Retired NFL DE/OLB, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila Interview
Akbar Gbaja-Biamila played defensive end for the San Diego State Aztecs from 1998 through 2002. He entered the 2003 NFL Draft, but went undrafted. He signed with the Oakland Raiders and played with them in 2003 and 2004. He then signed with the San Diego Chargers in 2005, the Miami Dolphins in 2006, and then back with the Oakland Raiders in 2007. This interview was conducted as he’s been out of the NFL for a couple years now. Check out our interview.
Announcement: Hello, my name is Max Strauss. I would like to welcome you to the interview with Akbar Gbaja-Biamila. Akbar played college football at San Diego State, and went undrafted in 2003. He played with the Raiders, Chargers, and Dolphins while in the NFL. Let’s welcome him.
Strauss : Alright, why do you make it important to connect to the fans through twitter?
Gbaja-Biamila : Well, I think twitter is a great platform, I think to reach out to the masses. You know I think twitter does something that other social networks don’t do. It gives you a quick blurb, “What’s on your mind?” I think often times people don’t want to, especially in this age, engage in full on conversation, but just kind of get them up to the beat of what I’m thinking. I think that twitter is a great platform just to give people a tidbit of what I’m thinking.
Strauss : Who was your childhood star, and why?
Gbaja-Biamila : Oh, oh boy, well I think there’s a couple. Childhood stars that I grew up liking was Muhammad Ali, Michael Jackson, and Magic Johnson. In fact all three of them, they epitomized greatness, it’s what’s I’ve always strived for. And, I think that all those have unique twists and tales to them. You look at Magic Johnson, one of the greatest court generals to play the game, and you look at what he’s done after basketball. Look at what he did in 1991 when he was diagnosed with the HIV virus, and just how he took that head on. And then, when you talk about Muhammad Ali, how he took on the Vietnam War. And then of course, you go to Michael Jackson who was a pop sensation and took entertainment to whole and another level being the first african american to feature on MTV. Those types of things. So, they were all pioneers, and yet they were exceptionally great at the particular gift that god blessed them with.
Strauss : What was your favorite NFL team growing up?
Gbaja-Biamila : You know what I didn’t watch the NFL growing up, I was actually a basketball player, so I’m a long time Lakers fan. I didn’t watch a lot of football. I did like the Miami Dolphins because of Dan Marino but I wouldn’t say I’m a fan. But, as I started to know a little bit more, it was the Raiders.
Strauss : Did you see any live NFL games growing up?
Gbaja-Biamila : Yes, my first NFL game was a Raider game at the Coliseum. I couldn’t tell you who they were playing because I don’t remember.
Strauss : If you could meet anyone in the world, alive or dead, that you have not met before, who would it be and why?
Gbaja-Biamila : Michael Jackson, he w. Funny story is, I bought tickets to go see him in London at the Old School Arena just two weeks prior so I just getting ready to leave upon the date that he died. I still ended up going out there because I bought the plane tickets. That was the one person I was looking forward to meeting, so it’d be Michael Jackson.
Strauss : So, now we’re going to talk about the football career. So, in high school you played basketball, and what made you decide to focus on football over basketball?
Gbaja-Biamila : Well, it’s one thing to say that I focused on football, well my brother Kabeer was in the game that in high school. And everyone thought that I could, with the same type of body-frame, I could compete as well in football. So they thought I could give it a try. So, I had a lot of people. I didn’t want to play it because I wanted to go to the NBA, I gave it a try. And, after that, I really just never looked back, and had instant success. Having never played or understood the game. I just continued to develop my game since then.
Strauss : What number did you wear in high school?
Gbaja-Biamila : I wore number 30.
Strauss : And, then in college what number did you wear?
Gbaja-Biamila : Number 94. [I switched] because in college there’s a certain number you have to wear for defensive line, and certain numbers are illegal and others are legal. So, 30 was illegal. I chose 94 because it was a number away from my brother who wore 93 in college.
Strauss : In the NFL, you didn’t switch, did you?
Gbaja-Biamila : Yeah, I wore number 98 my rookie year, and because of a veteran guy had number 94, and he was going to charge me 100,000 dollars to buy his jersey, so I just waited my turn, until my second year, and I switched the jersey number.
Strauss : Back to college football, what is your favorite memory at San Diego State?
Gbaja-Biamila : I’d say my entire college experience was my favorite memory. I still have goosebumps about the entire experience. How can I choose just one situation but it was culture shock coming from inner-city Los Angeles to San Diego. So, my entire experience at San Diego was incredible. I don’t have one bad thing to say about San Diego.
Strauss : What was the most important thing you learned outside of playing football at San Diego State?
Gbaja-Biamila : Without God, there is nothing. So, I realized outside of football, that it was all because of God’s greatness that I was able to play, that I would be living, that I could do anything. I think the power of god is the thing I learned the most outside of football.
Strauss : When were you expecting to get drafted, and what was your whole draft day experience like?
