Former Oregon Ducks wide receiver J.J. Birden spent seven seasons in the National Football League, suiting up for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1990-94 and the Atlanta Falcons from 1995-96. He also spent a few seasons on the practice squads of the Cleveland Browns (1988-89) and Dallas Cowboys (1989) after being selected in the eighth round of the 1988 draft by the Browns.
He finished his career with 3,441 yards and 17 touchdown catches on 244 receptions over his 62 career starts.
Upon his retirement from the game, J.J. has taken on a lot of non-football related projects. He took time out of his day to answer some of our questions regarding his professional football career, and even discussed the book he just finished writing:
All-Out Blitz: Of the years you played in the NFL which player or coach influenced you the most?
J.J. Birden: That’s an easy one, that would be Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer. As head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Marty drafted me in the 8th round of the 1988 NFL Draft out of the University Oregon. I wasn’t the biggest NFL prospect and was more known for Track and Field. So I did not expect to get drafted. When I got the call from Marty I was shocked. Marty believed in me and gave me my chance. After suffering an ACL injury in rookie camp, I was placed on IR the entire season. During that time, I learned a great deal from Marty. The following year Marty left go to coach the Kansas City Chiefs while I stayed with the Browns. I was later cut and then went to the Dallas Cowboys. When that season was over, Marty came calling and I was happy to play for him. Of the six out of the nine years I was in the NFL, I played for Marty. He was a great coach and an incredible motivator.
I have to also throw in there my wide receiver coach from the Kansas City Chiefs Al Saunders. I learned the most from him at the wide receiver position. He crafted my ability in a way that to my surprise I became an NFL starter in the wide receiver position. That was never a goal of mine but Al saw something in me before I did and pushed me to go after it.
AOB: If you could give young players coming into the league a life lesson, what would it be?
JJ: I’d tell them to never think that you’re bigger than the game. Realize it’s a privilege to play in the NFL, so respect the game, alumni and the fans. Then I’d emphasis these points:
*Maintain a humble attitude
*Work extremely hard
*Never do anything that gives your team a reason to release you
*Save your money and start planning for life after football right away.
AOB: Which is your most memorable NFL moment?
JJ: When I scored my first NFL touchdown. I traveled a very long and challenging road to the NFL. It wasn’t until my third year that I started to make an impact. My second game of that season, I score my first NFL touchdown versus the Seattle Seahawks. The game was in Seattle, which was close to my hometown of Portland Oregon. There were quite a few family members present to see that game. It was such a thrill because it kind of put an exclamation point on my road to the NFL. I had finally made it!
AOB: In 1993 & ’94 you caught passes from HOF quarterback Joe Montana…how was that experience?
JJ: That was an exciting and unexpected experience. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would play with Joe Montana. I recall reading in the paper during the off-season the sports writers saying we had a chance to get Joe from the 49ers, I didn’t believe it. When we did sign him, the first practice, I am in the huddle with him and I kept saying to myself, “that’s Joe Montana, that’s Joe Montana!’ I couldn’t get that out of my head. Eventually it settled in and I became more comfortable with it. You could clearly see why he is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. What I enjoyed most about Joe was that he was just a regular “Joe.” He was very down to earth, kind and treated every teammate the same. He loved the game and just wanted to play, not for the accolades and the attention, but for the pure love of the game.
AOB: What are some of the best lessons you learned in your career?
JJ: One the best lessons I learned from my days was that “there is no substitution for hard work.” As pro athletes, we work very very hard. Eleven months of the year we were training or practicing in some capacity. We pushed our bodies’ to levels that I thought I could never reach. I learn how to play under pressure. The pressure to perform at the highest level all the time was one of the aspects I did not like about the NFL. However, at the end of the day, if you wanted to play and take care of your family, you found a way to get it done.
I also learned how to overcome my fears. There were many times when I at 5’10″/159 pounds had to line up and go hit a guy that was almost 100 pounds heavier than me. My will and toughness was tested often. Yes I was afraid, but I still did it. I never let the fear paralyze me, instead I use it as fuel. The reward was whenever my teammates saw me on film they could see I was getting after it no matter what. I gained a great deal of respect because of it.
AOB: You carved out a good NFL career, but do you feel you could have been more productive in today’s pass-happy league?
JJ: Oh most definitely! One of the best skills sets I had was my ability to beat bump & run or man-to-man technique. That’s when your opponent lines up right in front of you and his job is to try and jam you by getting his hands on you. Due to my quickness and speed I was very good at beating this technique. I know it’s one of the reasons why I was able to play nine years. Back then they were allowed to grab you but in today’s game they can’t. So I probably would have had a field day and had much bigger statistics.
AOB: Who is your biggest inspiration in your life?
JJ: I have to say my Mother. I was raised by single parent. My Mother worked hard to do all she could in order to take care of my brother, sister and I. She didn’t graduate from high school but she held various jobs and made sure we had the basic necessities. I’ve gained even more respect for her now that I’ve been married for 23 years. We have three of our own children plus five nieces and nephews we take care of. I can’t imagine taking care of them without my incredible wife Raina. Yet that’s what Mom did!
AOB: You are an executive for Team X88. What is the company about and how did you get involved?
JJ: Team X88 International is the Team name I established to represent those who have partnered with me to help people live a healthier lifestyle. We are Independent Associates for Isagenix. Isagenix is a health and wellness company who provides solutions for weight loss, energy & performance, healthy aging and wealth creation. Our goal is to help people achieve one of these solutions with some of the best health and wellness products and systems, as well as creating opportunities to create a secondary income stream.
Besides that I’m currently working on another project. I just completed my first book. I have always wanted to be an author and share some of the stories or life lessons I learned during my athletic career. The book is titled When Opportunity Knocks, 8 Surefire Ways To Take Advantage! I’m looking forward to sharing eight powerful reasons or ways that people can seize the opportunities that come their way in life. Once this book is released my goal is to get on the road and become a keynote speaker and continue to share inspiring messages as American’s #1 Opportunity Trainer.
Be sure to check out J.J.’s new book when it is released!
And follow him on Twitter (@jjbirden) and check out his Youtube page.
Photo: Borrowed from J.J.’s Youtube page. We do not own the image, all rights belong to him.