Behind The Helmet

When the cheering stops: A retired 30-year-old tells the truth on Peyton, Belichick and where the money goes

When the cheering stops: Retired pro on Peyton, Belichick & the money

Joseph Addai Peyton Manning
Joseph Addai and Peyton Manning shared a backfield for some of the Indianapolis Colts' most successful years. Now, Manning still checks up on him. Courtesy of Colts Talk
Joseph Addai
Joseph Addai is one ex pro who says he has plenty of money. Courtesy of Colts Talk
Bill Belichick
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Joseph Addai never saw eye to eye.
Joseph Addai Peyton Manning
Joseph Addai
Bill Belichick

It’s no secret I meet some amazing people on airplanes, Southwest Airlines specifically. That’s where I encountered Houston's tiara-wearing reality star Erica Rose, and most recently, former Indianapolis Colts running back Joseph Addai.

Sans Super Bowl ring and pads, this 30-year-old ex-NFL player is just a regular guy sitting in the middle seat to LAX, nice enough to share his Skittles.

Addai hardly talked football, unless I brought it up, and he made it very clear that football doesn’t define him. It didn’t back then and it definitely doesn’t now. That would become even clearer in a follow-up interview in Houston.

Running late because his Pilates class ran over, Addai came to lunch at Crave Sushi wearing jorts, a purple Anchorman shirt and purple Houston Astros hat. Admittedly Addai's love for the color purple stems back to his days at Louisiana State University. “I’m proud of my university, I feel like it made me who I am,” he says.

 "I’m a guy that has yet to touch the money I made in the NFL. We met on Southwest, not in first-class.” 

I was a little disappointed he wasn’t sporting his Super Bowl ring. Addai admits it doesn’t get much use. “I probably wore it for two weeks after I got it the first time and that was it. I promise you, I’m grateful for it, but I’m not that guy that needs attention,” he says.

Our interview was equal parts laughter, story sharing, talking about Houston sports and, of course, a crash course in Sushi 101 (Addai's just getting on the sushi bandwagon).

Shortly after Addai and I first met, he proposed to his longtime girlfriend of eight years. Like most guys, he’d be happy just going to the courthouse, but he knows how important that special day is to his fiancé.

“I want to see that smile on her face walking down the aisle," Addai says.

We didn’t talk about his party days or the women throwing themselves at him during the seven years he spent in the league — maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t. Addai was more interested in sharing the nonprofit work he's doing to help young kids from inner cities.

As for what he does now, Addai admits he doesn’t have a full-time job, but doesn’t need to. “I’m blessed to be in this situation," he says. "I’m a guy that has yet to touch the money I made in the NFL. We met on Southwest, not in first-class.”

Addai's focused on his work at Heritage Ranch Christian Children's Home, a nonprofit based in Baton Rouge that uses a Life Skills program alongside mentoring and service learning to impact children in crisis. He serves on the board of directors.

“Football, basketball, stuff like that is not real life,” Addai says. “Not everybody can have a career as a pro athlete, you might have two left feet and can’t play football, but if you and I both put in hard work in child education, we could both be teachers.

"It’s not reality to tell every kid he can be a professional football player, so I look beyond that. We need to teach our kids more than sports — that’s my mindset.

“The leaders in this world should be your parents and teachers and God, but it doesn’t go that way. If I’m a young child, I pay attention to what rappers are saying. It’s not right, but we do. Image is a must, that’s what this country has taught us.”

Then, Addai launched into a lengthy talk about his faith, something he's extremely passionate and vocal about.

Now a resident of Sugar Land, Addai was raised in Southwest Houston and he attended Sharpstown High School.

Football Role Model

Addai still takes inspiration from a close friend he played football with (LaJuan Moore) who was paralyzed during a game.  He’s “one of the most positive people I’ve ever met," Addai says. "He’s the one who gives me motivation, not the other way around.

"If he’s not upset losing his ability to walk, why am I complaining about small stuff?”

 "At the end of the day, I had my money and didn’t need to abuse my body to stay in for the long haul." 

As an ex-NFL player, Addai seems more free and unscripted with his words, not afraid to answer anything. He says what’s on his mind, whether it’s supporting controversial Texas A&M University star Johnny Manziel or his disagreements with Patriots coach Bill Belichick during his final year in the NFL. Addai refers to New England as "the team that let me go."

As for Manziel?

