Good Evening
Good Evening

Kidsday talks with author Tim Green

Former NFL football player and author Tim Green

Former NFL football player and author Tim Green with Kidsday reporter Charles Beers, 13 of Huntington at HarperCollins offices in Manhattan. April 18, 2011. Credit: Newsday/Pat Mullooly

In anticipation of meeting not only a critically acclaimed author and NFL defensive end, but also a childhood hero of mine, Tim Green, my nerves started to get the better of me. However, when I finally met him the nervousness went away, for Mr. Green made me feel very welcome. After we got acquainted, we began our discussion about his experiences and his most recent novel, “The Best of the Best.”

In the time I spent with Tim Green, I realized what an extraordinary man he truly is, not only for his accomplishments as an athlete, but also as role model for adolescents all over the world. He is exactly what he encourages kids to be: a hard-working, motivated, kind man who uses his experiences to teach others.
Here is my interview with Tim Green:

Being a professional athlete requires hard work and sacrifice. So when did you first realize you wanted to be a professional athlete?

I think I was 8 years old and I wanted to be a professional football player.

What tough decisions did you have to make in your middle school years to keep your dreams alive?

I don’t think it was really tough decisions, but I think that to be an athlete and to be a good student and to be a writer, I think that what happens is as you along, and I would tell kids that it’s at an early age where you have to start to make sacrifices and you have to choose to do things that might not be what everyone else is doing, write, to work hard, to stay out of trouble. Do you know what I’m saying? You just kind of tow the line and sometimes when you’re young, people criticize you for that. It’s oh, why don’t you come with us, why don’t you do this and sometimes you know things are wrong. If you have like a greater goal in mind you just say, you know what this is what I want to do, this is what I want to be and I’m not going to let things get me off track or something as simple as going to a practice or doing your homework, where it’s not the easier thing to do, you’d rather do something else that’s more fun, but you want to stay on track and if you want to stay on track you’re going to make those sacrifices and that kind of commitment.

Which was more nerve wracking waiting for your college acceptance to Syracuse or your NFL draft?

Well, I wasn’t nervous about getting accepted into Syracuse to be honest with you because when I was as a senior in high school I was very fortunate in that I had every university in the country was recruiting me to come and play. I had good grades anyway, I had very good grades on top of that, so the acceptance into college was kind of a foregoing conclusion. So that wasn’t a big thing, but the NFL that was nerve wracking.

Were you projected to be picked by the Falcons?

Well, I’ll say this; I thought that I was going to be first-round pick just because some of the teams had expressed a lot of interest. Atlanta was one, the NY Giants was another. In fact, two weeks before the draft I sat over in Giants Stadium in Bill Parcells’ office with him. And he told me that if I was still available when the Giants picked that he was definitely going to pick me in the first round. They had the 19th pick and the Falcons had the 17th pick.

So they beat them to it.

Yeah. The rest is history. The Giants went on and won Super Bowl that year. We missed the playoffs. So when you talk about luck and a lot of the stories I write about how just one little turn of events can change everything.

I did some research and saw that you were co-valedictorian going back to your grades of your graduating class at Syracuse, which gives a whole new meaning to the term "student athlete." Was there ever a time when it was too much and you wanted to drop one or the other?

Well, yeah, there were a lot of times where it was hard. Because what happens is in Division One football it really is like a full-time job. So what you do is you get up in the morning, you go to your classes. As soon as your classes are done you head to the football facility, wherever that may be. Really you’re working from there until the early afternoon into the evening and then you’re done and then what do you do? You got to go and hit the books. So now you spend the rest of your time until you go to sleep, you’re studying. Now you get up in the morning and that’s your life. Now a lot of people around you they’re either doing one or the other. They’re either doing football and they’re not really spending a lot of time at their school. Or they’re doing school and they don’t have that football, which is really a full-time job. So there were a lot of times where it was difficult, but I guess I go back to your original question which is, what keeps you going. If you have this in your mind, this is what you’re going to do, this is what you’re going to be. You just keep marching forward.

What was your favorite moment in the NFL?

Honestly, my favorite moment was what you just talked about, getting drafted. That was the dream come true. When that happened, that was the dream come true. Now my favorite moment as a player was when we beat the New Orleans Saints in a wildcard game in 1991. That was the only year we went for the playoffs and that was the only playoff game that we won. And that was really exciting. It was special.

Well at least you won one, that was a great opportunity.

