OTR recently got a chance to chat with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants WR Michael Clayton. Oh, I should throw Super Bowl champion in there too because he earned a nice ring last year with the G-Men. Here’s the first part of our interview. (You can check out his answers to our Quick Questions here.)
Micah: You were with the Giants the last couple of years, are you still looking to come back to the NFL? Looking to move on in life?
Michael: Not quite yet. I had three surgeries after the season so I’m just getting back to 100%. For a team to give me an opportunity, of course I’d love to come back. I always had the dream of playing 10 years and if I could get that in that’d be great. But, as of now since that is not an option, I’m looking to make the transition.
Micah: Well, how are you feeling?
Michael: I feel great. I feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. 30-years old and I’m as strong as I’ve ever been. It’s a good feeling, I have my health now, either way it goes. My body feels great. I’ve put myself in a good position with training and having a lot of time to work on the things that I’ve needed to do. Things that over the years I haven’t had time to do with the NFL schedule. I’ve had that and I feel great.
Micah: Your rookie year was a great one, was that the best rookie year in Bucs history?
Michael: Yes, I broke a lot of records. Lawrence Dawsey was a rookie receiver who held some records. Mike Alstott had some rookie records. But, yeah, I did have some records and no one has surpassed them yet.
Micah: After that, it’s tough to keep those numbers up, but they did go down a bit from there, what do you think was the reason for that?
Michael: I think it was a lot of things that happened. My rookie year went the way it went because Joey Galloway got hurt the first week of the season against the Washington Redskins. I didn’t start until Game 4. We were losing some games and we needed something to ignite our fans. I was the first-round draft pick and going home to New Orleans and I got my first start and we got our first win. So it was something good to talk about even in the midst of us losing games. I think coach Gruden’s plan was getting me the ball.
My second year – and it went very well for me, just not too much for our team – Joey Galloway came back. And I think we got Ike Hilliard my second year, came on as a third-down receiver. You know, I was catching slants and short stuff all year. Not many huge plays but I just caught a lot of passes and kept the chains moving. Then Joey Galloway comes back and now he’s the No. 1 target and that pushes me to the No. 2 spot. And being in that spot, there weren’t a lot of balls to go around. Mike Pittman caught a lot of balls out of the backfield. Joey Galloway was the No. 1 target and throwing him the slant routes and the balls that I used to catch. And that kind of x-ed me out of an offense that was looking for an identity. That’s what happened there.
After that, people said I fell into coach Gruden’s dog house. You know, I’ve never had any issues or problems. I’ve always played hard and had a great relationship with my coaches and been respectful. But, you go through that ordeal and I didn’t know what that was all about. And then it was just the NFL was looking for somebody to blame. I got a lot of praise behind closed doors, but I got a lot of blame in the media. But, overall we just weren’t that good, weren’t winning many games. Had a lot of injuries. Had a lot of different quarterbacks I played with. I played with almost nine quarterback’s in my six-year tenure with the Bucs. There was a different quarterback…sometimes I had two or three quarterbacks in a year. As a receiver, that’s never a situation that’s going to give you those big numbers that you want. A lot of great receivers have suffered personal goals because of that. So that’s really what happened.
But for me mentally, after going through that for a few years being young, not fully devoting myself was another part of it. I felt that they weren’t committed to me and I lost that mental battle of not being totally committed to my job. It was a situation that I had to go through and had to mature from. Learn how to be the better man. Played special teams to redeem myself from the hole that I had for myself. I eventually got my job back by humbling myself and working my way back to the top by playing special teams. A lot of things happened and I learned a lot. It put me in position to play for the New York Giants for two years and win a Super Bowl. Because I was mentally prepared to be a true professional and lead older and younger guys. I was thankful for my tenure with the Bucs.
Micah: You want to take this opportunity to get back at Gruden and criticize his Monday Night Football performances?
Michael: [Laughs] I love Gruden on Monday nights! He’s always been a charismatic guy and there is no one who knows football like coach Gruden. And that’s just in all honesty. His preparation has prepared him to know all aspects of the game and speak in a manner that’s entertaining. He’s quite a character. People get to see that he’s a funny guy. I enjoy listening to him.
Micah: Who is the best WR in fooball?
Michael: Hmmm…I’m going to go with my little bro Victor Cruz. He’s a guy that has just hit the ground running. Any given day he can take it to the house. He can also move the chains as well. His route running, his separation and his ability to split the defense. He has everything you want. And on top of that he’s playing with one of the best QB’s. Eli is at the top of his game and has been for a few years. He brings out Victor’s greatness.
Micah: Is Eli the best QB in football?
Michael: I don’t know if he’s the best right now. It takes more than a QB to be the best QB. I will say that. And I don’t know if he is, but it seems that way because of the way the Giants rally around him. That’s a tough argument to say he’s the best. I say team-wise, that’s what makes the best QB. And the Giants are one of the most dangerous teams right now. I know how they can get on a roll. He’s one of the top, I don’t know about the best, but you could say he’s the best.
Micah: On Michael Vick, what is your reaction when you have a guy like this turning the ball over at an alarming rate? As a teammate you see this and then hear him say things after games like “I’m not a fumbler” and “everything happens for a reason”? A guy not taking responsibility after handing over games?
Michael: Well, I wouldn’t take it like that. As a teammate, when you know Mike Vick’s story and you know what type of leader he is, then you rally behind what he’s telling you. I don’t see that out of Mike Vick because that’s not his character; I know what type of person he is. You rally around him and find the things necessary to bring you to the next level. Because that’s your leader. He’s the type of player at any given day, can turn an organization around. Things aren’t going well for him right now, but that happens in football. It happened to Eli, turning the ball over with interceptions and the next year we’re in the running to do something great. I think with his running ability and now the passing ability that he has, I think they just need to get it under control and relax a little bit. The minute you start to question Michael Vick’s ability and his character, it will be the day that Philly has a great deal of problems. They just have to follow behind him like you would a Tom Brady. If Brady said that, people would still rally around him. Granted, Vick has never won a Super Bowl, but I think those guys still have the same respect as leaders.
Please be sure to check out Michael’s Generation Next foundation and see how you can get involved. It’s a great organization aimed at raising awareness and support for cancer.