NFL: Patrick Kerney Speaks

Kerney sacking QB Josh McCown
Kerney sacking QB Josh McCown
Photo courtesy Jimmy Cribb/AtlantaFalcons.com

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be a professional football player? Imagine if it were your job to make your body tough enough to stand up to multiple violent collisions for several hours at a time. How would you eat during the week if you knew you'd lose a good 5 pounds every Sunday? What if instead of working five days a week and getting the weekends to yourself, the weekend was your busiest and most grueling time and your Mondays were spent receiving medical attention?

Would you enjoy a long stint in an ice tub or a muscle massage so vigorous that it might make you cry?

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This HowStuffWorks article addresses those questions and more as it presents a working week in the life of one of the NFL's top defensive ends, Patrick Kerney of the Atlanta Falcons, as told to us by Kerney himself.

Monday

Kerney's Mondays involve lots of food, post-game healing and an evening on talk radio.

When do you get up?

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Monday is a later wake up around 7:30 and breakfast on the way to work. I usually go heavy carbs, pancakes, OJ and a shot of wheat grass ... It's usually a stack of about five [pancakes] ... They're all microwavable, you can't mess them up.

Wheatgrass?

Uh, I've been told it's very good for you, especially for your immune system; you know later in the season, your body gets tired and flu season comes around right when you're weakest and you can't really fend it off, so I need all the help I can get to make sure I stay healthy.

When I get to the facility, I check in with the trainers, report my dings from the previous game or the previous day's game.

What kind of dings?

I usually get a fingernail drained cause they get crushed between helmets. Haven't had that yet today, but I had a shoulder separation problem a few weeks ago, and I put ice and an electric stim[stimulator] on that, and then once that's sort of taken care of I go hit the weight room for an hour, hour and a half.

Favorite exercise?

It's a good question, probably the power clean just because it's the most athletic lift and it's the most important lift for football ... The most I power cleaned was I got 400 last summer.

After the weight room it's into the showers, try to get some more food into the belly and they have lunch for us on Mondays, so it's eat and then ...

What's for lunch?

Usually some pasta, a couple chicken breasts, fruit salad, whatever vegetable they have there, let me think of what else they usually have, they usually have some type of potato so I usually get a bunch of that.

So it's an ice bath, hot shower, then lunch, then we meet as a team and watch the film.

Even when you win it's to see what you did wrong and think about what you're going to do in practice this week to fix it.

Then it's on the way home unless you're significantly dinged -- then it's another set of treatments of ice, electro stim, and ultrasound and stuff like that before you go home.

I'll get home around 3. Then I got my 5 p.m. radio show on 96 Rock. And then the 7 to 8 p.m. radio show on WGST, which is the call-in show.

When's dinner?

Between the two, luckily the second show is at Sal Grosso, which is a Brazilian steak house and we get free dinner there before the show.

It's one of those Brazilian steak house things. I just wait for them to bring the filet mignon around and then just go ahead and ask them to empty out half the rack onto my plate maybe with some mashed potatoes, asparagus, and some pasta...

Then it's finally home for a little time on the couch and just do some relaxation.

I watch TV, movies, a lot of times take care of business stuff, paying bills, just general business stuff.

Bedtime is at 10:30 every night really. I'll eat another plate of spaghetti, then bedtime.

Are Mondays after a win any different from Mondays after a loss?

After we lose ... [usually] at the end of our lift we have to run like four 100's to get the laughing gas out of our legs, and the day after we lose we don't do that on our own. We bump the running to after meetings so we run as a team. And it's a little bit more running and what's cool is that Coach Mora does the running with us.

Tuesday

Tuesday is the day for Kerney to see to his personal and business affairs. It's his only full day off.

Tuesday's the off day, again taking care of business, e-mail, taking ticket orders for that weekend -- this weekend we're off to New York. That's where all my friends from high school live and all my family's up there so I have to organize hopefully 50 tickets.

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So I'll take care of that. I have my pilot's license so I usually like to go flying with my instructor. I'll work on my instrument rating on Tuesday mornings, which is actually pretty relaxing for me, then I'll come back in the afternoons, eat lunch, get a quick work out in, I usually just do a quick workout and a lot of stretching on Tuesday.

