Knee injuries can end careers. You’d think double knee surgery in the offseason might have affected Akeem Ayers’ expectation of playing football the following year. And they did — halfway through last season, the Tennessee Titans traded him to the New England Patriots, who (in case you’ve been living under a rock) went on to win the Super Bowl. Key to that victory: Ayers made one extraordinary play by stopping Marshawn Lynch, head-to-head, at the 1-yard line. Moments later, the Patriots took home the title.
Now on the St. Louis Rams, as the only player with a Super Bowl ring, Ayers faces a whole new series of challenges … and opportunities. Ayers has demonstrated, time and again, that he knows how to turn obstacles into advantages. The body may be prone to injury, but the mind is a more resilient muscle. Just ask Ayers … or anyone in Seattle. We sat down with Ayers to ask about his strategy for the season.
What’s it like to go from Super Bowl favorite to division underdog?
“The underdog mentality is actually better. It’s a lot easier to stay focused. And being a new member of this team, coming straight off the Bowl win with New England, the guys here wanna know what it takes. They want to know what to do to prepare for playing at that level, so it’s been great to lend some insight as to how things were done back there. This is one of most talented teams I’ve been a part of. Everyone on television has something to say, but internally, we don’t compare ourselves to other teams, even our own from the past. Every team, every season, is a new one.”
On a personal level, though … how do you face overwhelming odds?
“I’ve played through injury. I know I can be better than before. Recovery being as tough as it is sometimes, it’s easy to get frustrated. You gotta stay positive, whether with injuries, life, your team record, whatever. Knowing you can overcome that is powerful. Whatever happens, I can overcome it. Even on a losing season, you’ve still gotta love the game, have fun with it and make big plays.”
How about when you’re going up against your old UCLA teammates?
“It’s fun! Especially the other linebackers, we keep in touch … constantly trying to one-up each other. And yeah, coming off a Super Bowl win is great, but that’s really just offseason bragging rights. It doesn’t actually change anything … everyone else has to wait around a whole year to play you again. People make it this huge spectacle, but it’s really just fun and games, a kind of feeling that transcends the sport. It’s what keeps me coming back for more each time. Better each time.”
I’m sure some things have changed since then. How about your diet?
“In high school, you just eat whatever. College football helped turned that around. It’s really about your awareness of it all. Everyone grows up different and figures out real nutrition at one point or another. It’s just as important as your physical training and overall mindset. One thing they didn’t have in college, though, were Quest Bars and Quest Protein Powders. Their bars and shakes are great because they don’t taste like you’re “eating right” all the time … it’s more like a cheat snack. But it’s not!”
Football is a short season. The Rams are already fighting to stay alive. Does that change your approach?
“That’s fine. It shouldn’t be a different approach at all. Everyone else can think what they want, but as a player, and as a team … it’s still just one game at a time. We’re not undefeated, but we’re doing all right. You’ve gotta take care of yourself early on, physically and in the standings, so you don’t fall behind too soon. Don’t wanna be that much of an underdog.”
And just for kicks … if you had to pick any former U.S. President, in his prime, to be your own team QB, who would you choose?
“President Obama looks like a pretty good athlete! I mean, there’s some shorter guys out on the field in that position right now. And we’ve got a pretty strong run game. We can punch it up the middle with [Todd] Gurley and top it off with a short, sweet presidential pass over the top! I’d put him around 13 for 23, 185 yards and one TD.”