Gbaja-Biamila : Emotional, I was expecting to be a late rounder, and fell into free agency, so unfortunately I was disappointed because of the whole drafting process, but it ended up working out well though. So then, Al Davis called and said, ‘How about Silver and Black?’ and I said, ‘Heck Yeah!’
Strauss : As you grew as a player, how important had film been to your development? People say, ‘film makes players great’, is this true? Why or why not?
Gbaja-Biamila : Well look, watching film is probably the most important thing in the National Football League because everybody’s the talent wise. I mean, somebody might run a little faster, little stronger, but by in large, all those guys when you make it to pro football, you have reached an elite status and I think what separates the guys from each other is person going into the film, and watching film it allows you to understand football. You understand tendency in a beat of the other team, watch your doing, what they’re doing, and when you collectively can watch that, you continue to understand the game. You can start to predict games. And, the great ones like Rod Woodson and Jerry Rice, they understood, they could predict games, they could be in the game, but they could see it before it happens. Where a lot of guys try and make up for it with their athleticism and it’s a known fact in the National Football League, the longer you play the more your athleticism and speed and all that stuff decline. And if your mental side, along with your mental sharpness declines with that, then you’re going to be hitting that three-year window.
Strauss : What have you learned from your teammates?
Gbaja-Biamila : To be good, is not good enough. You have to strive at being great.
Strauss : Who was your best buddy throughout your football excluding your brother?
Gbaja-Biamila : Nnamdi Asomugha. We just developed a friendship that has gone beyond football. Often times, when you develop relationships in sports, it sometimes can be conditional, meaning as long as your on the team, ‘I’m cool with you. But, as soon as your done, then, that’s it.’ That’s just the culture and nature of sports because players come in and out. So for some people, it can be a little colder to relationships just because you may be cool with somebody, then they unexpectedly get traded, cut, or injured, or out, then you never see them again. And I believe our relationship has past through those thresholds, and it’s just a continuing relationship.
Strauss : What’s your best memory with Nnamdi?
Gbaja-Biamila : Our football experience, and just traveling the world. We traveled the world, I think, fifteen, sixteen countries something like that.
Strauss : In 2005, you spent the year out of football, what did you do, and what was that whole experience like?
Gbaja-Biamila : That was a stressful year out of football because I had no idea what I wanted to do. But, it was in that year, that moment, that I realized, that if I got an opportunity to play football again, I would try to condition myself for my ultimate dream which was, after football, to broadcast. And, so I spent 2005 spending a ton of money because I didn’t have any other income coming in. But at the end of that, I realized that when it was over, because it was the first time that I was actually cut, that I was going to have a boat. The reason why most athletes are broke after is because they don’t have a plan of what they want to do because it’s all football, 24/7. So in that year, I spent time, figuring out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, post-football.
Strauss : What was it like to have your brother play in the NFL?
Gbaja-Biamila : Oh all excitement. Exciting to watch him play. I grew a tremendous amount of inspiration to watch him play. To know somebody who achieved the absolute greatness. I talked about my infatuation with athlete stars like Magic Johnson, pop sensation Michael Jackson, and Muhammad Ali. You take those guys, and then put it right in your own house and to see somebody who’s a product of our families and to go out and achieve greatness beyond my wildest dream, and see him do Monday Night Football, to see him make his first touchdown on Monday Night. To play against him on a monday night game with Brett Favre and he just destroyed it. Those things were also cool. I think that he retired early, but, I wouldn’t say that’s early, a ten-year career is pretty decent, but he still had a lot more left in him, loved to see him play at least three or four more years, but he decided that he wanted to retire. Playing with him in San Diego State was great. Playing against him in the Pros, once with the Chargers, once with the Raiders was an excellent experience. There is nothing that will ever take those moments from me, I’ll remember that forever.
Strauss : Did you ever get a nickname throughout your career?
Gbaja-Biamila : No, well you know what, my nickname kind of spawned from the fact that John Madden gave my brother the name, KGB, which was fitting because it was the Russian CIA. So, all the coaches and all the players in the NFL started calling me AGB, and it’s really the only one that ever stuck. I never really had a nickname because my name is two syllables, Akbar. So, AGB is what stuck.
Strauss : Do you have a favorite charity?
Gbaja-Biamila : Favorite charity would probably be Orphans and Widows in Need, it’s actually part of the Asomugha foundation. All his foundations stand for, “Orphans and widows in need.” I’m on the board of it now of the foundation, and it’s taking care of those who don’t have that. You know the Bible commands us to take care of orphans and widows that are out there in the world, so it’s just a tremendous thing they have going as far as looking out for teens, orphans, widows in Nigeria. And in all other parts of the continent of Africa.
Strauss : What’s the best thing that has ever happened to you?
Gbaja-Biamila : I would say, getting married and having two kids. You know I have a son, Elijah, and a daughter, Si. I don’t know, just the whole family experience, has taught me so much more off the field. There’s the physical condition, this all the other kind of stuff that you have to do to strive as a football player. But there’s really nothing you can do to jump right into becoming a father, to be a husband, those things just sharpen in context. It’s just trying for me to get concentrate on on being a better father, better husband, so that right there, being a family man is the best thing to have.