What's your abs workout like?

It's my own little 8-minute abs; it's enough to make a pretty good sweat... It's a couple hundred reps right in a row of six or seven exercises, yeah so it works upper, lower, and sides.

Tuesday night it's quality time with the girlfriend, you know she doesn't get to see me a whole lot in the season. It's like date night, but you know also in the afternoons I put in a community appearance. Like today I talked to the Hall County Boys and Girls Club, Project For America, and the Falcons tour so that's also a Tuesday thing and then I eat dinner.

Is an off-day dinner lighter?

On Sunday you eat pretty light before a game and maybe another snack, so you're really only getting two and a half meals and you're exerting yourself so much -- you're losing so much weight that Mondays and Tuesdays are your days to eat yourself back up to a respectable weight.

You lose weight during a game?

I'm kind of afraid of the scale, but I'm guessing that day it would be anywhere from 5 to 6 pounds lighter than what I weigh in on Friday.

Wednesday

On Wednesday, the team begins preparing for the specific opponent it will face that week. Most of Kerney's time is spent at the team facilities.

Up at 6:30 on Wednesday go, just go to meetings until I think it's about 10:30, then I'll lift [weights] from 10:30 to 11:15.

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What happens at the meetings?

That's preparation -- introductions to your opponent for that week to try to figure out their tendencies, come up with your game plan and start to watch them on film and familiarize yourself with the other team. We'll go to those meetings and then we'll go ... [lift] before practice, practice from 11:20 to 1 or 1:20, somewhere in there.

Do you practice in pads?

It changes. At the beginning of the season we were in shoulder pads and shorts a lot, and as the season went on we did less of that. Then we got the week off so we were back in pads last week.

We never live tackle. It's two-hand touch below the waist. That sort of confirms to the coaches that if you're there in position to dive and wrap up legs you'd make the tackle.

Usually, even if we have our pads on we usually shed them half way through practice. You know our staff is very cognizant of when to keep us fresh not only for this week's game but fresh for December and January.

So far, there's been a lot less actual practicing and hitting than I expected.

If you're hitting hard every Wednesday and Thursday plus playing games on Sunday, there's a lot of evidence in the past of teams that start off strong with that type of schedule and then come late November and December and they just totally fizzle out.

Everyone at this level knows how to hit, you know obviously there's fundamental stress but those types of drills that people familiarize themselves with from movies from high school and college football movies, a lot of that is just testing kids to see if they're just flat-out scared of contact. Sort of a way to filter out kids who might be better suited doing other things. Once you get to this level you're pretty well aware ... the guys you have don't mind running into other people. So there's no sense in doing those old meat-head drills and risk hurting guys who the organization has invested a great deal of money in.

After practice I finish up with another 15 to 20 minutes of lifting, then into the ice tub again.

Is your skin like a raisin at this point?

It's funny because even on 85-, 90-degree days you'll get in the hot tub for 10 minutes and come out and you'll have to go outside in a sweat shirt and sweat pants because your core temperature is so cold. So ice tub again and we go eat lunch, then we're back in meetings at 2:30 to watch that practice and review that. Talk a little bit more game plan and then we're done. If you're dinged up at all you're back in treatment one more time after meetings. And I'm usually home by about 5:00.

[Then] you know maybe stretch a little bit, relax, study your play book, watch a little [game] film at home. The funny thing is being a professional athlete when I'm not at work, one of the harder parts of my job is having to sit still. Because you know most of us are pretty energetic guys. But if you're ... someone who doesn't want to be losing weight you're forced to sit in a chair motionless, quietly consuming calories as much as you can, which is sort of the opposite of the rest of America. They would love, love that opportunity.

Do football players watch football?

I usually don't watch other football. You know if I tune into other football games I end up just studying, not enjoying the game and rather studying too much, so I just kind of relax, you know I have four sisters so I try to keep up with them in the evenings which can be hard because three of the four of them have children, so they're busy as well.

Thursday and Friday

Thursday

Thursday's pretty much the same schedule as Wednesday. No lifting, though.

Friday

Friday is noteworthy for the morning weigh-ins, which come with a hefty fine for overweight offenders.

