Veteran special teams ace Nate Ebner, who joined the Giants this season after eight years with the Patriots and is a former U.S. national rugby player, kicks around some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: Describe the difference in personalities between Bill Belichick and Joe Judge?
A: (Laugh) I need to be careful answering that question. … I’d say Joe likes to have more fun (laugh). But when he’s serious, he’s definitely serious, no question about it. I think Bill’s obviously serious all the time too, but I think Joe’s a little more intent on building real relationships with the people that he’s working with as far as his players are concerned.
Q: Give me an example of Judge’s intensity.
A: I just think of something like a coaching point that he’s been driving home, and when you do it right, he’s intense about showing the team that that’s a great example that we’ve been talking about, about how to do it right. When you do it wrong, and we’ve been talking about it, he’s just the same way. He’s a great teacher. There’s some serious key points that he wants to drive home, and when he sees those examples, he’s intense on showing the good ones and the bad ones because he’s trying to make that picture as clear as possible for his students if you will to learn the key points he’s trying to teach.
Q: Why was he a good hire to take over a team he will be trying to teach to win again and change the culture?
A: He comes from a place that is known for having a winning culture. And he’s rooted in that, whether you want to talk about the Patriots for nearly a decade, or you want to talk about Alabama.
Q: Xavier McKinney mentioned that the players like Joe Judge.
A: I think when you really know where you stand and things are very clear about what’s expected, that makes it easier to operate, and Joe’s very good with that. It’s kinda refreshing for an NFL coach (laugh), he does care.
Q: You won three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots.
A: When you open that box, and there’s that ring in it shining, and it says “world champions” with your name on it, that’s a special moment, it’s a special feeling. I guess it all comes to fruition at the end opening that box. One of the better moments in my life. It makes all the work worth it.
Q: Super Bowl XLIX, the thrilling win over the Seahawks. What comes to mind?
A: Aside from Malcolm Butler (laugh)? There were two situations where we probably could have given up punt blocks that would have entirely changed the game. As a special teams player, that’s something that sticks in my head and stuck in my head as I’ve become more of a veteran and played more games. My unit would have been at fault for that. But it didn’t happen. So I just think about how close it was and I think about us being down by two scores [24-14 in the fourth quarter].
Q: Super Bowl LI, the historic rally an overtime win over the Falcons?
A: I think about the comeback, [down] 28-3. And I think about the locker room at halftime, and how we all believed we were coming back, we really didn’t question it. There were no low heads, we knew we could claw back just one play at a time, I think about how it began to happen. We were kind of breaking Atlanta’s will, and you could feel it happening, and there was nothing they could do about it. I went to the Olympics in 2016, then I had an All-Pro season and then we won the Super Bowl.
Q: The Super Bowl LIII defensive struggle over the Rams?
A: I had [injured] my ACL in 2017. That was awesome for me after such a big injury. That defense was one of the best defenses I’ve ever been a part of. In the biggest game of the year we held one of the highest-scoring offenses to three points.
Q: Describe the first time you experienced the confetti coming down.
A: It just made me reflect on how far I’d come to get where I was. Just the journey.
Q: What was Patriots owner Bob Kraft like?
A: Amazing person. I got the super-special opportunity to go to Israel with him last year, and see what he’s doing in a country so far away that means so much to him, and what he does for the Jewish community. He’s a special human being.
Q: What was your reaction when Tom Brady left for Tampa Bay?
A: Nothing shocks me in the world of the NFL. Teams do what’s best for them every year, really every week and sometimes every day. Players need to do what’s best for them as well. I don’t want to say I’m really not surprised, but it’s just weird (laugh) seeing him in a different colored uniform.
Q: How do you think he’ll do in Tampa?
A: I think he’s Tom Brady. I think he’s gonna do just fine. Having Gronk [tight end Rob Gronkowski] is not gonna make that situation any worse (laugh).
Q: What was Brady like as a teammate?
A: Golden Boy Tom. Really just led by example. If you ever felt sorry for yourself and you looked over and saw that 40-plus-year-old working the way he does, you straighten yourself up real quick and get to work. It’s great to have a future Hall of Famer like Tom Brady to lead by example in the locker room for people to just see it. … Tom didn’t say a whole lot. He just got after it every … single … day.
Q: What was Gronk like as a teammate?
A: Freak of nature. … A bubbly, fun, childish personality that people gravitated towards.
Q: What are your early impressions of Daniel Jones?
A: He’s taller than I thought (laugh). Works hard, great teammate, really selfless person, obviously loves playing ball, too.
Q: His arm?
A: From watching him last year, he can throw the ball, man. And he’s faster than you think, too. He can run a little bit.
Q: Saquon Barkley?
A: He’s a funny dude. All the talent in the world. Joe’s asked a lot from all the players, and can see the way those guys have responded, especially DJ and Saquon.
Q: Why is this quote meaningful to you? — “Not all hustle is loud, sometimes hustle is just you, all alone, grinding, while no one hears a sound.”
A: One of my buddies’ mom sent me that, and she said, “This made me think of you.” It’s not about the noise, it’s not about telling everybody what you’re doing, it’s just about doing it every day consistently because that’s who you are, not because you need to show me.