“He’s a child, he’s not God," Addai says. "Somebody makes a mistake and we blow it up. Sometimes we put too much pressure on guys and they have to live a certain way and that’s when they start turning crazy.

“For the record, I’m a big fan of Manziel."

Someone Addai won’t be cheering for anytime soon? Belichick.

When I asked what made him leave the league, Addai's tone changes. “Two things. I’m about to have my fifth knee surgery. After a while your body starts to feel a certain way. Belichick surprised me. If I was a person to complain, it would have been my word against his and it wasn’t worth complaining or fighting it.

"I never looked at football like a job, and didn’t need the money. A friend of mine was telling me about another ex-NFL guy that cried because he couldn’t even pick up his own son. I want to be able to play with my son. Eventually you just have to stop.

"At the end of the day, I had my money and didn’t need to abuse my body to stay in for the long haul."

 "I don’t need five cars. I know a guy in the NFL with 13 cars, and I’m not talking Hondas." 

Professional football's become too complicated and corrupted in Addai's view.

“In a perfect world, football wouldn’t be played on TV," he says. "For me, it attracts too much attention, a lot of times negative. Now, since you see me on TV, you think I’m not human and everything I do is supposed to be perfect. If I do something wrong, I’ll get blasted. But I’m human."

Post NFL, Addai admits he’s had a "strange" career. He didn’t start until his senior year at LSU, but still went in first round (30th overall) of the NFL Draft. “I definitely think my career was weird. I won (a) Super Bowl, made it to the Pro Bowl (2007), and at the peak, I did what a lot of other great running backs have done. My biggest story was injuries,” he says.

We get back to money, because anytime you talk to a professional athlete, you can’t help but wonder about their bank accounts.

“To be honest, I’m scared to lose my money, scared to be broke,” Addai says before adding he isn’t necessarily cheap, just “reasonable.”

Addai's biggest purchase after signing with Indy was a Range Rover. "I don’t need five cars. I know a guy in the NFL with 13 cars, and I’m not talking Hondas,” he laughs.

I remind the former LSU running back he has one more big splurge and Addai agrees that his upcoming wedding will probably be his biggest payout yet.

We move on to the topic of Indianapolis, as a city, as a home, as an organization. “I love the feel for that town — it’s a great place to raise a family," Addai says. "You know how you watch one of those old-time movies where somebody moves into the neighborhood and everybody brings over cake? That’s what happened, and they didn’t even know I was a ball player.

"I love Houston, but my next-door neighbor still doesn’t speak to me," Addai continues, joking to make a point.

As the food arrives, Addai gets sidetracked. “What is that green stuff?” I tell him wasabi and he recalls an Entourage episode where Ari's eating sushi with E. “I never knew what that stuff was. I’m getting an education,” he says.

As for guys in the league he still talks to, he mentions Jerraud Powers (who I also met on the plane with Addai), Robert Mathis, Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne. “He’s been the guy I’ve always looked up to,” Addai says of the recently injured Wayne.

You can’t talk Indianapolis Colts without talking Manning. “Peyton checks on me a lot,” Addai says of his former quarterback.

Is there an obvious change in Peyton since landing in Denver?

“It’s his wisdom," Addai says. "When I got to the Colts, Peyton was already amazing. You ever meet an old guy sitting on a porch with so much wisdom and you just want to sit there for hours and soak it all in? That’s Peyton. He has so much wisdom, he makes it look easy.

“Peyton proves it’s not necessarily a young man’s sport the way people always say. He’s playing now the way he did back then, but now he’s got the wisdom to back it up, which elevates his game that much more."

Rapid Fire with Addai

Favorite current LSU guys: Odell Beckham Jr and (Jarvis) Landry

Best running back of all time: Barry Sanders. At that time people probably say Emmitt Smith, but Barry didn’t have the same support. As a running back, you need your offensive line — Barry was straight talent.

Current running back: I love (Philadelphia Eagle LeSean) McCoy.

NFL Team: Cowboys because of back in the day with Emmitt, Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman

NBA: Rockets

Thoughts on Dwight Howard in Houston: He just has to play. Nightlife in Houston is good, I hope he doesn’t get caught up in it. I hope he proves all these haters wrong.

Baseball: I'm not big on baseball. I loved Jeff Bagwell, but it’s a long process.

Social Media Of Choice: Instagram.

There was one question I forgot to ask: Why on earth did a guy of your size, who got on the plane before me, choose a middle seat?