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RunInRed

You Don’t Know Takeo

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RunInRed    1,208

You Don’t Know Takeo
Doug Dean

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In Behind the Mask, readers are in for a treat to hear from some of the most impactful and passionate linebackers to enter the National Football League.

Peyton Manning  


 “Everyone has two types of wolves in them.  You’ve got the good wolf, and you’ve got the bad wolf, and the one that you display the most, is the one that you’re feeding the most.” 

- Old Cherokee Tale 


Having hung up the cleats from his remarkable 15-year NFL career, Takeo Spikes is turning heads with a new venture that is breathtaking in its incongruity with his NFL gridiron persona.  In Behind the Mask, Spikes repurposes himself as photographer/documentarian, exploring the deeply human, intimate, and insightful personas of some of the NFL’s true legends at the linebacker position.  With his trained eye and camera lens, he is incarnating images that bring insight, beauty, and grace to our world – a world too often marred by destructive images.


Spikes’ first work product is drawing attention you would expect from more established photographers and writers.  Behind the Mask is stunning on the coffee table, and engages the reader as its subjects, from the late Chuck Bednarik, to Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell, Cornelius Bennett, Kevin Greene, Ted Hendricks, Mike Singletary and others open up with fellow NFL warrior Spikes in rare, insightful fashion.  Most of their stories will surprise you, the book’s images are striking, and all of their stories are windows into the defining moments of their life.

Spikes’ talent, surprisingly, is not recently developed  – it is simply that he committed his full attention to honing the technical skill and artistic sense of photography, having  apprenticed under greats like award-winning Atlanta photographer, Michael Moreland.

Behind the Mask quickly engages, and not many page turns in, the reader is lured into the very transformation the author himself has undergone – from stereotyped Sunday warrior, deliverer of violence for the viewing world, to holistic observer of his subjects.  It is the author’s - and perhaps our own as readers - journey from animus to anima, from competitive brutality to subtlety, serenity, acceptance, and empathy.  And without intent to vilify our football heroes, it is, perhaps, the transition from bad wolf to good wolf.


Few of us, save Takeo’s NFL teammates, could have seen this coming.  In our defense, that would be asking too much, given Spikes’ earliest impactful days on the gridiron and since.  We only thought we knew Takeo.

Spikes’ emergence as a legendary high school football player paralleled the rise of Washington County High School in the sleepy town of Sandersville, Georgia under high school coaching legend Rick Tomberlin.  Tomberlin recalls one defining moment in Washington County’s undefeated 1994 season – a hit that Spikes laid on Mary Persons running back Quentin Davis.  “Takeo meets that young man helmet to helmet and just decimates him,” Tomberlin recalls.  “It was the single greatest hit that I have ever seen in high school football.  The stadium was set underneath the hills.  I tell you that hit sounded like a rifle shot from the tree line of those hills.  We dominated our opponent from that point in the game.  One hit totally changed the tone of that football game.”


In an interview with Spikes, former NFL linebacker and sports analyst Brian Jones offered insight relevant to Takeo’s transition.  “For a lot of guys who retire from the NFL,” observed Jones, “it’s a struggle to transition to the next phase of their life.  We become identified with that jersey number.  And you’ve got to understand, that was the old me, and this is the new me.  You have to grapple with the question, ‘who am I?’, and what does it all mean now?”  Spikes explains his own turning point in the transitional process.

“I retired at the end of the 2012 season,” says Spikes, “and I started thinking about doing the book in spring of 2013.  The next step was trying to find a writer. I had just started classes at (the University of) Miami for my MBA, and the first thing we had to express in class was, if I had another occupation, what would it be? Mine was photography. After that, the professor said, ‘I want you guys to write a paper to see where all of you are.’ Two days later, he had my paper on the board. I was thinking he was about to kill me and say this is not how you do it. But he actually said, ‘This is how I want you guys to format it.’ When I walked out, he said, ‘Takeo, you’re getting ready to write your book, right?’ I said, “No.”  And he said, ‘Don’t give up the credit you deserve as writer, because you can write.’  That was an important turning point for me as I established my new life and work.”

Broadcasting great, and football legend in his own right, Spencer Tillman, is fond of observing that “. . . we live in a world of images and impressions.”  Spikes’ eyes, long dedicated to diagnosing NFL quarterbacks and offensive alignments, and to then quickly deploying his defensive troops, now peer through the camera’s lens, zeroing in on shape, space, texture, and light.

As a writer / documentarian, Spikes elicits candor and openness from fellow NFL warriors that is rarely accomplished in media interviews, and it would require of the author, above all else, dogged perseverance.  “I got with all my fellow NFL brethren, starting with this first edition of linebackers.  I then did extensive research on all these guys, driving at one question – what made them great, what was their defining moment in life and football?  It took me two years to do the research, and to make the rounds, spend the day at their house, interviewing, and photographing each of them.  The beautiful thing is that I was able to get the last interview with Chuck Bednarik just before he passed away, including a photography session, and to me that was powerful, and I feel very honored to remember him in my book.”  