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Friday I eat at the same time. We have lifting after the meetings again, which is just upper body because we're only two days out from the game. And then our practice is a no-pads practice, usually lasts a little over an hour. Then we go and meet. The massage people are there to grind out any problems you have. I think when I say massage it could be misinterpreted -- these aren't necessarily the fun type. There's plenty of times where something is knotted up and you just need to put a towel in your mouth and grin and bear it while they're breaking stuff up. They've got pretty strong paws on them.

Friday is weigh-ins, too -- that's first thing before meetings. If you're over weight it's $360.00 per pound per day.

Do some guys just take the fine each week?

No, not on our team.

Do you hang out with your teammates at all during the week?

At night most of us go home, a lot of us have got families and stuff, you know they tend to that and most guys go home and get their rest and tend to the families. But that's what's unique about this year's team -- it's as good a team chemistry and camaraderie as I've had since I've been here.

So you don't all go out and drink together?

I don't drink in season. If guys can do that and still perform, I'm not opposed to it. I just make sure -- I know that I can't do it and still perform the way I want to.

Friday afternoon, that's the massage and then on my way home. Sometimes if something's ailing me I'll do acupuncture and that's a different stop on my way home. Just to loosen up, you know. There [are] a lot of muscles that are hard to stretch -- acupuncture hits those and releases them and makes you feel a lot better.

And then I'll also sometimes fly on Friday afternoons and just go [up] with my instructor locally, and that's a very relaxing time for me. People always talk about the Atlanta highways as, you know, just dealing with people cutting you off and racing by you and you're worried about speed radars. Well, you get up in the sky and there's no lanes, there's nobody -- there's nobody within a couple miles of you. It's nice and relaxing.

I usually get home from that around 6:00, and then it's dinner time. Watch dinner, sometimes go out to a movie, and then time for another plate of pasta, and bedtime by 11:00 that night because we get a half hour more of sleep on Saturday morning.

Saturday

Other than Sunday, Saturday is Kerney's busiest day. The team practices, pumps iron and walks through the entire game plan.

It's wake up, breakfast on the way to work, stack of pancakes and then we meet from 8:30 till about 10:00. Then we go out on the field to a quick warm-up, break a sweat, stretch, then do our walk-through. It's usually about 8 to 10 plays of offense, 8 to 10 plays of defense against certain formations and just walking through them [at] the slowest speed possible, making sure everybody's in the right place.

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The walk through starts at 10:30, and we're off the field by usually 11:00. Maybe ice tub it again, shower up and head home, grab lunch [at 12:30], watch some college football for a couple hours. I'll usually head over to the hotel before home games, head over to the hotel at about 5:00 so I can meet the guys for dinner at the hotel, and then chapel's at 7:15.

So there's a team hotel where everyone meets?

Yeah, that's where we all spend Saturday night.

We have team chapel at 7:15 and our team meetings start at 8:00. They go from 8 to 9. At least seven times they've ended up with a highlight psych-up film from the previous week's game. And then we go down for snack, sometimes watch a little bit more film. I go up to my room and I'm usually passed out by 10:00.

Do you have roommates?

I have my own room. Some guys have roommates. They put me by myself; I guess they don't want me influencing anybody.

As in... "That guy's a little uneven?"

Exactly.

Sunday

Photo courtesy Jimmy Cribb/AtlantaFalcons.com

It's game day.

Game day I'll wake up about 8:15, head downstairs to grab my breakfast, back upstairs to shower, pack up.

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Is there a special game-day breakfast?

Yeah, this is pretty odd -- usually a huge bowl of oatmeal.

The biggest cereal bowl you can think of, fill that up with oatmeal; then a lot of fruit, vegetables and just, you know, drinking a lot of water and Gatorade. And then go back upstairs, shower up, go get in my car and head over to the Dome.

You are dressed in street clothes at this point?

Yeah, as I get there I a have to tape up my pads, put double sided tape on to prevent the offensive linemen being able to grab our jerseys; so I'll tape up my pads, read the game program.

Around what time do you get to the locker room?

Around 10:15 to 10:30. When I'm done reading the game program I begin getting loosened up by what's called an ART -- a guy using rapid acupuncture on me, active relief technique.

I stretch by myself in the training room and get my iPod, switch my iPod to the pre-game mix.