Q: Another quote: “Actions always prove why words mean nothing.”
A: There’s nothing truer than that. Until you do something, it’s just talk, it’s just words, it’s just hot air, it’s just a bunch of noise. Jim Tressel at Ohio State, he would talk about how, “You are what you consistently do.” A lot of times we talk about the type of things that we have blah-blah-blah. But what kind of faith do you walk in? What type of character do you walk in every day, how do you treat people every day, how do you go about your work every day?
Q: Describe your on-field mentality.
A: I don’t think you can say my on-field mentality is the same when I’m running down on a kickoff versus when I’m protecting a punt in a gotta have-it situation in the fourth quarter.
Q: What is your on-field mentality covering a kick?
A: When I was younger, it was reckless abandonment, but as I’ve gotten older, I just try to play with as much speed and control … that line, wherever that is, of almost being you’re out of control because you’re running too fast but pushing up against that line where you can just barely maintain control of your body. I don’t know what mindset that is, but that’s what I think about. And at the end of that, when you engage with a blocker, or you make a tackle, you can add violent.
Q: Which one of your special teams duties do you like best?
A: The speed of an NFL kickoff, there’s no play like that in sports. I’ve played defense, I’ve played rugby in the Olympics, I’ve played other sports — there is no play in any sport that you have the speed of an NFL kickoff. You just gotta want to get the guy with the ball, and you’re not gonna let anybody stop you. But there’s no better feeling than blocking a punt, you know? On kickoff return, there’s no better feeling than knocking a guy on his back and scoring a touchdown, and having a great block while you’re at it, as a team. Punt protection is very intricate and detailed, and I feel like I’m the quarterback out there in a way trying to make the right calls and get guys in the right places to make sure we protect the punt, ’cause blocked punts can change games. There’s aspects to every phase of special teams that I love about ‘em.
Q: Describe your Olympics rugby experience.
A: The real experience was the six months grinding trying to make that team (chuckle), and that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. The aerobic capacity that you have to be able to maintain to play at that level, it was hard. … I think of the opening ceremonies, the cheers that we got just because we were representing the United States of America, it was something so much bigger than myself that I was a part of.
Q: Why did you fall in love with rugby after your dad introduced you to it?
A: At the end of the day, I would just put in the phrase of the elegance of the game. It’s not over-coached because they can’t stop and call plays every second. They don’t really call fouls. It’s a violent game, and you gotta kind of manage yourself when you’re out there, and there’s no one to protect you except your teammate. You gotta leave whatever’s happened in the past of the game or whatever behind and move on to the now and stay in the now. It’s free flow when they all come together, the beauty of the passing, the speed, the violence all combined. It’s a cool game, very cool.
Q: Where were you on 9/11 and after walking on at Ohio State, what were your emotions running into the field carrying the flag ahead of your teammates?
A: I was in seventh or eighth grade. I remember we were all kind of like watching it on television, not really understanding what was going on. … I carried the flag out at Ohio State on the 10th year anniversary of 9/11. By then I had represented the U.S. in rugby in the Junior National team three times or so. I’ve always been very patriotic. I really believe we have a choice to live in whatever country we want. We live in the best country in the world. When I started running out with that flag and you start to hear that roar … it was a different type of crowd noise that time around. It wasn’t for me, but I was the one carrying the flag.
Q: Boyhood idol?
A: My dad.
Q: What drove you as a boy?
A: I was always competitive, but I think just wanting to fulfill whatever potential there was. I wanted to be the best version of me.
Q: Who are athletes outside of football and rugby you’ve admired?
A: Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
Q: Five dinner guests?
A: Abraham Lincoln, Joe Rogan, Dave Chappelle, Seth McFarlane, Mark Cuban.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: “Blade Runner 2049.”
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Leonardo DiCaprio.
Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?
A: The Weekend.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: Mexican food.
Q: You were how old when you lost your father, Jeff — who was murdered on Nov. 13, 2008, during a robbery attempt at his auto salvage shop?
A: It was a month before my 20th birthday. At that point, he was really a best friend by then.
Q: How would you describe him as a man and as a father?
A: As a man, I would say he was genuinely who he was. He was super kindhearted to especially those who he loved, but he was real. He did him, and if you didn’t like it, that’s your problem, not his. As a father, he was pretty protective looking back on it … but he’s the best father you can get, honestly. I sit there and think about what makes a good parent? And to me it’s the time that they invest in their children. And he invested all the time that he had. He could have done his own thing, but he put everything he had into me. That is why he was the best dad I’ve ever seen. To me, I lost my hero.
Q: When are the times you are most likely to think about your father?
A: It’s not like an outside force like someone else saying something to me or a situation, but when you start feeling sorry for yourself a little bit, when that starts to happen, he seems to show up a lot more in my head to straighten me out.
Q: So he’s a voice in your head even now?
A: Oh yeah.
Q: And you think about him every day?
A: Whether it be in the offseason just training or getting myself to work when I don’t feel like it or whatever I deal with or handle, he taught me so much about life, there’s just so many instances on a daily basis that come up that however I handle them is mainly because of the way he taught me.
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