Vikings Punter, Chris Kluwe Interview
Chris Kluwe played college football at UCLA. He totaled 154 punts, 6,624 punt yards, with an average of 43 yards per punt. He entered the 2005 NFL Draft, but went undrafted. He signed with the Seattle Seahawks and was cut before the regular season. The Minnesota Vikings claimed him and he ended up as the starting punter and has remained as the starter since 2005. He is not afraid to speak about his love for video games, or his band, ‘Tripping Icarus’.
Chris Kluwe : This is Chris Kluwe, punter for the Minnesota Vikings, and you’re listening to www.prointerviews.org
Announcement : My name is Max Strauss with www.prointerviews.org/, www.facebook.com/ProInterviews/ and www.twitter.com/ProInterviews/. I’d like to welcome you to the interview with P, Chris Kluwe. Kluwe attended UCLA from 2000 to 2004. He entered the 2005 NFL Draft, but went undrafted. He was offered a chance to try out with the Seattle Seahawks at training camp. After being cut, he was claimed off waivers by the Minnesota Vikings. He has been the Punter of the Vikings ever since. He has yet to make the Pro Bowl, but plans to in the coming years. Here is the interview with Vikings Chris Kluwe.
Strauss : How do you connect with your fans?
Kluwe : I connect with them mainly through twitter and also at training camp. Minicamp is another great place. I try to stop to sign autographs for anyone who asks for one.
Strauss : What was it like playing high school football?
Kluwe : It was fun. I never played football before high school, so it was different. It was another sport, and I’ve always enjoyed sports and doing well at them, so football was really jsut a continuation of that.
Strauss : Did the soccer team ever try to recruit you?
Kluwe : My high school team wanted me to play Varsity Goalie during my freshmen year, but I didn’t want to play Goalie anymore because it was hurting my knees. I played on the freshman team, but then I got injured. And then during my sophomore year, I tore my ACL in my left knee playing football, so I couldn’t play soccer. After that, I had to pretty much make a decision, football or soccer, because they kind of overlapped. It looked like football for me was the way to go, so I stuck with football.
Strauss : So you got hurt playing soccer then?
Kluwe : Yes. During my freshmen year, I tore my hamstring playing soccer and during my sophomore year, I tore my ACL playing football.
Strauss : Oh okay, so what was it like getting recruited to play at UCLA?
Kluwe : It was cool. They recruited me at the start of my senior year. It was a lot of fun watching people have to write college admission essays, and I didn’t have to. I kind of enjoyed that.
Strauss : Did you walk on at UCLA or did you have a scholarship?
Kluwe : No, I had a full ride. I punted really well my junior year and was playing well during my senior year, so they offered me a full scholarship.
Strauss : What was the transition like to UCLA?
Kluwe : It was different, having to be away from my parents and all of that. It’s tougher to make yourself go to class when you don’t have to go, and just getting adjusted to college life was different. I figured it out after a year or two, then it was just like anything else.
Strauss : Do you have a favorite memory?
Kluwe : Not really, just playing and being in the games, and just being in college. But my favorite memory would be meeting my wife.
Strauss : What was the best punt of your collegiate career?
Kluwe : During my junior year, we were playing University of Cal at the Rose Bowl. I was punting out of our end zone and I hit a seventy yard punt that would have gone more like ninety but when it hit the ground, it went backwards. It was funny because right when I kicked it I looked up, and saw the returner turn and just start sprinting backwards and he still couldn’t get to it so that was pretty cool.
Strauss : Even though punters aren’t expected to get drafted, did you have any expectations to be drafted?
Kluwe : No. The teams I had been talking to after my senior season was done, said they were either going to ‘draft me in the sixth or seventh round’ or ‘pick me up as an undrafted free agent’, which is how it ended up happening. Seattle was one of the teams that said they were interested in me. They called me up during the draft, and told me there was a guy they were interested in in the seventh round and if he was there, they would take him, but if not they would take me with their seventh. As soon as the draft ended, Seattle called and said, ‘Hey, we would like you to come to camp as an undrafted free agent,” and I said cool.
Strauss : What was your first training camp with the Seahawks like?
Kluwe : It was a little intimidating and obviously different just the fact that you’re out there on an NFL field. Some of these guys have been playing in the league for three, four, or seven, eight years, and they are names that you recognize. Like you go out on the field ,and there’s Matt Hasselbeck at QB. It was like, I know that guy and I’ve heard his name, and so it was kind of weird at first, but then you just get used to it. It becomes a job like any other. They aren’t going to keep you around if you’re not punting well, so I tried to shake that off as quickly as possible.