Strauss : What is your favorite quote?
Gbaja-Biamila : “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
Strauss : What does that mean to you, though?
Gbaja-Biamila : I remember a player a while back tell me, “Don’t be afraid of success.” I never knew what that meant, don’t be afraid of success. There’s a certain time in your life, certain people sabotage the ability to be great or successful at something because they don’t want expectations. And so, that quote really resonates with me, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,” not that really believe that we can’t accomplish or do things, but it’s that we are going to be “powerful beyond measure.” that’s an expectation, that is going to be linked with you for the rest of your life. If I linked to the smartest people in the world, some people wouldn’t want that, they would deflect that, “No, no, no, they are not smarter than me.” Because they don’t want to bear the responsibility or the greatness or the success of being the best or smartest, so on or so forth. Go up to somebody and say, “Hey look, your the fastest kid, or you’re the smartest kid I’ve ever seen, or you’re the best looking kid, I’ve ever seen or you’re the smartest.” and most of the times, the people will deflect there are others. They don’t want to hold onto that expectation. Don’t be afraid of failure, sums that all up.
Strauss : I’m hoping to major in communications in college. Why did you choose communications?
Gbaja-Biamila : Well, I tell you this. God gives everybody a gift, and I realized the gift that god has given me was to be able to speak. And so, I knew immediately, I was in touch with that, and I said, that’s what I want to do the rest of my life, that’s what I want to do for a living. And, it was only thing that right when I was done that I had an opportunity to call football games, where I spent the last twelve years doing, college, high school, and pros that I couldn’t complain if I were talking about something else, so that’s how my entire lineage just happened. From football to broadcasting to college football.
Strauss : If you could describe yourself as any ice cream flavor, what would you be and why?
Gbaja-Biamila : Hmm, I would say, hm. I would probably say, the graham cracker ice cream, it’s been the newest flavor. And the reason why is because it’s never been too sweet, it’s just right enough. It’s just enough, just enough munch to make an impact. And, I have just enough impact to make in a person’s life. people Just enough to make an impact to the , hm.
Strauss : What’s it like talking at the rookie symposium?
Gbaja-Biamila : It feels good knowing that you can make an impact on people you may or may not ever see again. I’ve sat down and talked to guys like Reggie Bush, and he’ll say, “Hey, I remember when you spoke to me, man, I’ll never forget that.” And, this year was kinda special at the symposium, because my son had a chance to sit in and watch me speak to 300 plus rookies so that was good.
Strauss : For someone aspiring to play football in the NFL, what’s the best advice for them?
Gbaja-Biamila : Haha, for someone who wants to probably play in the NFL, I would tell them to come up with a second plan. That would be my advice to them. And, I say that because having a second plan outside of football. Because the only average career is three years. But having a second plan, allows you to appreciate that a lot longer. Because often times you can get trapped, so wrapped in just football that you forget everything else. And what football eventually, like it will for everybody, stops, and it can become a sour experience if you’re not ready for life after football. So, I would say have a focus on something else. A, it gives you better appreciation of the game that you’re playing knowing that it won’t last forever. B, when it does end, you’ll have a game-plan.
Strauss : Is there anything you want to tell your fans that I haven’t’ asked or talked about?
Gbaja-Biamila : If I could tell all my fans one thing, I would tell my fans that, “God is real.” That’s what I would tell them, “God is real, God is good.”
Strauss : That’s it. Thanks a lot!
Gbaja-Biamila : Alright, thanks man, appreciate it.
Announcement : Thank you for listening to the interview with Akbar Gbaja-Biamila. In addition to the audio interview, there are personal questions he answered below. Do you think you have anything in common with him personally, if so, scroll down below to read his answers. Thanks again for listening.
->Here are the personal questions that Akbar answered.<-
Strauss : Before football games, did you listen to any songs specifically?
Gbaja-Biamila : The World’s Greatest. R. Kelly
Strauss : What is your favorite movie of all time?
Gbaja-Biamila : That’s hard. I have every single movie Denzel Washington has ever made. So, all of Denzel Washington’s films. Literally, I have every single one just like I have all of Michael Jackson’s albums.
Strauss : Do you have a favorite snack food?
Gbaja-Biamila : My favorite snack food, hmph… Let me ask my son that. Well, oatmeal raisin cookies.
Strauss : What about a favorite type of pie?
Gbaja-Biamila : Apple Pie.
Strauss : What would your last meal be?
Gbaja-Biamila : That’s a great question. Boy that’s an odd one. If I knew I was going to die, what be my last meal, I would probably just go out and have some sweets. Anything I can get that is sweet. Those chocolate muffin, blueberry muffin, doughnuts, something like that.
Strauss : Thank you for your time.
Gbaja-Biamila : Thanks Max.