There aren’t many opportunities in life for a 6’4”, 300-pound offensive lineman to go unnoticed; it simply doesn’t happen. Yet, on a stormy July afternoon in lower Manhattan’s lavish Tribeca Grand Hotel, Nick Mangold effortlessly blended into a crowd of video game lovers whose attention rested solely upon UbiSoft’s Holiday lineup.
Despite towering over everyone in attendance, the New York Jets’ Pro Bowl center proved to be no match for the multitude of demos and previews UbiSoft brought with them.
Mangold played a secondary role to Panasonic’s high-definition plasma displays, featuring Assassin’s Creed II, Splinter Cell: Conviction, Red Steel 2, RUSE, and much more.
On the surface, the former first-round pick looks like he’d be more comfortable with an axe and flannel shirt in the middle of a forest. But the long blond hair and grizzly beard can only camouflage his jovial charisma for so long.
Within minutes, he’s encouraging everyone in close proximity to have their mind-blown by the uniqueness of the hotel’s restroom before they leave for the day.
The afternoon was one of palpable anticipation. While UbiSoft’s upcoming Holiday titles received well-deserved interest, any sports’ fan could tell Mangold’s mind was with football, the Jets, and the beginning of training camp in Cortland, NY.
The man appeared absolutely focused. The video games serve only as a momentary distraction for No. 74 as he makes his necessary adjustments prior to an arduous month of practice and preparation.
Discussing everything from Madden ratings to his arrival in New York following the Kevin Mawae era, Mangold makes it abundantly clear that, no matter what, football comes first.
Angel Navedo: What are your feelings on traveling to Cortland for training camp?
Nick Mangold: I’m excited. I’ve never gone away for training camp. This is my first time—high school, college, and pros—I’ve never gone.
AN: What about when camp was held in Hofstra?
NM: Well, I lived five minutes from there. If we had two hours at night, I was able to run home and catch dinner or something. Being four hours away from home is a whole new beast that I haven’t really wrapped my whole head around.
AN: You were invited to this UbiSoft Holiday Preview event. Do you consider yourself to be technologically savvy?
NM: I like to. I don’t know where I measure up to everyone else, but I like to believe I’m gadget and tech friendly. I’m a Blackberry guy.
AN: That hurts my feelings.
NM: (Spots my iPhone) But I’m an iPod Touch guy! The iPod Touch is awesome. I think it’s a great device for games and messing around. But for dealing with emails and everything, I pick Blackberry—with the actual keyboard and everything—hands down.
I can bang out a page-long email while I’m sitting, doing whatever. Touch screens, you know, I got fatter fingers. It’s not my thing.
AN: It definitely took some getting used to for me.
NM: I even tried the Storm. I’m just not a touch screen guy at all. I love it for playing games and stuff, but I keep them separate. If that requires me to carry two different things, I live with it.
AN: Given the love for technology, would you say it’s a hobby or a passion?
NM: (Contemplates for a moment) I gotta say hobby. Football is my passion. Tech, it’s like, right above a hobby. I love dealing with surround systems at home, messing with speakers and stuff like that.
AN: Always wanna go a little bit louder, huh?
NM: Yeah, always wanna go a little bit louder. I always wanna add more speakers somewhere. In college, I wired it so we had speakers outside on our porch. When we first got there, my roommate was like, “There’s no way you could pull that off.” I was like, “No, I’ll figure it out.”
It’s just one of those things. I always like messing with stuff. It’s not a passion, but its right below there—in between passion and hobby.
AN: Being a gamer is pretty big for you. I know you attended the Halo 3 launch party, too. How deep does this run for you?
NM: [The first] Halo you didn’t have online, right?
AN: Yeah. That’s the one where you needed to hook it up through a LAN connection.
NM: Right. We did that in college. My friend had a two-bedroom apartment and both of the guys had good TV’s. So we’d bring the Xbox over to his house, hook them up, and we’d play in different rooms. We were playing it all the time.
AN: Would it be safe to say you’re more into the Xbox than Playstation?
NM: I’m a 360 guy, I am. I have a PS3, but I was sold on Xbox because of Halo. That made the decision for me. Grand Theft Auto was another huge one, so I always had a Playstation around. Now they have it for Xbox—which is awesome—but that always kept me playing a little bit of the Playstation.
AN: Since there’s no more need for a LAN connection, do you find yourself playing online at all?
AN: Ever let anyone know who you are?
NM: Sometimes, but it depends. I was at a grade school and we were talking to a bunch of fifth graders. I gave them all my gamertag, which—in retrospect—was probably a bad idea, but we had fun with it that day. I kept it. I’ve had the same one for about five years now.
AN: Yeah, 800 credits to change it is rough.
NM: (Exhales) Yeah. I’m not changing it.
AN: Are you a Madden player at all?
NM: Yeah, I am a little bit. I play more games like Assassin’s Creed, Halo, Grand Theft Auto, and Call of Duty. Madden, for me, it’s not an escape. It’s what I do for a living.
AN: I hear you.
NM: Every once in a while I’ll play Madden or NCAA to become an offensive coordinator. I sit out there and just go five-wide all the time, change all the hot routes.
AN: But I thought linemen liked to run block? You wanna go out into pass protection?
NM: (laughs) Not my five offensive linemen. I don’t listen to them. Just like every other offensive coordinator, we’re just gonna throw the ball.