Strauss : Did you have a welcome to the NFL moment? Did you have to go through hazing or anything?
Kluwe : No, I got pretty fortunate. When I was with Seattle in the preseason, Coach Holmgren had a no hazing policy. His view was everyone is there to try and help you win so why alienate guys on the team. When I got picked up by Minnesota, the season had already started and hazing was pretty much done, so I never really had any of that for which I’m grateful.
Strauss : Have you been a part of it now that you’re a veteran in the league?
Kluwe : No No. The only real rookie thing they do is they make your position group out to dinner, so I had to take the long snapper and the kicker out to dinner my rookie year. Unfortunately, we haven’t had a rookie kicker or long snapper since I’ve been with the Vikings, so I haven’t had a chance to get a free dinner yet.
Strauss : Basically the day before cut day you got cut?
Kluwe : Yeah, the Seahawks wanted to put me on the practice squad because they didn’t feel that I was quite ready for a full-live NFL game. Then we had played the Vikings that week and the Vikings needed a punter because their punter in the game hadn’t played very well and I guess he was having a rough preseason. They claimed me off waivers, and basically gave me a one week tryout. When you claim someone off waivers, they have to play for you that week.
Strauss : So you crossed Darren Bennett early in your career and then again later when you got hurt.
Kluwe : Yeah, we brought Darren [Bennett] back in when I hurt my ankle against Detroit?
Strauss : What is your relationship like with Darren?
Kluwe : Good. He’s a great guy. Unfortunately, he got old. His knees didn’t work very well anymore. Someday, it will happen to me too. At some point, I’m not going to be able to kick anymore, and to keep up with the younger guys. It’s part of the natural process of life in the NFL.
Strauss : What was it like to be an official rookie, like getting playing time as a punter with the Vikings?
Kluwe : It was fun and exciting. The hardest part was just making sure to go out there and be consistent and just do the job, week after week. The one thing I always kept in mind, and I still do, is that they can cut you at any time and you’re never guaranteed any money, so for me it’s always like going out to play your last game because you never know if you don’t perform, well it might be.
Strauss : A couple years go by, and you signed your contract extension with the Vikings, what was that like for you?
Kluwe : It was nice. Finally getting a little bit of security in terms of a long-term contract. Because usually when a team has money tied up in you they’re a little more hesitant to cut you. It was cool because it showed the Vikings appreciate what I had been doing and wanted to pay me what I was worth. I was happy that I got it.
Strauss : Do you consider yourself one of the top punters in the league?
Kluwe : I do actually. I know a lot of people look at like gross average and say that I’m in the middle of the pack nearer the bottom, but people don’t realize that the special teams coaches of the Vikings of the last six years, have been telling me not to kick it over forty-two yards to help our coverage team cover the ball because we have struggled with that. I have had to sacrifice my personal numbers, I can’t go out and blast it down the middle like Andy Lee or Shane Lechler in order to help the team. Hopefully, the Vikings will remember that when it comes time for the next contract negotiation.
Strauss : That’s interesting that they tell you to not kick it as far…
Kluwe : Yeah exactly. It’s weird that being a punter is like the only job out there, that they will tell you don’t do this to the best of your ability because if I hit a fifty-five or sixty yard bomb, even with hang time our guys might not be able to get down there quick enough. With the returners that we have in the league now, like Hester and guys like that even a little space is enough for them to get it going and bring it back. It’s a team sport you have to sacrifice yourself for the good of the team
Strauss : Is it hard for you to change the direction of the punt the height and hang time?
Kluwe : It was difficult at first, because I had never done it, but I’ve gotten pretty good at it. The hardest thing is keeping the punt under a certain distance without having it be too short. When you’re hitting a punt and just hitting it normal, odds are you’ll still get a 42-43 yard average. But if you miss a punt where you’re trying to go higher and shorter when you miss, it’s like a twenty-five to thirty yard punt which kind of sucks.
Strauss : Do you think they need to come out with a stat like hang time and yards gained after the punt or something compared to just distance?
Kluwe : Yeah. I’d like to see a punter rating. I’m trying to draw one up I just need the stats finalized on it. Basically it takes into account how far the ball went, hang time, and where on the field you kicked it. A lot of people don’t realize a 45 yard punt toward the sideline isn’t the same as a 45-yarder down the middle of the field. The ball has to go farther in the diagonal than it does in a straight line. So a 45 yard punt to the sideline is more like a 51 yard punt which is a much better punt in peoples’ minds than a 45 yard punt.