See, that’s an optimist. That’s how I look at things, the glass is half full rather than half empty. It’s true because I actually tell people a lot that there are players who were better than me, who played longer, who didn’t go to the playoffs at all. So I’m thankful that I at least had that experience.

I was amazed when I found out that you got your law degree while you played football and I would doubt that many professional athletes would even consider the future if they’re doing so well in the present. So what motivated you to get your law degree?

I knew that when the game ended I knew I was going to be eight to 10 years however many years I played, years behind my contemporaries, people I went to college with, the students in my other classes and I knew they were out in the world, they’re out in the workforce. They were gaining experience, gaining knowledge and I knew while I loved playing football in the NFL and I was making good money, I knew that when it ended I was going to have to start all over again.

Something to fall back on?

Yeah and so I thought well, I knew the more education you get, the more opportunities you have. I always tell, when I speak at schools, I always tell kids that, I tell my own kids that all the time that education…. a and you know people tell you that the higher you educate yourself the more money you make. That’s probably true to all across the board, but that’s not the reason to do it. The reason to do it is it’s not so much money as it is opportunity and choices. So the higher you educate yourself, the more opportunities you’re going to have and the more choices you’re going to have.

And to do something you actually want to do?

Yeah and to do anything. To switch gears and to change professions and to change places that you want to be. There’s so much that you could do. The higher you educate yourself the better off you are. And quite honestly I have become so use to my life in college, which I just described where it’s a constant cycle of you’re working in football, you’re working in school. I’ll be honest with you my first year in the NFL, in my rookie off season, I worked out, but it was the first time in my life where I really didn’t have a full schedule. And I enjoyed it and it was great and it was fun to all of a sudden, I didn’t have to worry about money, I didn’t have to worry about gas for my car. You know what I mean. I could go on vacations and travel around and do whatever I wanted. But I got to the end of that off season, my first off-season and I said, you know what, I can’t do this. If I do this, I’m just going to waste so much time and then when I turn around and my NFL career will be over and I won’t have anything more to show for it.

What kind of law did you study?

I just have a general law degree. I didn’t focus on any one particular area.

Would you ever consider being a lawyer now?

I am believe it or not. Who would think it? Right? I have a pretty thriving energy and utilities practice that I’m a part of in my law firm and I’m still doing it.

What inspired you to go into writing after you retired from the NFL?

I actually started writing . . . I guess I started writing in college. Because I took a lot of creative writing classes.

School newspapers?

No, like short stories. I started writing fiction in college and then when I started law school I started my first novel, so I was still a player when I started writing. I finished my first book when I was still a player in the National Football League.

As a full-time author?

Well I guess I’ve never been a full-time author because I always had other things that were going on. Even so when I was playing football, going to law school, I wrote my first book and my second book and then when I retired from football I was announcing games for Fox Sports and I was writing and then I did doing some work for a business that I was involved in, and then I started working in my law firm. So I’ve always done multiple things. I never just been a writer.

Your dedication in your novels is to your kids. Are your plots are based on their adventures in sports or yours, or both?

Some of both. I would say that in my stories I would say 80 to 90 percent of the elements in the story are things that I’ve seen or experienced, or my kids have seen or experienced and then 10 to 20 percent is I’m just pulling it out of the sky and make things up to make a good story. But a lot of what’s in there did come from my own experiences.

In what way are your characters like your children?

Well, I’ll say this in the “Football Genius” series, those characters are based on my kids. My kids share the names of the characters there. Fain and Ty are football hero and Ty’s too young. I don’t know what he’s going to be like. But Fain is exactly like Fain. He’s like that character. Troy and Tate in the Football Genius series, those are my kids. In fact, the pictures, I know we don’t have one here, we’re talking about baseball stuff now, on all the football books that’s actually Troy.

Can you tell me that story how it really happened?

Yeah sure. And Tess in the fifth one, she’s the mom in “Football Genius” series. What happened was, Barbara Wolecki, who’s my editor, contacted me before she was my editor, and said, hey, I got this idea about writing this series of middle grade novel for kids. Would you be interested in doing it? She read one of my novels for grownups. I got excited because one of the things I do as a dad is and I’ve always done, I read to my kids all the time. Even after they read to themselves I still…it’s just something I would do like a family type thing. I’d read stories to them aloud. So I read books like, “Maniac McGee,” “Holes,” those kinds of stories I love to read aloud. So I had the idea in my head. I felt like I knew the genre, I felt like I could do it. But what I was concerned with was I had written this series of kind of legal suspense novels and I wanted to make sure that what I wrote was going to be fun for kids.

