More Story: Tom Zbikowski finds redemption

IRISH STEW

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Today, we published a story chronicling Notre Dame great Tom Zbikowski's journey from addiction to redemption.

But Zbikowski had a lot more to say.

Check out Zbikowski's take on Charlie Weis, the "Bush Push" game and much, much more.

Tom Zbikowski

On how difficult it was to give up playing quarterback at Notre Dame:

“Pretty damn hard. I’ve always been good at just moving on, moving forward. But I struggled with it my whole first year that I redshirted. I hated not having the ball. I knew what kind of playmaker I was, so I figured it was better to have the ball in my hands than trying to stop it.”

On leaving Notre Dame for a few days in 2004 and considering a transfer so he could play quarterback:

“I wanted to go play quarterback, so I was trying to go back to my other offers, see what was what. I was just trying to step back and figure things out. You shouldn’t lose a year of eligibility if you transfer. That’s not right. Coaches get fired. Coaches take new jobs. That’s not fair. You don’t know what you’re signing up to. But thank God that happened, though, because I ended up back at Notre Dame and in the long run much better than leaving and going somewhere else.”

On the rush of an interception returned for a touchdown:

“That’s a rush that can’t be beat, either. Stealing what’s not yours and scoring off of it is…ideal. That’s what made it fun.”

On adjusting to the spotlight at Notre Dame:

“Your ego is going to grow. You’re a 20-year-old male filled with testosterone. But I think it only adds to your character.”

On the 2005 season:

“The season we had was the season we knew we were going to have. It’s tough to have everything align in football. A lot of (stuff) goes down. But that is what we planned for, that’s how we trained, that’s what we deserved, that’s what we got. It was a fun ride, because we played some good teams.”

On how football was more physical when he was at Notre Dame:

“I speared and cowboy collared. That was my way of tackling. That was allowed back then. That’s why it was fun. It was a different game.”

On coaching a less physical style of football:

"The fun of it is trying to find ways to adapt to the rules and play as physical as you can. It just makes you intellectually better, too, because you’re not trying to beat the rules, but you’re getting every inch you can out of them.”

On the punt return touchdown against USC in 2005:

“That’s one of those moments where some hater will say, ‘Act like you’ve been there before.’ You have no idea how hard it is too score a touchdown. And you’ve never been there before, if you think about it. Every experience, every single play, every minute is different than before, so you have never been there. It’s one of the worst statements. I cringe when I hear it.”

On the devastation of the 3-9 season in 2007:

“As much as you put in, and much as you feel, that’s how much is ripped away when you have a bad experience also. You just have to remember how much you love the place, and how good of a time it was. Because it was. It was a trip. I didn’t belong there, but that’s why it was awesome.”

On college athletics and the NCAA:

“Being an athlete is fun. College football is fun. And it’s fun because you don’t get paid. You know you’re getting screwed, because at some point, they have to let you rebel.”

On if he had pursued professional boxing:

“It would have been terrible. It’s boxing. You have to love it for the long term. You have to love it for when you hang a heavy bag in your garage and no one is watching. You have to love that as much as the bright lights and the big show of it.”

On the differences between football and boxing:

“Football is more just the story of life – longer season, ups and downs, getting there. In boxing, you’re primed for one event, one big party. Everything is Notre Dame-USC. Every fight you take, the story is better, the records are better. There’s nothing like a live fight.”

On coaching and schemes:

“I know every system. It’s the same system. It’s all the same (stuff) reinvented a little bit. From the 1900’s everything has been done and redone. It’s almost like music. It’s just stolen from the generation before.”

On losing his love of football late in his NFL career:

“As soon as I got the call from the Colts that I was released, it was like…we’re all good. As soon as it ends, it’ll end. I can play if you want me to. I was unemotional. That’s what I had done for a while, but that’s not the best me. The best me is when I care about who I’m playing for. At Notre Dame, I cared about who I played for. I cared for the Ravens. They got the best out of me. I appreciated what they did for me.”

On enjoying the journey, not the destination:

"I enjoy the challenge, the chase. I don’t really care if we won the USC game (in 2005), if we got a ring. I had plenty of better experiences because they were all character-builders.”

On why he wants to coach:

“The reason that I want to coach is not to change the culture, but to show that there’s another way to teach an extremely combative, violent, very intellectual game. I want to have an impact and shape a generation to be better than the generation before.”

On Charlie Weis allowing him to play quarterback for one series during the Senior Day game in 2007:

“That was good of Charlie, man. That’s why I can’t ever say anything bad about Charlie. I know people have their qualms about him. He actually understood what I went through day-to-day and how much I cared.”

On why guys love to play for Rex Ryan:

“He’s a big softie, which is what you love about him. Just be emotional, someway, somehow. Emotional isn’t alpha male, beating on your chest. He gives you that little spark of encouragement. Be emotional, but don’t be a meathead that curses every other word. There’s an amount of pissed off that you have to be to play this sport, but there’s a better way of doing it. It’s communication, just learning to talk to people.”

On a typical shift as a firefighter:

“It’s an eerie feeling. You can’t sleep through an alarm. You just have to be prepared so that you’re dead asleep and when you wake up, you’re ready to go. You hit the floor running.”

On whether anybody could become a firefighter:

“Anybody is capable of doing anything. It’s just about whether you’re willing to take that initial step.”

Former Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski has been working as a firefighter for the last three months in Chicago. He is a third generation firefighter. (Photo courtesy Kramer Photographers)