Strauss : What do you think the most fun game of your NFL career has been?
Kluwe : I don’t know, probably all of them. Each game is fun to play in. Sometimes you don’t win which sucks, but to get the chance to go out there and play is pretty awesome.
Strauss : You’ve thrown one pass in your NFL career right?
Kluwe : Yeah, it was a little shovel pass on a fake field goal.
Strauss : What was that whole play like if you’d like to take me through it? Did you read something and change it up when you guys lined up or did you know that’s what you were doing going in?
Kluwe : I knew going in what we were doing. We had a fake called where our left wing would run across the back side of the line, after the ball was snapped. We knew the other team would come down hard from the right side. Basically, I flipped a little shovel pass to him and our right side would block to create a gap that our wing would run through. The only thing that sucked was we executed it perfectly our wing ran through, and he got tackled at the ONE yard line, so I didn’t get credit for a touchdown.
Strauss : Do you have a favorite memory in the NFL so far?
Kluwe : Probably just being around the guys and playing in the games. And watching Reggie Bush get drilled in the mouth by one of our coverage guys. During the NFC championship game. It was the first or second punt it was a nice 44-45 yarded, with high hang time, and our coverage guy ran down and hit him right as he was catching the ball. I don’t know why he didn’t call for a fair catch. The ball popped loose and we recovered it so after having everyone be like oh why are you kicking it to Reggie Bush after he has returned the two for touchdowns like a year or two before that was very fun.
Strauss : What was it like to have Favre come in and bring that winning attitude to the team?
Kluwe : It was fun. Brett was a great guy, and a lot of fun to be around. You could tell he was out there to win every time he was out on the field and he had a lot of fun doing it. I’ll always feel grateful I had the chance to play with him. It was a fun experience unfortunately we weren’t able to go all the way but at the same time we made it pretty far. It was cool to experience that.
Strauss : When you line up to punt 15 yards back what do you look for in the other special teams unit, and what’s going through your mind?
Kluwe : Basically, I’m focusing on the ball, because my job is to make sure I catch the ball and get it a good punt. It doesn’t really matter how they line up, it’s everything to do with me. I’m focusing on the ball watching it come back then making sure I get a good drop and hit the ball cleanly with my foot. After that, it’s just run down the field and try to get in the way of the returner if breaks free and slow him down enough that our guys can get to him.
Strauss : So I read somewhere that you changed your number from 5 to 4 because of McNabb. Did he ever follow up on that deal?
Kluwe : Yeah. He mentioned the band twice, which was three less than our agreed upon amount but we got plenty of publicity because of it, so I’m fine with that. He did make a $5000 donation to the charity I donate to. Donovan was a great guy, it was fun to be around him, and he had a lot of fun playing the game. Unfortunately, the season didn’t work out quite the way we wanted it to, but he did alright by me.
Strauss : Too bad Ponder didn’t wear number 4.
Kluwe : Who knows… Brett could always come back.
Strauss : Christian Ponder… What have you seen out of him?
Kluwe : He was obviously a rookie last year so he had some growing pains and made some rookie mistakes but that’s something everyone goes through. It’s part of the learning process. The main thing is to see what he learned from last year, and how he applies it to next year and in the future. That’s really what makes or breaks you as an NFL Quarterback. It’s how you take that game day experience you’ve already had, and using it to make yourself better.
Strauss : Have you seen anything in him in terms of leadership compared to Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb since you’ve been around the veteran Quarterbacks?
Kluwe : Yeah. He’s definitely a competitor. He wants to win out there. He’s working on his throws, throwing, and stuff like that. I definitely think he has a chance to be a good NFL quarterback. Like I said, it’s mainly how he translates that to Game Day. There have been tons of great practice quarterbacks, but if you can’t do it on the field on Sunday, that’s where we get paid to perform. I’m hopeful that Christian can do it because everything I’ve seen is that he’s going in the right direction.
Strauss : Have you ever run a fake punt in your career?
Kluwe : I think we ran one, maybe. It wasn’t me though. It was a personal snap to the personal protector. I would like to run one, but I’m not going to unless they call one.
Strauss : Is it a bucket list kind-of thing?
Kluwe : It’d be nice to throw like a forty-yard pass down the sideline to the gunner who is open. That’d be pretty sweet.