Like appropriate, right?

Well, I could handle that part, because as a parent, like something that they would enjoy, relate to, they could understand, something they would find believable and also the language they could understand. So what I did was I had the idea for Football Genius, you know what, I’ll make Troy and Tate. Now Troy at the time was 12 and Tate was 9. So they were my target audience. So I made them the main characters. They’re not brother or sister, but they give them the first names, I made them, I said to Troy, I said, this characters is going and Tate, I said they’re going to be like you, they’re going to look like you, act like you, so the good and the bad. Troy said what bad? I said read page 1. The first sentence in “Genius” Troy knew it was wrong. So I modeled the characters after them because I knew that they would be fascinated by it. As you would, any kid would if your mom and dad said, hey I’m going to do this story and base the characters on you. So I knew they would really be involved and I said, hey look I really want you to help me. They would start out and they would tell me if there were words or sentences they wouldn’t understand as I write. Because I read the whole book aloud to them before I even sent it to my editor. And they would say, Dad I don’t know what that word means and I would just change it. They’re like how could you change the words and I said I don’t want….I want when young people read my stories I don’t want them to get hung up on words and sentences. I want it to move, I want it to flow, I want it to move fast. And then the other thing I would do is, as I would read, I would get to the end of a chapter, as you know I keep my chapters short. So I get to the end of the chapter and I’d stop reading. And I would just sit there and see how they would react and if they just sat there I’d say that’s no good I’ve got to go fix that chapter, the end of it. The chapters that stayed were the chapters where I’d stop and Tate and Troy would say, Dad keep going. Because I want my readers to get to the end of the chapter and want to turn that page. Want to keep going.
Yeah because you end a lot of your chapters with sort of like a suspenseful last sentence. Is that what you’re trying to get done?

Exactly. I wanted to make my kids stay, turn the page, keep going.

I read that you actually coached your son’s football team?

I do. I’ve coached Tate in soccer, Troy in soccer, I’ve coached my son’s wrestling team, I’ve coached baseball, my two older boy’s baseball teams and right now I’m actually the high school coach in our town and Troy’s a player there.

What is it like to be on the sidelines instead of actually in the game?

Well, I love it to be honest with you. It’s better to be a player then it is a coach. Although it’s really exciting to be a coach and I do love it. It bothers me a lot more to lose as a coach and I use to hate to lose as a player. It use to really drive me crazy. But to lose as the coach is I can’t really even describe it. It makes me physically ill.

Am I allowed to ask this, are you a protective parent?

You could ask that. No I’m not an overprotective parent. If anything, when I coach my kids, it’s a lot harder on them then it is for the other kids. And I’m a pretty tough coach as it is because I never want there to be any question as to whether my kids are getting any kind of special treatment they don’t. And the other good thing is, see when I grew up it was a different time and all that, things, people or coaches could be a little rougher back then that they are now, which I’m not saying is a good thing. I’m just saying that the way I grew up, my coach I could remember in little league, in football, little league and in high school, our coaches use to carry a clipboard, right. And if you were goofing around or somebody said something or you made a mistake he’d take that clipboard and just slam right across your helmet. Even though you had a helmet on it would like jar you. It wasn’t fun. And I would never do that. You can’t do that today. It was a different time back then.

I’m sure it’s not legal today.

Yeah, I’m sure and it probably wasn’t legal back then. It was different. Now I would never even think about doing that to one of my players except honestly with my kids, I might head them upside the helmet. Not with a clipboard. I guess my point is I’m tougher around my kids then I am around other players.
Have you gotten any good material for future novels based on your experiences from this happening?

That’s a great question. My next two, I think so, I don’t know yet. The reason I’m hesitating is because the book that I just started it’s called, it’s my next football book, it’s called "Unstoppable." And it is about a boy who’s actually a foster child of a guy who is a football coach. I’m going to be honest with you I really didn’t even think about that until you just asked me the question. I wasn’t even thinking about how I’m going to be able to know a lot of what this father, how he’s going to act or react as the coach and his son is a player. So yeah, it’s coming. Soon.
One of my goals is to be a sports writer. Do you have any advice for a teenager seeking a writing career?

