If you ask Deion Branch about his time in the NFL he would probably say that he was very blessed to be able to have played at the pro level. Ever since he was a kid he dreamed about making it to the NFL. In 2002 he accomplished that goal when he was drafted by the New England Patriots in the second round. He also learned a lot about the game under Coach John Smith where he played in college at Louisville.
Branch was named the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXXIX. He tied former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice and former Cincinnati Bengals tight end Dan Ross for the Super Bowl reception record with 11 catches for 133 yards.
Deion also does fantastic work off the field. He started up the Deion Branch Charitable Foundation, which is a non-profit organization whose mission is to offer support to children’s mental, physical and emotional well-being by assisting programs and initiatives aimed at improving their quality of life. The foundation is close to Deion’s heart as his son, Deiondre was diagnosed with Viral Meningitis at an early age. For more information on his foundation go to deionbranchfoundation.org.
I had a great talk with Deion about fatherhood, his foundation, and his time in the NFL.
Art Eddy: Before we talk about your foundation and fatherhood I want to talk about your time in the NFL. Take me back to your first game in the league. What will you always remember about that game?
Deion Branch: My first game was the Pittsburgh game my rookie season. There were a lot of great moments in that one game for me. I wanted to have the opportunity and privilege to play the game of football. I dreamed of doing that when I was a kid. I was in the position at that time of actually doing it.
One of the things that I took from that game was being in the receiver’s room with Troy Brown, David Patten, and my quarterback, Tom Brady. These were great guys that I was grateful to be around. I am still very close with them. That is the stuff that I cherish.
One big thing that stood out from that game in particular was my block that allowed Donald Hayes to get into the end zone. I had a peel back block on Lee Flowers. I’ll never forget this story. I kind of took him out. I hit him pretty good. I think I knocked him out for a couple plays. He thought Troy Brown hit him. (Both laugh.)
He told Troy that he was going to kill him. Troy said, ‘That wasn’t me. It was Deion.’ (Both laugh.) That was the funniest thing ever. We still talk about that till this day. Troy, my main man. That is my guy. He sold me out.
AE: What was the transition like from college to the pro level?
DB: It wasn’t a big shock to me. I thought that Coach Smith and his staff did great job of grooming a lot of the guys. We have had a numerous amount of guys that have come through Louisville that have gone to the NFL. They did a great job of preparing us on the field.
Also my strength coach, Joey Kenn. He was one of the guys who had been in the game for a long time. He pulled me aside and told me all the things that he knew that I would need to know before heading into that draft. He told me how much to weigh. He always knocked me on my height. He said we can’t do anything about your height, but your weight we can work on. I was sitting around 180 pounds. He told me that I would never get drafted being around 180. I put on 12 pounds for him. He knew what he was talking about. It was just having the right guys around me.
AE: Playing with a quarterback like Tom Brady must have been a wide receiver’s dream. It seems you two had both great verbal and non-verbal communication on the field. When you are waiting for the ball to be snapped was there a look or hand signal that would be just for you when Tom called an audible?
DB: No, because as receivers as we break the huddle we stare at Tom with a look of give me the ball. (Both laugh.) I could see Troy doing it. David Givens and David Patton as well. We all give that look like hey I am open before the play even happens. I think that all the preparation that goes into these games you have an idea of what will happen.
Coach Belichick did a great job with the staff as far as making sure that they threw all kind of different things at us at practice. Once we realized what different looks there were in practice we knew what Tom would do with the ball in a game. You have a good idea in your head where the ball will go.
DB: I think that they are all equal. Hold up. Let me back up. The first one you are on that high. Once you get to it again that same feeling comes back. I don’t want to say that they are all equal, but I don’t treat this game any different just because it is the Super Bowl.
Overall the first one was a great one. It was my second year in the league. I was like man this is crazy. You have guys that have played 15 years in the league and have never made it to a Super Bowl. Here I am in my second year in the league and take full advantage of it. We won the game. We get to go back and have the opportunity to win it again the next season. You realize how crazy that is.
AE: And win it!
DB: And win. That’s right. You have Buffalo who went four times, but they lost all four. I truly appreciate the fact that I had the opportunity to play in both of them. I had the opportunity to go ahead and win another one in 2012 in Indianapolis. I wish we would have gotten that one too. The Giants were a better team that game.
AE: You left the Patriots to play the Seattle Seahawks, but returned to New England. What was it like when you came back to the Patriots at the start of the 2010 season?
DB: Yeah, that was crazy. The whole process was crazy. When I left I left on good terms. There was no bad blood between me and the organization. We just couldn’t come to an agreement. I wish we could have, but we didn’t. That stuff happens. That is what is going on nowadays. It is even worse now. I can’t believe the amount of things that are going on in the NFL.
I got to go to another great organization in Seattle. I played four good years under Coach Holmgren, Coach Mora, and Coach Carroll. The first week of the trade Randy Moss gets traded to Minnesota. Then I get traded back. It was so crazy, but it was good to be back in that atmosphere and be back with those guys. Being with the guys that I started with were the guys that I wanted to finish with. That was great. The timing was perfect.
AE: Let’s talk about your foundation. Tell me what inspired you to create it and what are some of the events you guys do each year?
