Takeo Spikes Gives Football Fans A Glimpse ‘Behind The Mask,’ Lets Legends Tell Their Own Stories [Exclusive]

takeo spikes, behind the mask
Courtesy Photo / Takeo Spikes

After leading Auburn University with 136 tackles in 1997 and being named the SEC Championship game MVP, linebacker Takeo Spikes continued to dominate the field in the NFL. During his 15-year career in the NFL, playing for five different teams with over 200 career starts, Takeo Spikes produced over 1,000 tackles, 29 sacks, 19 interceptions, and was named Team Captain for 13 seasons.

After achieving such greatness in the NFL, including becoming a two-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro, what does one of the all-time greatest linebackers do after retiring from the sport? Takeo Spikes continues to inspire greatness.

The college football and NFL analyst, Sirius XM radio host, and motivational speaker has shown that he is a man of many talents, and recently he has revealed his flair for creating art and capturing awe-inspiring stories. Spikes has a passion for photography that started at family functions with his mother, and he used that passion to platform other NFL athletes and what inspired them for greatness.

In Takeo Spikes Presents: Behind the Mask (The Linebacker Edition), the NFL legend sat down with 12 of the NFL’s all-time best linebackers. Not only does Spikes document these rarely told stories, including the great Chuck Bednarik’s final interview before the legend passed in 2015, he presents them with stunning photographs as well.

Never shy to share his thoughts, Takeo Spikes also inspires change on a societal level. The former linebacker wrote a powerful editorial last year regarding the NFL players’ national anthem protest. The article garnered a lot of attention, and it impacted many who didn’t fully understand what the protests represent. Spikes has used the power of the pen to help make a cultural shift, and the power of art to bring people together.

take spikes, behind the mask
  Gregory Bull / AP Photo

Carter Lee: “I’ve been following your career since you retired from playing football, and I appreciate what you are doing. It’s very inspirational. You often use your celebrity platform to voice your opinion on topics that some may consider taboo or controversial. You wrote an editorial for The Players Tribune titled “Wake Up,” and I loved it. Often people are receptive and want to know what they can do to help the cause, but a lot of times people run the other way and don’t even want to even deal with a taboo topic. So, I’m curious, what was the response like when you released this powerful, and much needed, message on the protests? I’m sure some found it controversial.”

Takeo Spikes: “Yeah, some did. The reaction was 360 and some were 180, like you said, some ran the other way. But I received a lot of phone calls from players and they were like, ‘Is it really like that?’ People are often unaware. They woke up and didn’t realize what was going on. I had three former teammates, Caucasians, tell me, ‘I didn’t know.” One guy said, ‘I had no idea. I don’t have to worry about my son like that. I can send him to the store and I don’t worry about him not coming back. I don’t worry about him being harassed by the police.'”

CL: “That’s great that your message reached people, and that you’re getting the message out there. Let’s shift to your wonderful book. What I like about it is that it’s not only filled with great stories, but the photographs are stunning. How did your interest in photography come about? I read that your mom, kind of, got you involved with it.”

TS: “I’ve always taken snapshots of my career, and really documented things from family functions, get togethers, and family vacations. And the things I got a kick out of from just learning from my mother; she was great at capturing the moment, but that moment was blurry. Oh my God, it was blurry. That’s what really got me hooked. I said, ‘Mom, let me show you how to take a picture.’ And we just kept going back and forth [with the camera]. I went years. I’m talking about eight or ten years, and I looked back at everything I had. And I documented damn near everything I did from a family perspective.”

CL: “You cover a lot of legends in this book. If you could just share some stories on a few of them. I’m a lifelong Redskins fan, so I’m curious what you can share about London Fletcher.”

TS: “It was a great conversation. He doesn’t talk about it much, but he allows me to talk about it. If you read London’s story, he wasn’t supposed to make it. London grew up in a house with his grandmother. His mother was on drugs. His father was on drugs, his entire life. His mother and father both passed away, and he really grew up in the street around his cousins. And the thing that is crazy to me, he has uncles that are the same age as him.

For me, the things that I take from London Fletcher’s story: one, I want to say he’s the best captain I ever played with. One of the best leaders I’ve ever played with. Two, I was amazed of how he could block out all of the noise; he was undrafted, and he didn’t have a shot to play. But he knew he didn’t want to go back living the way he was. There was no way out of the hood. He didn’t complain, he blocked out the noise, and he continued, what we call, he continued to chop wood. And he kept chopping and kept chopping.

And then he was nominated a starter under Dick Vermeil because Dick loved it loved it loved it, how much he loved to hustle. He never got the due respect as Super Bowl champion. But he went to Buffalo and he continued to play. And I remember when he pulled a hamstring. This joker did not come out of the game. He tweaked his ham! And it’s not by accident that after he left Buffalo he went to Washington. And that’s when he really got his due respect. From not just the media, but from all of the guys in the league. Because they knew this guy puts it down all the time. There was no drop-off throughout his career. He played every game. And that’s the reason why he is ‘The Iron Man.'”

takeo spikes, michael strahan, behind the mask
Takeo Spikes with former NFLer Michael Strahan. Courtesy Photo / Takeo Spikes

CL: “Simply incredible. You also gave ‘Concrete Charlie’ his last interview. The great Chuck Bednarik, and he has a powerful story. What was that like? Being able to meet him, I’m assuming at his home, this WWII vet, and his decades of wisdom. Was that a surreal experience?”

TS: “Oh, so surreal. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t care about the football part of it. I mean anybody can see numbers and see how great he was. I wanted to know, how could you be an airplane gunner in WWII? You telling me, you see bullets coming at you piercing through your plane and you’re fighting back? And when you get out of your plane you see the bullets that almost hit you. And you got on your knees on that ship and said, ‘Lord, if you ever allow me to go back to the great state of Pennsylvania I know what I’m going to do with my life.’ And when he did, that was the beginning of ‘Concrete Charlie.’

That blew my mind. But it took that for him, because he talked about how bad he was as a kid. How he didn’t want to do certain things, like going to school, or how he would skip-out on school. And how he was naturally bigger than everybody else—he was the bully. But it’s amazing what a few bullets can do to you throughout your life, especially if you don’t get hit by them.”