This is what I always tell people about writing. The most important part of writing is re-writing. That’s it. That’s really simple, but it’s not. That’s where the real work comes in and that’s the part where most people will stop and say, ok that’s good enough. And it’s really not. Do you actually have to know as you move on, you have to understand when it’s good enough. So there’s like a fine line between you got….but you got to rewrite things. You got to just keep writing and re-writing and I’ll tell you this, you can’t tell anybody else. No you can tell anybody . . . Maybe this is just me, but an important part I would tell people who want to talk about writing, I’d say read it out loud to yourself. Don’t read it in your mind out loud to your self. Actually, read your work out loud. And you’ll hear things that you’ll say, that doesn’t sound right. That doesn’t work. Because sometimes things look ok on paper, but if you read them aloud you’ll catch things that you’ll never catch. That’s kind of an important part, I think, of the editing, the self-editing, the re-writing process.
Do you do that with all your books?

I do. And that’s why and actually having with my kids that’s what makes it beautiful. When I read the books with my kids. That’s part of my editing process. I’ll get it down and I’ll rewrite and rewrite have it and think it’s good. That’s why I love reading the stuff to my kids. Because as I’m reading it out loud, I’m like that’s not right.

You travel to high schools around the country and in fact some kids I know heard you speak at Locust Valley and they said you were really good. What do you think is the most important thing to discuss with adolescents?

I think if I had to put it into a very simple couple of sentences, I think it’s priorities are the most important thing and those priorities for most kids who have school and sports and other things in their lives, I think your priorities are going to be 1) your character, 2) your school work, and 3) sports. That’s probably the biggest part of my message and it’s often surprising to young people. It surprised my own kids. My own kids, as they’re growing up, and I’d say, listen school’s more important than sports. They’re like, "Dad, how can you say that you’re an NFL player." I’d say it is because school lasts for the rest of your life. Your education lasts. And then what really surprises them is when I say, because I’m always on them….school, homework, school. And then when I say, they hear me say, well that your character is more important than school. Then it really kind of sends them for a spin because I’m so much about school and then all of a sudden there’s something that trumps that, which is being kind, tolerant and generous, forgiving, respectful,
And do you try to put those qualities in your characters?

You know I do, don’t you? You’re a good reporter. You give me questions that you know the answers to.
How do you get this message across?

When I deliver the message? Well, I’m pretty passionate and energetic when I talk. When I talk to a group of kids. I kind of project my voice and I tell them some stories about the things that I did and experienced and I rely on the success that I had for kind of credibility. So the kids, I think, will tend to listen because if I’m sitting there saying, or standing there and saying listen school’s more important than sports. That’s a great message, a lot of people will agree with and give that message, but when they know I was a professional athlete and they kind of learn the sacrifices I had to make, and the things I had to do to get there, so it wasn’t like I just woke up and became a professional athlete. I would run until I got sick. I wouldn’t stop running because I got sick. I wouldn’t even turn my head to the side, I would just get sick all over myself and keep running. I would lift weights everyday. I would lift weights until my eyes would water. The pain was so intense. When you describe that, describe this lifelong dream, all the sacrifice and hard work you had to make to get there, then your first round pick, you play 8 years and now all of a sudden that same person saying, but guess what this is more important then that. It’s a powerful message right? Because it’s not like I woke up and found myself in the NFL and said oh well really school’s more important. I worked, I struggled, I sacrificed to get there and I still say that school’s more important. And character is more important than that. So it makes a powerful message and that’s how - without giving you the whole thing - that’s kind of how I do it.
Your baseball hero Josh has been through the highs and lows in both little league baseball and in life in your past two novels. How does Josh represent your message of not giving up when times get difficult? Like how does he show that in the book?

He exemplifies it because whether it’s on the field or off the field. He perseveres, keeps going, keeps working and to me and I talk about character, I talk about school, I talk about sports are important as well because sports can teach us lessons in a very kind of palpable, it can teach us lessons in a way that we could feel them and see them and really experience them. And in sports you come to understand that defeat is part of that. Right and bad plays are part of it. And bad calls are part of it. Right? That’s just life. And you come to understand if you want to achieve anything in sports, it’s about persevering, it’s about continuing to work and struggle and compete even when you fail. I think Josh definitely he exemplifies those things and things don’t always go, even though he’s got a lot of talent. And I think that’s the other thing about Josh that I like about him as a character is he’s a character I think a lot of kids when they read about Josh they think wow, if I was Josh everything would be great. If I could hit a fast ball, if I could read the spin of the ball when it leaves the pitcher’s hand and have the ability to hit it. And if bigger than everybody and stronger than everybody my age and I had this former pro ball player as a Dad who’s coaching me that everything is going to be easy. Right?
Is that why you made this book a lot more difficult for him?

