On Pro Football
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The scout at the 1996 NFL Combine showed little tact and less football savvy.
"He told me to starting thinking about different line of work," said New England Patriots linebacker and special teams captain Larry Izzo of the first door to slam in his face as a pro.
Predictably, Izzo kicked that one in. The undersized but huge-hearted Patriot has been tackling obstacles and opponents in the NFL nearly every day since.
Now 33, with 12 seasons, three Pro Bowl appearances and three Super Bowl rings to his name, Izzo remains a stalwart on the NFL's best team. He and the unbeaten 2007 Patriots are ready to make their permanent mark in history at Super Bowl XLII at University of Phoenix Stadium tomorrow night.
"People might perceive me as an overachiever," said Izzo, who played five seasons in Miami before coming to the Patriots as a free agent in 2001.
"I feel very good about my abilities on the field. (Despite what the scout said), I've been given an opportunity to play the game I love. I just take every game, every play like it's my last. Everything I have is put into that play, then you move on to the next."
Cracking the NFL mold (Izzo's still considered too small at 5-10, 228 pounds) remains par for his free-spirited course.
Off the field, he's traveled to Kuwait and Iraq in support of the troops, made trips to Walter Reed Hospital to visit the wounded, spends time helping feed the poor and volunteers for the Special Olympics. His "Larry-oke" event in Boston has raised more than $400,000 for soldier's families in just two years.
On the field, Izzo has crafted the techniques in the kicking game, an art form he calls "organized chaos." His skills were worthy of Bill Belichick's eye back in '01 when the Patriots franchise, coming off a 5-11 season, was in desperate need of competent players.
He's been re-signed twice by the team, including his current one-year, $800,000 deal, which expires tomorrow night.
"I try not to think about the year (running out on his deal)," said Izzo, whose main contributions to the defense come only in goal-line situations. "To be able to play in four Super Bowls and hopefully win four ... maybe it will be more, that's the goal. I feel like I can still play at a high level and, hopefully, I'll have that opportunity here."
An understanding of the kicking game
Izzo left Rice University in his hometown of Houston with some unfinished business.
Sure, he was in Miami, living the high life of an NFL star with a high six-figure income and all the perks. But his dad, a military man, had pushed Larry to get a college education, not just play football. In the spring of 2002, a dogged Izzo earned his bachelor's degree in business.
The same tenacity and attention to detail remain the major reasons he's been able to achieve athletically at the highest levels.
"I think when you first come into the league, a lot of guys haven't covered a lot of kicks," said Izzo. "In high school and college, they were starters. I had covered some kicks in college because we needed the starters out there, so I came in with an understanding of it.
"I can't say I read returns well at first. It was more off instinct."
Izzo never stopped learning, a fact that keeps him one step ahead of the crowd, even now. Believe it or not, there is certainly a method to the madness.
"I study the game, but in the kicking game, you can't be overly cerebral — you end up with paralysis by overanalysis," he said. "It's still one-on-one, defeat your blocker and then make the tackle on an exceptional athlete. That's what makes the successful coverage player, whether you do it by anticipation because you've seen it and recognize it, or you just physically do it. I've depended on both."
These days, Izzo is one of the players in the locker room the younger athletes now admire and, more importantly, squeeze for information.
There was a time coming out of the University of Michigan in 2006 that Pierre Woods might have looked down on a Larry Izzo. After all, he was "just a special-teamer."
But Izzo and assistant coach Don Davis have helped lay the groundwork for players like Woods to take on the tradition of excellence they've already set.
"Larry's been a big influence," said Woods, New England's leading special-teams tackler with 22. "He taught me to love special teams, to realize as long as you contribute, it doesn't matter how. This is a dream, relish the moment. Give it your all."
Woods may be the heir apparent, but Izzo isn't ready to move on just yet. He thinks he's in the right spot, too.
"Age is the most overrated factor in football," said Izzo. "Our guys prove it every week. Our organization values experience and doesn't get to caught up into the age factor, because obviously we wouldn't be here without those players."
Wonder if that scout will be watching tomorrow night. Perhaps, he'll be busy — in a different line of work.
Izzo's NFL tale told on digital video
The following is the transcript of Larry Izzo's video vignette, part of the NFL's "Men under the helmet" advertising campaign. You can play the video by going online at www.NFL.com/superad.
Here are Izzo's words on his rookie preseason camp with Miami:
"I was an undrafted, rookie free agent out of Rice University in training camp with the Miami Dolphins.
Every day during training camp I was busting my butt in a desperation mode, trying to make that football team.
It was the second preseason game, at Chicago, Soldier Field, I think I had three or four tackles, two big hits on the kickoff return team.
We were sitting in a meeting room the next day watching the game film and Jimmy Johnson tells the team there's only one guy here in this room that's made this football team and he pointed at Dan Marino. 'I'm looking for 52 more guys.' So we go on, we watch the game film, and I was out there ballin' — big hits, three or four tackles. Finally after calling out my name three or four times throughout the film, Jimmy stops the tape and is like, 'Izzo, I want you to call your folks tonight, and you tell them you made this football team. So I've got two guys, and I'm looking for 51 more.' So that is when I knew that I had made the NFL."
Izzo: What to watch for on kickoffs
Don't run for the nachos or that 15th Buffalo wing on kicks and punts, says Patriots special teams ace Larry Izzo.
It's the best part of the game, says the Pats captain. Here's what he says to watch for in tomorrow night's Super showdown:
"There's going to be some big hits whenever special teams plays come up. Players are flying around at a high rate of speed. It's organized chaos. And things are going to be even faster in a game like this."