Strauss : You were a pitcher in high school, so maybe you still have that arm…
Kluwe : Yeah. I can still throw it. It’s just that we haven’t run any fakes.
Strauss : Let’s change topics… Why did you start a band?
Kluwe : Actually, it started from Guitar Hero. I’m a big video game player obviously. I got Guitar Hero when it first came out, mastered it, mastered Guitar Hero II, then mastered Guitar Hero III. At that point, I thought that I should start learning how to play a real instrument again. I played the violin growing up, so I had a musical background. One of my friends in Minnesota told me that he had been in a band before. He told me that he played guitar, and one of his friends could play drums. I told him if you don’t mind me learning on the job, I’d like to learn how to play guitar. I thought playing in a band would be fun. We got together and started playing music.
Strauss : That’s a solid transition to video games then… What’s your favorite video game right now?
Kluwe : Right now, probably Star Wars: The Old Republic. It’s the new MMO by BioWare. It’s got some flaws because it’s a brand new MMO, but it looks like they’re heading in the right direction. I’m going to give them about a month or two to see if they fix the problems with the game. Hopefully, they do, but it’s turned out to be a great game.
Strauss : When did you develop a passion for video games?
Kluwe : When I was four, I got a Nintendo Entertainment system with Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt.
Strauss : Most football players I would say don’t play video games unless it’s a sports game…
Kluwe : You’d be surprised actually. I know the older guys don’t, but the guys that are around my age or younger, they’ve grown up with video games. In college, Call of Duty, Halo, they play Madden. A lot of guys actually branched out to playing more of the video game titles, not just mainstream titles, like God of War and Age of Empires and stuff like that. It’s part of the whole generational shift that happened whenever you’re introduced to new technology, the younger generation is comfortable with it and it’s part of their life. These are guys that are 23 and 24 years old that have a lot of disposable income, and a lot of free time during the offseason, so they have to find something to do, so it’s like, ‘Hey! Let’s play some video games.’
Strauss : Do you play Call of Duty?
Kluwe : I do a little bit, but not a whole lot. I’m more of a fan of playing first person shooters on a computer. I just don’t like the way that aiming works with thumb-sticks on a controller.
Strauss : Who’s the best competition on your team?
Kluwe : Uhhhh…. No one. I’m the best. (laughs)
Strauss : Were you a big Halo person?
Kluwe : I was big into Halo 1 when it first came out. I never really got into 2 or 3. At that point, I was onto different games. It’s funny because when Guitar Hero came out, we actually had it set up in the team lounge, and some guys thought they were good. They were like, ‘Let’s see what you can do.’ I destroyed him. The really funny one was that on team flights we played Mario Karts on the DS. There would be like these eight-person Mario Kart tournaments for the two-hour plane trip. A lot of the guys thought they were pretty good, so they were like, ‘Hey! Let’s play for money.’ I said, ‘Are you sure you want to play for money?’ They were like, ‘Yeah, yeah, you’re not that good. We’ll play for money.’ At the end of the trip, I had won about $800, and they said they were never playing for money again.
Strauss : Hahaha. That’s awesome…
Kluwe : Yeah, I mean I tried to warn them. I was like, ‘Guys, I’ve been playing this game since it originally came out on the Super Nintendo. I’ve had some practice.’
Strauss : So people won’t people won’t play video games against you for money anymore?
Kluwe : Well, not on the team, so no. They know I’m the resident video game expert.
Strauss : Do you compete with any other players in the NFL?
Kluwe : No, not that I know of. I think my video game playing has shifted more into games I can pick up and pause, now that I have children. Because, it is kinda hard to play a competitive game for an hour or two hours when you have a baby crying that needs its diaper changed, or you got to take the kids to soccer practice, give them food, so I’m trying to shift away from the more continuous games into the ones more single player like video games.
Strauss : Are you a poor sport in gaming when you win?
Kluwe : No I try not to be. That’s one of the things where I used to be like that when I was younger and it was all about win, win, win. But now for me, its more about making sure everyone has fun because I also started playing a lot of table top miniature games, and the thing is if you want to keep playing against the same opponent, it’s tough to do that if you rub their faces in the fact that you beat them, so generally its more everyone having a good time. Yeah, I’m going to play to win but I’m going to try to do it in a sporting way, and make sure my opponents having a good time as well.
Strauss : In terms of twitter, do you have a favorite tweet that you sent out that got a lot of replies?
