He discusses the violent, uncertain world of the National Football League
By Kevin Gray
Sprinting down the field as fast as he could, Blake Costanzo ’06 blasted into the legs of the opponent returning the game’s opening kickoff. The player lost control of the football and Costanzo fell on it, giving his Cleveland Browns possession deep in opposing territory and a great start to their game against the Denver Broncos last Sunday.
The high-impact play was no surprise to anyone who has followed the linebacker’s football career, from excelling for the Lafayette Leopards en route to earning Patriot League honors, to leading the Buffalo Bills in special teams tackles last season. He turned in an incredible performance against the Kansas City Chiefs, making six tackles and forcing two fumbles. “He led the team in tackles that day and he only played on the coverage teams,” said Bills special teams coach Bobby April. “I’ve never seen a player make six tackles on special teams in one game, ever. I’ve never even heard of it. It was a real feat.”
Still, Costanzo’s NFL career has been anything but secure. Twice, he was signed and waived — fired, in football lingo — by the New York Jets. He played for the Bills last season, but was waived in training camp this year. Costanzo wasn’t unemployed for long, however, joining the Cleveland Browns just five days later. He has recovered three fumbles in the past four games, including one today that set up the game-winning field goal against the Buffalo Bills.
The anthropology and sociology graduate fully understands the business side of the sport, and has found his niche as a special teams standout. In a recent interview, he talked about life in the NFL, what it’s like to cover a kickoff, and how he got the nickname “Dumpster Dive.”
How difficult is it to make an NFL roster and keep your job?
The NFL is a crazy business. It’s very difficult to make a roster. There are always people trying to find new and younger talent that they think can replace you. There is so much turnover with coaches and players, so it’s always tough to feel secure. I just appreciate the opportunities that I have been given by each team I have played for and can say that I’m truly blessed to just play the game no matter what color I’m wearing. On the field is the only time in my life when I feel free.
How did you get the news you were waived by Buffalo?
Well, it’s kind of funny…At the end of camp or [organized team activities] there are always these people that you have never seen before in the building. They’re usually some younger men who are just starting out in the scouting department, and as you leave, they say, “Hey Blake, so and so wants to see you.” But you know before you even get up there to see the man what the deal is. It’s a bad process that I’m sure no one enjoys, but it’s part of the business.
What’s the dynamic among players fighting for the same jobs?
Oh, it’s definitely tough to form those bonds and friendships with other guys you’re fighting with for one spot. I won’t lie: It’s tough to feel good for a guy who’s playing your position and he’s out there making some good plays. But it comes back to just being confident in who you are and what you stand for, and knowing what you can do on the field. As cliché as it may sound, I tell myself every day that I can only control what I do, and if I think like that I’ll be alright. My favorite part of football is meeting new dudes from all different backgrounds and becoming close through sacrifice and ultimately wanting to be the best. It’s that camaraderie and friendship I cherish most.
What’s it like to cover a kick on special teams?
Once you step on that field everything is silent. I’m just so focused in on my job and getting to that ball. As soon as that ball is kicked, it’s like you’re sprinting for your life with your eyes focused in on that ball. There are roadblocks and detours you have to go through to get there — blockers — but that’s when your instinct takes over and you just do whatever it takes to get to that ball and then BOOM! You’re there and it’s over, and you can hear the crowd and celebrate with your teammates. Then, you go out the next time and do it all over.
How long does it take your body to recover after game day?
It usually takes a day or two just to get that stiffness out, but luckily throughout my career, I have been able to stay healthy and be ready to go to practice on Monday.
Who is the biggest character you have played with?
Robert Royal. He’s a tight end who plays with me now on the Browns. He’s just always poking fun of people on the team…a personality that makes the locker room fun. Every Friday, he has his freestyle Friday rap going on and makes fun of everyone on the team, coaches included. Just a good dude to keep the atmosphere in the locker room light.
Do you have any nicknames?
When I was playing for the Bills, I didn’t have any cleats in my locker and the color of mine from college was wrong. The teams have these big brown boxes in the corner that I guess guys put their used cleats in to give away. I said “why not?” and went into the box and took some cleats out. Once guys on the team caught on, they all brought me some boxes of cleats and were making fun of me. They called me “Dumpster Dive.” [Laughs] I’m old school anyway and I prefer dirty old T-shirts and cleats. My rookie year with the Jets, Bryan Cox, who played in the NFL for a long time and was one of the tougher players that played the game, called me “Psycho” because I had no regard for my body — I hit anything in sight. Now he’s the defensive line coach in Cleveland and he continues to call me “Psycho.” It’s kind of cool to have a former tough player like Bryan call me that.
Do you have any pre-game rituals?
I don’t have too many routines, but I do always have to wear two pairs of socks and have to have a rubber band on one of my wrists. This dates back to high school….Don’t ask me why; it’s just something I’ve always done.
What did you gain from your playing days at Lafayette?
At Lafayette, I had the privilege to play for some of the best coaches and people that I have ever met in my life. From Coach Frank Tavani to coach Matt Hachmann to John Loose, I couldn’t ask for better people to play for. They prepared me not only on the football field, but helped me become a mature adult and that is priceless to me. I also played with awesome teammates, the Class of 2006. We were that class that brought back Lafayette football and I want each and every one who was in that class to get the recognition they deserve. Just amazing people and friends for life.