Well, I think and we were talking earlier, I think the reason I made it difficult for Josh in this story is because in the other book he has obstacles, he overcomes them. And in this book, this is the third in the series and maybe the last in the series. Josh is going from, and I think it’s important about this age group, where boys become men right and girls become women and I think that in their early stages, and I think that Josh kind of becomes a man in the story in that he realizes that even in defeat, even when you don’t get things the way you want them, you can take things out of the experience that can make your life better and richer and so there can be an amount of success even in losing. Right? And that’s kind of a dangerous message to give because it’s like as a coach right, you got to be like it’s winning, winning, winning. And it is. It’s about winning. You want to win and you want to succeed. But sometimes in the end there are things that happening to us and against us that we can’t control and then if we do the absolute best that we can and somehow the forces of the world work against us then it’s much better to move forward and appreciate good things that happened, successes that we did have even though we didn’t win the championship, even though we weren’t able to keep our parents from getting a divorce, and to appreciate the best parts of the situation, and the best parts of a not ideal outcome. I think Josh, although it’s a painful process for him, I think he comes to understand that and he comes to accept it.
In the story Josh meets a new kid named Marcus -- or he likes to be called Zamboni -- who is constantly annoying in the beginning of the story. Did you ever have a person like that in your childhood?

Yeah. I had a couple Zamboni’s in my childhood.
And how did you deal with them?

I think a lot like Josh where at first I just want to throttle him, or get away from him, or wish they weren’t there and I think that’s another lesson for Josh. And that was a lesson for me that sometimes people who annoy us and rightfully so, it’s not like Zamboni, this guy. I think anyone would understand that Zambonie is annoying, he’s obnoxious, he’s annoying. But as the story moves on Josh comes to realize that they have some things in common and sometimes certainly when you’re on a team in sports you have to forget about your differences with your teammates. The commonality is that you’re a team. You have to, no matter what happens on the field or off the field, when you step on the field together you got to be a team. You can’t carry any kind of dislikes or grudges on to the playing field. If you do, you’re not going to succeed as a team. So that’s an important thing for a sports standpoint, but I think from a life standpoint, it’s also important sometimes to realize that we have to get along with people and you don’t have to like everybody. That’s OK that you don’t like everybody and they may not like you, but let’s find some kind of common denominator or at least be able to work together peaceably. That’s a big part of the story.
Josh’s friend Benji is a really funny character. He calls himself a heavy hitter. Who in your life is this character based on?

Based on Benji. Yeah there really is a Benji. He’s one of Troy’s best friends. And he really is a character. He’s really funny.
Do you have any thoughts of sending Josh on your football journey? Like instead of playing football at Syracuse
, baseball and then going into the major leagues in the future sequel?

Maybe. I really haven’t thought about taking the characters beyond this kind age range. I don’t know but so what I’ve done I’ve kind of created possibilities of carrying on with them. But I’ve also kind of left it that, that part of my writing career is really a collaborative effort between my editor and myself. And I really take a lot of my direction from her as far as where we’re going to go, what we want to do. Because like I said it’s this kind of age range here that we’re kind of zeroed in on. But I’m glad you’re asking that because it kind of sounds like you’d like me to keep going with him.

If you did I would really appreciate it.

If you talk to Barbara Wolecki maybe you can convince her to keep going.
As a Yankee?

Yeah as a Yankee. Sounds good. That would be the team.
Are there any other sports you would like to write about? Like basketball, hockey?

I thought about -- it’s funny because the sport I would one day write about is wrestling, which I probably would never have the opportunity. I shouldn’t say never, but it’s not like a very popular sport. It’s kind of an off beat sport. But it was a sport I participated in in high school and I loved it. So I’d like to do that. I’d like to do soccer and then I thought about it and I think the other sports I could do would be hockey and basketball. I thought about those, but I haven’t and the only one I haven’t played, I played basketball and I played soccer, the only one I hadn’t played is hockey. But my daughter Tate is a hockey player and I really come to appreciate that sport and enjoy it. So I think I could do that too.

Do you think you’d get a movie deal?

None so far. According to my agency, kids are clamoring for kids sports movies. It seems to me it will do well.


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