AN: What about the rating system? The whole thing this summer with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and DeAngelo Hall complaining about their Madden ratings is something you have to hear often in the locker room, right?
NM: Some guys are worried about it. You can hear it sometimes. There’s always some sort of arguing going on with whose Madden rating is higher than the others. I don’t care; I’ve never really looked at it.
AN: Oh, okay. If you did, I imagine you’d be glad to know you don’t have to worry about it. You’re the second highest rated center in the league, behind Kevin Mawae.
NM: Well, that’s awfully nice to know. There’s another “Thank you” note I gotta send out. But it’s something I’ve never really looked at or wondered about. I’ve heard too many people with the arguing, “Watch me! I should be a 76, not a 74!” I wonder, does it really matter?
But some people do care about it; there are some guys on the team who are passionate about what their Madden ratings are.
AN: Now, you were drafted as an immediate replacement to Kevin Mawae after he was released. How did you handle coming in knowing you’d be filling a role he defined?
NM: It was difficult coming in and having that kind of a player here before you. You have that hanging over your head. But I do appreciate Kevin. I’ve talked to him a couple of times when we play each other.
But he really set up the center position in New York. People really know about it because of Kevin and what he was able to do. I appreciate him alerting people to the position.
I’ve been fortunate to be able to follow in his footsteps, and hopefully give the fans something less to worry about having me in there.
AN: I don’t know how much you’ve spoken with Mark Sanchez since he’s been in New York, but there’s a belief that he faces a similar dilemma following Brett Favre. Is that realistic?
NM: I don’t know how it works with quarterbacks, but I imagine it could be something like that. But, you know, with Brett, it’s different.
Kevin had been here so long that he built up that fan base. Brett had a fan base because he’s Brett, me being one of them. I grew up watching him. But it’s not like he had the die-hard group following him after an eight-year career in New York.
AN: It’s definitely not Green Bay.
NM: Yeah, it’s a little different situation coming in.
AN: Say it’s an actual game day, what are you doing to psyche yourself up before the game?
NM: I pride myself on being a controlled-aggressive person. I’m not banging my head against the locker before a game. I’m more focused on who I’m going against and what I have to do. I’m slowly amping it up.
If you get all amped up at 8:00 in the morning for a 1:00 game, you’re spent by 10 and your day is ruined. I try to keep it mellow. I let the cold ball of nervousness that sits in your stomach grow so it explodes after the first play. Then you have all that energy throughout the game.
AN: Now, you said you think about the person you’re going up against. With training camp coming up, the next month will be spent lining up against Kris Jenkins for most drills. What’s it like going up against him, then facing the rest of the league?
NM: Going against Kris is horrible. I have to do it every day, sometimes two times a day, and it’s miserable. People that play against him—unless they’re in the division—only have to worry about him one Sunday.
I have to worry about him for a whole month, and then some during the season. It’s miserable.
AN: It sounds agonizing.
NM: He’s a great player. Going against him every day has helped me, especially last year. Being able to go to the Pro Bowl was due to his help, because going against Kris, you gotta be on top of your game every day. That was huge when going against everyone else in the league.
AN: So everybody seems a little bit easier after him?
NM: (laughs) Not everybody! But some people, yeah.
AN: Do you still see areas where you can improve when you watch yourself on game film?
NM: Oh yeah. There’s a ton of stuff. It’s amazing, you look at it and you’re like, “I don’t know how I got by doing that horrible of a job.” You look at it, and there’s times where you’re like, “Why would I do that?”
That’s a big focus of the spring and making sure I’m doing all the right things exactly at the right time. I think it’s great having Brandon [Moore] and Alan [Faneca] next to me. With their kind of combined experience around me—something like 20 years—it’s been great being able to bounce things off them.
AN: Brandon Moore was released momentarily at the start of the offseason. I know you have to deal with the business aspect of the game, but what was it like when you thought you’d be losing one of your guys on the line?
NM: It was tough. Brandon was here when I got here, you know? He’s been a great friend, and a great player next to me who’s helped me out a ton. That one-week period that he was gone was tough. I wondered, how am I gonna deal with him not being in the locker room?
But then we resigned him, and all was right with the world again. Having us five together for another year is going to be huge in making our game—pass and run—that much better.
AN: That chemistry is critical.
NM: Oh yeah. It’s huge.
AN: Given the wealth of experience around you, how much of an impact do you feel a coach has in cultivating a player’s talent?
NM: Well, it all depends on an individual player, first and foremost. But—especially in my situation—having Coach [Bill] Callahan come in, with the knowledge he had on offensive lines and offensive systems, was a huge help to my success. I try to give him credit every time that I can.
Having a good coach is huge. If you have a guy telling you exactly what you need to do and how to do it—and then you can be coachable and do it on the field—you have a great opportunity to do well.
AN: Do you feel like there’s somebody poised to have a breakout season this year?
NM: I haven’t really thought of that. Going through the spring, I’ve been more focused on the offensive line. We did well last year, so I would say the offensive line is poised to have a huge year. Being together for another season, we’re hopefully doing the right things.
AN: So, if everything works out, you feel like you guys can definitely open it up for the running backs again?
NM: When you have Leon [Washington] and [Thomas Jones] running, you don’t need to open it up that much. They get the job done. Having those guys back there and knowing that if you give them an extra inch, they’re gonna break it. Those guys back there are fantastic.
AN: It definitely sounds promising. Thanks for your time, Nick. I really appreciate it.
NM: Not a problem.