Kluwe : Not really, I just make each tweet that I put out entertaining, there are other people reading them. I always think very carefully about what I tweet, even if it’s something insulting. Because once you put something out there on the internet its out there forever, and I know that’s something a lot of guys run into. It’s that they tweet something and are like “Oh crap, I wish I could take that back” and you know you can’t, you’ve already put it out there. I think that’s one thing a lot of people could benefit from on Twitter is reading over your message two or three times before you post it, and make sure that’s really what you want to say.
Strauss : The trademark question… If you could describe yourself as any ice cream flavor what would you be, and why?
Kluwe : Any Ice Cream flavor… would probably have to go with chocolate, because it’s delicious, it’s unassuming, and its there, and it gets the job done.
Strauss : For someone who wants to play in the NFL, what’s the best advice you could give them?
Kluwe : Have a backup plan incase you don’t make it. I think it’s .02% of people who play football, high school through college, are eventually going to make it to the NFL, so the odds aren’t in your favor. That being said, just work hard and be consistent in what you do. The main thing that NFL coaches look for is consistency. They want to know that when they put you out there you are going to do the job they want you to do like 99 times out of 100.
Strauss : You’re not the only person to say to have a backup plan…
Kluwe : Yeah, it’s one of the things they try to grill into us in college and in high school too. It’s really true to because the thing is that there are only 1,700 NFL jobs available and there are two or three million kids playing high school football, so the odds are steep, so you definitely want to have something to fall back on if you don’t make it.
Strauss : It’s all about work ethic from when I’ve talked to players and everything…
Kluwe : Yeah, work ethic. And then the other thing that sucks, is it’s also about luck. For me, I was very lucky when I came out, in that three teams needed punters. I actually had a choice of where I could go, and I was able to go to a situation where I was able to compete. A lot of times guys coming out there will be one team that needs a punter, and there will be like four or five punters that are coming out, so the other guys will get invited to camp, but it will be a camp like, you know the teams already have their guys. So the teams are just bringing in a guy to take in reps to save the other guy’s leg, so it’s like 90% Hard Work and 10% Luck. Hopefully your in the right spot at the right time.
Strauss : Thanks again for the interview
Kluwe : Yeah no problem. It was fun.
Announcement : Thank you for listening to the interview. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope you leave your comments below as well! Please check out www.prointerviews.org for other interviews, “LIKE” us at www.facebook.com/ProInterviews, and follow me on twitter at @ProInterviews. Thanks again for listening! Stay tuned for more, and feel free to contact me.
->Here are the personal questions that Chris Kluwe answered.<-
Strauss : If you could meet anyone, who would it be and why?
Kluwe : I think that I would like to meet Buddha. I think he’d be an interesting fellow, and he always seems to have a lot to eat.
Strauss : Who was your childhood star?
Kluwe : I never really had one. I never watched sports as a kid.
Strauss : What’d you do as a kid?
Kluwe : I played sports. I played video games.
Strauss : But you didn’t watch them on TV?
Kluwe : I was never a big fan of watching them, or even TV in general.
Strauss : There goes my next question… I’ll ask it anyways. What is your favorite TV Show?
Kluwe : Well, I watch some on DVD, but I don’t really watch normal TV. I would have to go with Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
Strauss : What is your favorite movie of all time?
Kluwe : It would probably be Dune, the David Lynch version. It’s a terrible, terrible movie but I love watching it. When I grew up, my mom was a doctor and she would take my brother and I to the hospital on nights when she was working. The only movies they had there were Dune and Batman, and I liked Dune over Batman.
Strauss : What’s your favorite type of pie?
Kluwe : I’m going to go with Pumpkin pie.
Strauss : What’s your favorite soda?
Kluwe : Root Beer.
Strauss : What would be your last meal on earth if you could decide?
Kluwe : A gallon of chocolate ice cream with hot fudge.
Strauss : Do you have a special pre-game ritual?
Kluwe : I eat a bowl of chocolate ice cream with hot fudge and whipped cream, the night before the game as my pre-game meal.
Strauss : When did this all start?
Kluwe : It’s because it’s a delicious dessert, and it’s available at each pre-game meal.
Strauss : What is your favorite song?
Kluwe : Aenima by Tool.
Strauss : Last one, if you could have any super power, what would it be?
Kluwe : I would go with invisibility because you can run around and do whatever you want and no one can see you.
Strauss : Thanks for taking the time to answer these for the fans.
Kluwe : Thank you Max.