One of my favorite things about fall is football. I look forward to lazing on the sofa with the family on Sunday afternoons to watch the Minnesota Vikings play. And as a fan, I’m sometimes curious about what goes through the minds of professional athletes under pressure–center stage players in one of the most popular sports. So when I had an opportunity to sit down over coffee with former Minnesota Viking and Edina resident, Ben Leber–a down-to-earth Midwesterner with a great smile and an easygoing demeanor–I asked him about his football career and his burgeoning broadcast career. You’ll find my full interview with Ben Leber in the September issue of Edina Magazine.
But I saved one of the best stories Ben shared about his rookie days in the NFL for the pages of this blog. So next time you kick back on your couch with a bowl of chips and the TV remote clicking between football games, you might have some idea what the players could be thinking…
Ben Leber was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 2002. He says a few months had passed before he fully realized what it meant to be playing in the NFL. His plan had been to keep his head down and try not to worry about being overwhelmed by the experience. The strategy seemed to be working. Leber was having a good rookie year, leading the league in sacks and feeling great.
Then came the seventh game of his rookie season against the Oakland Raiders. Leber remained un-phased on the field up until a play was called that required him to move out and cover the wide receiver.
“I was going through my mental checks about the play,” Leber says, “when I looked up and saw Jerry Rice. Of course I knew Rice was on the [Raiders’] team but in that moment, something went off in my head.” Leber remembered watching Joe Montana and Jerry Rice in previous Super Bowl games and suddenly wondered to himself, ‘What am I doing here, two yards away from a Hall of Famer? This is crazy.’ Time seemed to stand still for Leber and he forgot the play. He views that moment as his initiation into the best football league in the world.
I just love that story. Don’t you? Ben Leber’s humor, honesty and ability to articulate his pursuit of success as a professional athlete and now as a broadcast personality are winning traits similar to many of the great people I meet in Edina.
Tune in to catch Ben Leber on FM 100.3 KFAN's Power Trip on Monday and Friday mornings and on Wednesdays with Paul Allen. Leber also covers Conference USA and Big 12 college football for the Fox Sports Network. You can follow him on Twitter @nacholeber