Patriots offensive lineman Stephen Neal addresses the media during his conference call on Thursday, March 11, 2010.
Q: Last time we talked to you was after the playoff game and you made reference to a possible retirement. What changed in your mind from that point to agreeing to this deal?
SN: That's a good question. Football is a brutal sport. There're a lot of people banging around out there and your body heals after a little bit of time. I feel a lot better than I did that day. It's tough to go out on a game like that. You work so hard all year and only one team really gets to walk off the field that season satisfied, so I would like to definitely come back and give it another run, work with my teammates, have some fun and not end my career like that.
Q: When did you make that decision? Was it the next day or whenever the disappointment of the loss went away?
SN: It took a long time. Like I said, when you wake up and you're feeling pretty sore for quite a while, until the body started healing a little bit I said, ya know what if the opportunity is there I think I might like to come back and play. That's the other thing, too. You never know. If you want to play you can't just go somewhere and say I want to play football. Fortunately, for me, it worked out that way earlier on. I was very fortunate. For one, I wanted to make sure my body felt good and I could do what I signed up to do and two, hopefully I'd get an opportunity.
Q: Was there anything serious with any other teams there? Did you ever entertain the thought of leaving?
SN: To be honest, I really didn't want to leave, but I didn't know if the Patriots really wanted me back. One of the factors was I wanted to make sure I was wanted or needed somewhere. If something would have came up maybe I would have looked into it. In today's game, it's hard for people to sign with one team and be with them their entire career, and I think that's something special and I'd like to do that.
Q: Do I recall the last time you were a free agent you took visits to Minnesota, Buffalo, Miami and I thought I remember you saying you would have considered possibly playing in California, but there was no team that was interested at the time. Do I remember that right, and if so, why was this time different than the last time?
SN: I have a huge family in San Diego and that's where I am right now. Driving to my parent's house, I always drive by the Chargers facility, so it would be a fit. If this worked out it wouldn't be a bad thing. I could be with all of my family, which is very important to me. My grandparents are getting a lot older and my parents are getting older, so it would be great to be able to spend the time with the family and being in New England you can't just go to San Diego for the weekend. With three kids, the time change on them and me and my wife Jodi, it's pretty tough. That's why I would consider playing for a team closer to my final destination of home. But, like I said, I really wanted to start my career somewhere and end it somewhere, and I think with this deal I don't think I can play too much longer after two years.
Q: At either time, did the Chargers express any interest in you?
SN: My job is to play football, not to talk to other teams, so you would have to talk to my agent about that. I have no idea. He never brought anything up to me about that, so I would say, probably not.
Q: Do you still have Olympic aspirations in wrestling down the road?
SN: It's something that would be great if it worked out the right way, but it would be pretty tough. If I was to compete in Olympic wrestling there are a few places I could go and train, but I want to go train at Cal State Bakersfield where I went to school. Right now, we're in the middle of a huge deal. They decided to drop the program that I went to school at Cal State Bakersfield for and it's pretty frustrating. That's what I've been doing with most of my time back here. I travel to Bakersfield – a three and a half hour drive. I talk with the coaches and we're trying to do some fundraisers. We have a few fundraisers planned in the next couple months to raise funds to get this program back. We have some other things going on, but it's kind of tough. If it wasn't for the Cal State wrestling program there's no way I'd be able to play in the NFL, so I want to make sure it's there for other people's opportunities down the road. Someday if my kid wants to go there and wrestle I'd like for that program to still be alive. It's kind of a tough deal, but if everything fell into place perfect and I was feeling good and I thought I could compete with the heavy weights that represent the United States, I'd give it a shot. But, like I said, there are a lot of ifs in there.
Q: We've heard you had some interest in the MMA and working with Randy Couture?
SN: I'm not sure my wife would allow me to do something like that. I am going to put a call into Randy in a couple days and I'm going to lean on him and see if I can get him to help support the wrestling program with some autograph gloves or just something that he can help me out with. Like I said, I just got off the phone with the coach, Mike Mendoza, who's the coach at the school and we're working hard to get autograph items for the auction and get big donations. We have a whole text message thing that we're working on where you can donate ten dollars via text message. It's pretty much; I wake up at night thinking about that. It's kind of crazy. It's been different because usually its football that I wake up thinking about every day and this had kind of jumped in there.
Q: There was about two months that passed from the playoff loss to when you signed this deal, when had you made the decision that you were going to go forward and play again?
SN: I would say probably two or three weeks ago. The entire time the playoffs were going on I didn't know what I was going to do. I started doing some things and just being active because out here there are a lot of things to do outside – going for hikes with the family and doing some stuff and my body started to feel a little bit better and a little bit better and a little bit better. And then I called my agent, I told him if there is interest in someone signing me for football I think I'd like to go forward. So, probably just a couple weeks ago I decided I think I can get after it a little bit longer.
Q: Is there something that lit the fire for you as far as football goes and having the passion to get back out there?
SN: I know when football is over I'm going to miss the locker room atmosphere and having all the guys that you work so hard with together and you go out there and battle for three hours a week and all that time that goes into there. I think that's something I want a few more years of. Of going in with a good plan because with New England I've never played anywhere else, but we always have a great plan each week because we have great coaches and a lot of players that want to do their job. I still want to be a part of that, and I think we can do good things. We just need to start building right now. Now's the time we strengthen our team and see where we can get to by the time the season starts and one day at a time. And start that right now.
Q: You talked about helping the wrestling team in Bakersfield. Is there a website or a way where fans of yours can go to and contribute?
SN: Yeah, there's a website and it's called savebakersfieldwrestling.com and there's a lot of information on there. There is also the text message thing I was telling you about. If you text the word 'win' to 25383 it will send you a text message back that tells you it's ten dollars to your phone and then you text back the word 'yes'. Thank you for that.
Q: You mentioned that your body started to feel a little bit better after you played. In that final game, was that the worst you felt in your career?
SN: No. I think the worst I felt was in the Giants game when I wasn't able to finish mentally, emotionally and physically. I'm starting to get older and everyone's hurt at the end of the season and you just got out there and you fight through it. It was pretty rough this year. It's a lot easier to wake up when you just finished winning a game and you know you have another game and all that work you put in that season you're still in the hunt. It was a lot of frustration and a lot of soul searching. My kids are starting to get into school now, so you don't want them switching schools. There were a lot of factors that were in my head. Like I said, I'm starting to feel better now and I'm pretty excited. I have a good plan for this next year. I'm going to start working out a little bit harder now and hopefully be ready to go.
Q: What was your assessment of the line this past season, in terms of physicality?
SN: Last season is definitely last season and that's probably one of the things I have not thought about too much. I'm sure once I go back there and we start watching a lot more of the film and start doing the self evaluations, even more so than we do during the season; that might be something that comes up. I think it's always an advantage when you're hitting someone in the mouth instead of getting hit in the mouth. That's just the bottom line in any sport. That might be something to look into. I don't know what you do to be more physical. Pretty much what I try to do is do my job and do it as best I can and hopefully that's what I can bring to the table. I'm not sure, as far as the assessment, what you want me to say, but like I said, that was last year and we'll deal with it. You always want to be tough anyway, that's never a bad thing. Thank you very much. I really appreciate you guys listening to me vent about Cal State Bakersfield. That's what I've been doing a lot lately. Thank you guys, very much. Enjoy your day and your week.