DB: My foundation started back in 2004. For those who want to check it out it is deionbranchfoundation.org. A lot of guys start their foundation for different reasons. Mine was near and dear to me because my son, Deiondre, one of my twin sons, was diagnosed with viral meningitis a couple days out of the hospital. I felt like there was a need for me to help not only my kid, but other kids who have been affected by this disease. That was my whole reason.
We have been going on pretty strong since then. Each and every year my wife and I make sure, well she makes sure that she gets me going. (Both laugh) I don’t want to take any credit away from her. My job is to make sure that I show up. She pretty much runs everything. She does a fantastic job of making sure that we donate to the right organization. We get out and do charitable work that we all should do in our community.
Each and every year we go Christmas shopping for underprivileged kids. For Thanksgiving we donate items and treat families to a Thanksgiving dinner. The past three years we have been doing a mini marathon down in Louisville, Kentucky. All of the proceeds will be given to our foundation and then donated to various organizations. Every year I do two football camps. One is in Louisville, Kentucky. The other is in Albany, Georgia where I am from. (My wife) keeps me pretty busy. (Both laugh.)
AE: Now switching to fatherhood, what are some of the morals you look to pass on to your children as they grow up?
DB: I always talk to them about being very grateful and thankful. Being very appreciative of being able to wake up each day and breathe the air that we breathe, but also to give. Everyone wants something. What have you given though? My grandmother taught my mom. My mom pushed it on me, my mom and my dad.
You never know what you can do to somebody by giving. It doesn’t have to be money. It could be speaking to people. It is yes ma’am or no ma’am. Things like that. You just never know what it does for someone else. It could be taking a kid who never spent fifty dollars on anything at a store. It kills me. I feel like there is so much money in America, but we have so many people who are poor.
Why can’t all those so called rich people give to somebody? I feel like we should do a better job of helping those in need. It is one thing that I am always preaching to my kids. Stop worrying about getting and give. I am not saying to give your last, but you can give. I promise you can do that.
AE: What are some of your traits that you see in your children?
DB: I am always talking to my wife (laughs) that our kids are fast. I know that she ran track, but this is what I did for a profession. I was paid to run away from guys. (Both laugh.) She ran track at the University of Louisville with me as well. She is a stellar athlete. She won Athlete of the Decade. I am trying to find out who was on the panel that voted? (Both laugh.) I am not hating on her, but who was on the panel? How did she get Athlete of the Decade with all the athletes in school?
She has always tried to take credit for our kids being fast. My girls are great gymnasts. They are the future of our USA Team. I promise you that we are talking about this now, but ten years from now you are going to be like he said it. Those girls are very strong minded and got a lot of passion.
For my twin sons you can see the skill set in them. It is hard to say because I am pushing my son. I refuse to give him credit for anything. I tell him that he just has to do better. He is doing great though.
AE: What advice do you have for new dads out there?
DB: The most important thing is to spend as much time as you can with your kids. I know that as boys we were taught to provide for our family and to make sure that food is on the table. You are there to provide and to protect. These days though kids need us around a lot more. There were days where I would come home and I was very tired. My girls would want to play with me. I would tell them l would in ten minutes. Before you know it those ten minutes were gone.
In my heart I ask myself did I just reject them or am I just really that tired? I have realized since I am no longer playing anymore how important it is for me to take my kids to school. I fight with my wife about picking them up. She will ask if she can pick them up. I tell her no. I have been playing ball for many years. You have been doing everything. I want to do something. That is what it is about. Spend as much time you can with your kids as you possibly can. I know that you might be tired, but you never know what that one moment will mean to your child.
Life of Dad Quick Five
AE: What is your favorite family movie you guys like to watch together?
DB: My kids are still into “The Lion King.” So it is that movie and “Frozen.” That soundtrack plays all day in the house.
DB: No. You got to understand there are too many women in the house. I let them do their thing. I can hear all the songs that they are singing. We might joke around in the car when we are going to church, but as far as favorite family songs, probably not.
AE: Describe the perfect family vacation.
DB: We went to St. Lucia last year. We had a great time last spring break. It was almost to the point where we were like this is our location. This is where we were going and we brought our kids. It was all inclusive. When you think of St. Lucia you think of honeymoons, but they have these special locations for the entire family. I think that it is the thing that we will continue to do.
AE: Did you have sports hero when you were growing up?
DB: Nah. There were some guys that I would look up to, but I wouldn’t consider them my heroes. I have always considered my dad as my hero. Jerry Rice and Andre Rison were great. Being from Georgia Andre Rison was that guy for me. “Rocket” Ismail. He was probably one of my favorite players.
AE: Do you still have the football that you scored a touchdown with in Super Bowl XXXVIII?
DB: Yes sir. I peeped this from Emmitt Smith. I have all my touchdown balls and all the balls that were given to me as game balls. I remember him saying to keep all your footballs. This is for your kids and your kid’s kids. It is an accomplishment for them. There is one ball that I don’t have. I scored a touchdown a 2012 Divisional Game against the Colts. I threw it into the stands. If someone can call me and give me that ball back that would be great. (Both laugh.)
Follow Deion on Twitter at @deionbranch84
Check out his Facebook page here!
Learn more about Deion’s foundation here!