Keith Bulluck reflects on high school, NFL days before Rockland Hall of Fame induction
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For 11 seasons, Keith Bulluck, a Suffern native, was widely considered to be one of the NFL's top linebackers.
The former All-Pro and Clarkstown North High School alum amassed 1,108 tackles and 21 interceptions in his career that included 10 years with the Tennessee Titans and one with the Giants. He retired in 2011.
On Saturday, Bulluck, 36, will be among six former athletes inducted into the Rockland County Sports Hall of Fame during a banquet at the Pearl River Elks Club in Nanuet.
Other inductees will be Jodi Schlesinger Salsberg, a national champion track star at Clarkstown South in the late 1990s; Khyl Farrison, a three-sport star at Suffern High in the late '90s; Ed Wanamaker, a three-sport standout at Nyack High in the '70s; Mike Rotundo, a four-sport star at Tappan Zee High in the '50s; and Bud Kast, a 1938 Pearl River graduate who went on to be a football standout at Dartmouth and will be honored posthumously.
Newsday recently spoke with Bulluck, asking him to reflect on his high school and pro playing days, about his life now and about how the NFL is evolving.
Q: How do you feel about being selected to the Rockland County Sports Hall of Fame?
A: "It's pretty cool. I really wasn't aware that Rockland County had a sports hall of fame. That's where I'm from and that's where I started playing sports and made a lot of the friends that I still have now. When I think back, it was great to play with my friends at that time ... This isn't just for me. This is for all of us. I feel like taking this award, Rockland County Hall of Fame, is for all my friends that I played with because we played Pop Warner, Little League, CYO from the age of 9 years old to 17. Not just my teammates, but the guys I played against. This award for me represents all my teammates and all the guys that I played against throughout those years because once I left Rockland, I went on to represent for everybody."
Q: Looking back at your high school playing days, what is your fondest memory?
A: "My fondest memory is just playing sports at its truest essence. That's when it's fun. That's when the memories start. It's about going out there and playing with your friends. That's when it's the most fun. Because once you get to other levels, it means more, [and] there's more at stake. But in high school, it's the purest level of sports."
Q: What are you up to these days?
A: "I'm enrolled in business school at George Washington University, working on my executive master's degree in business administration. Also, I work on Sirius XM doing radio analysis for the NFL. I also do [TV] color analysis for the Titans during the preseason football game. I stay busy. I also have a young family [married with three children]. I spend a lot of time with my family. I like to travel and do family things. I'm just enjoying my life right now."
Q: How was the transition into retirement? Was it difficult to not play football suddenly after playing it your entire life?
A: "No, it wasn't too hard because while I was playing I did things to stay involved, as far as working on my life after football. I took business programs, entrepreneurial courses. I did things to stimulate my mind other than just thinking about the X's and O's. So when I was done playing, I had ideas for what I wanted to do. I feel like I made a choice to stop playing. My agent had passed away, and it was right after the lockout ... I made a conscious decision that my playing days were over and to move on."
Q: What are you most proud of about your NFL career.
A: "I'm most proud of the fact that I'm able to say that I've done it. I went out there, and I competed with the best players of the first decade of the 2000s -- the Ray Lewises, the Derrick Brookses. I played against Emmitt Smith. I played against Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady. And I played at their level. A lot of people have had the opportunity to play in the NFL, but not a lot of people can say that they've competed at one of the highest levels. And when people think of the Tennessee Titans defense during those days, I'm one of the people who comes to mind. And I think that's a great legacy to leave."
Q: We're seeing a lot of NFL rule changes with player safety in mind. Are you in the camp that believes that the game is getting watered down because of the new rules, or do you think the changes are necessary because of all of the concussions and serious injuries?
A: "I come from the age where we use to watch 'Crunch Course' and all these highlights films of people getting hit all over the place. And that's the reason I chose to play defense over offense because I'd rather be giving the hits. But also, the injuries being caused from playing football are just now being researched. We're just now getting all the analysis on it, and it's being brought to the forefront. So now the NFL is able to take precautionary measures and prevention to make this game safer, to make it better. For those who are used to the traditional way that football was played, yeah, we're going to have our gripes. We're going to have our moments of disinterest in the game and think that the game is being watered down. But at the same time, for the longevity of the game and for the kids coming up now, you've got to teach them a different way to make them safer so the game isn't extinct."
Q: You're announcing the Titans' second-round draft pick on Friday as part of the NFL's program honoring legendary players. How does it feel to have that tag, "legendary," attached to your name?
A: "It's pretty surreal. Any time that I played, I just wanted to be the best. I never thought of being a legend. I guess it just goes to show, like I said earlier, that I actually did it. I wasn't just a part of the NFL. I actually filled a role. I impacted people on my team, as well as off the field, such as fans and people around the community in Nashville and even people in the community that I grew up with. I know Deion Sanders is going to be there, a whole bunch of Hall of Famers are going to be there, and to be in that group is an honor."