What's on your iPod?

Main Title theme from "Terminator 2," The Drowning Pool "Let The Bodies Hit The Floor," Public Enemy "Welcome to the Terrordome." And Metallica "2 x 4." I'll mix in a little 50 cent, ACDC...

Stretch, get up, put my pads on. To get my pads on I need our equipment manager. I think I might have the smallest jersey on the team. I just try to have it tight as a glove so that there's less to grab. So stuff my pads in them first and squeeze them on, then put on my war paint under my eyes.

I usually find myself pacing around the locker room and start to work my self into a bit of a frenzy.

What's on your mind at that point in time?

Just the violence that my body needs to have in every situation. How explosively and violently I react. I'll start thinking about some of those nature videos of cheetahs chasing down their prey, leopards, packs of wolves chasing down their prey. Just starting to get that picture. You know, putting myself in their shoes.

How would you describe the mental state?

I guess fury is the best way to describe it because playing defensive end to me is violence and fury. Every play is pin-your-ears-back, and even if it's a run down and you're trying to hit blocks, you're trying to run through the guys sternum. And then pass downs, you're trying to run around them, over them, any way you can to be as violent as you can. Football breaks out, that's when those cheetah videos come to mind and it's time to chase down your prey.

What happens just before kickoff?

We go out, do our warm up, we come back in for about 10 to 15 minutes and we'll go have a team prayer in the shower. Then I'll come back to my locker, say my personal prayer.

There's a bunch of us, we'll speak up. Usually four or five of us will say what we need to say and give thanks for the opportunity to go out there and do what we do and we'll break it up. I'll come in, say my own prayers to myself and then usually I like to go around and just give some type of slap on the shoulder, some type of fist bump to everybody on the team, just let them know that I got their back, we're together on this one. I do that while [listening] on my iPod and start to work up that fury even more.

Do you ever have any guest speakers?

We had Jimmy Carter in the locker room last week, and [he said] "I'm proud of you," the state was [proud] of us and he just wished us well, that's pretty cool.

And then coach will come out, he's as fiery as anybody on the team which is pretty awesome. So he'll come out and just give his couple minutes of what type of things we need to do to win that game. We'll break it down to team right there and take the field. The one thing that coach Mora has done that I think is great is we don't do individual introductions anymore -- we get introduced as the Atlanta Falcons, and I think that's a great thing.

Down the tunnel, we gather at midfield. Myself or Alge Crumpler, or Brooking, or Mike, we'll say something to the team, we'll break it down right there and get ready for the "Star Spangled Banner" and get things rolling.

Okay, let's talk about halftime.

Half time is back into the locker room grab my energy drink ... it's a thicker energy drink, and about five or six of those orange slices. Just like Little League soccer, grab the orange slices, chow down a bunch of those, drink my Gatorade drink, then we meet as a defense. Talk over things defensively. We break up into a defensive line, talk about our line, what we could do, what we can improve on in the second half, and that's it. Got a couple of minutes, coach Mora will come in, break us down again, take the field.

During the game, do you hear the things fans are yelling?

Not really in home games so much as away games, because it's a lot quieter and they have choice words for you behind your bench. But that's something you kind of just zone out. If someone comes up with something creative about you or any member of your family you usually get a pretty good chuckle about it and you don't even pay them any attention. You may cop a smirk.

What happens after the game?

After the game try to get undressed as quick as you can, get in the showers, shower up and by the time you get back you usually got a bunch of cameras and reporters waiting for you at your locker so you spend your time with them and give them your thoughts on the game.

We check in with the trainers, throw ice bags on anything you need iced and then go out and meet whoever. My girlfriend and her parents or my parents or any of my guests at the game will be waiting outside the locker room for us. Then sign, I don't know, about about 100 autographs right outside the door. Get on my way and come home and usually go out for dinner on Sunday night, particularly after wins, just a little celebratory dinner.

Then come home and slowly start passing out from exhaustion. Probably the hardest part of my week honestly is Sunday night. I'll fall asleep early from being tired, but then I'll wake up at 1 or 2 in the morning and as soon as I start thinking about one play from the game, it's over. I am up running every play from the game in my mind over and over and over again. I usually don't sleep too well on Sunday nights.

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