Does Spikes consider this new venture – and the coming expansion of this photography / documentary franchise – a business?

“Yes, I run a business, but this is truly a labor of love, and I didn’t create this really with a business in mind.  I wanted to tell stories that few, if any have heard, merging the art of photography with stories that are compelling.  At the end of 2012, I knew I had to do something else, but I wanted more.  I wanted my next venture after football to be something fulfilling, something that would perhaps become a legacy.  So when I committed fully to taking my life-long love of photography to a professional level, and train under serious photographers, it took off.”


image.jpgSpikes’ intensity as the ‘defensive quarterback’ was legendary

“Behind the Mask is my labor of love,” Spikes goes on, “and each guy is telling the story of how they became great.  For me to have the opportunity to spend time in their homes, was moving, and what stood out was that each of them had a defining moment growing up, in which they decided to make a commitment to greatness.”

A brief sampler of a few of Spikes’ subjects illustrates the compelling nature of the book

Harry Carson (NFL Career: 12 seasons)

“Harry Carson was one of my subjects in the book,” says Spikes.  “He was a New York guy, Super Bowl champion, and a native of Florence, South Carolina.  Harry grew up in the civil rights era, and he used that as motivation to go out, change his environment, change his thought process, and do something to make his hometown of Florence proud.  His opportunity in football became his defining moment, and provided the visibility to make such an impact.”

Kevin Greene (NFL Career:  15 seasons)

“Kevin Greene believes everyone has choices to make,” says Spikes.  “Some choices are harder to make than others, and some require a level of fortified resolve that not every person has, or at least has not yet discovered or developed.”  Greene’s path to NFL greatness did not open up for him easily at Auburn University, as he faced down a series of setbacks before starting at linebacker for Coach Pat Dye.  Spikes saw, admired, and captured the important nature of Kevin Greene, and was awestruck.

“You talk about a resilient person,” says Spikes, “Kevin Greene quit as a walk-on at Auburn because he knew he couldn’t compete at the same level as the starters.  But it ate him up so much, that during his time off, he trained his ass off, and came back to play again.  Kevin told me he was not going to be denied.”

The name Kevin Greene today evokes unpleasant images for former NFL quarterbacks who faced the NFL Hall of Famer, and with good reason.  “Hitting someone hard is really a decision you make,” says Greene.  “You have to say, ‘No matter what size you are, no matter what color you are, no matter how hard you are, I am going to kick your ass.”


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Photo with approval of Takeo Spikes

Chuck Bednarik (NFL Career:  14 Seasons)

“I was more interested in talking to Chuck Bednarik,” recalls Spikes, “about his time as an airplane gunner.  He shared with me a moving recollection of his wartime days.”  ‘Takeo, after one of my missions,’ recalled Bednarik, ‘when I got out of the plane, and saw the bullet holes riddling the side of the plane, and I realized I was still living, I just got on my knees and thanked the Lord, and said if I can get out of here, I don’t ever want to go back to war again.’


When Spikes asked Mr. Bednarik about today’s NFL players, he drew laughter. “Ah, they’re a bunch ‘o wussies, Takeo,” said the NFL Hall of Fame inductee!

In a moving twist of fate, Spikes would be the last to photograph and interview Chuck Bednarik before his passing.

Mike Singletary (NFL Career: 12 Seasons)

“I knew a lot about Mike Singletary beforehand,” says Spikes, “but he really validated for me that you don’t have to be blessed with completely elite physical talent to be highly successful.  Mike was blessed with an undying desire to be great at football, and that was what helped him fulfill every goal he set.”

Perhaps sensing natural skepticism, Spikes expounds on his point.

“When people hear celebrities talk,” says Spikes, “they instantly believe or assume that these guys were born to do it.  With Mike, I wanted to know when he started playing football, at what point he believed he could play at a high level, but Mike Singletary didn’t start playing until the age of twelve years old, which is really a late bloomer.  But here is the reason why.  Mike Singletary was the youngest of nine, and at his age of twelve, two of his brothers died accidentally – one of carbon monoxide poisoning, and the other by drowning.  His father was a Pentecostal preacher, and uprooted and left the family.  Mike’s mother looked at him, and told him, at his age of twelve, that she needed him to be the man of the family.    Mike shared with me that he just went to his room and cried.” 

In that critical, emotional turning point for Singletary, he pleaded with his mother for understanding.  “She saw the tears in my eyes,” says Singletary, “and I said, Mama, you’ve got to let me play football.  I’ve gotta play!  This is who I am.”

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Photo with approval of Takeo Spikes


As well it should, Behind the Mask includes Spikes’ self-portrait of his own life and career, defining moments which have brought him to life’s latest turning point.

As a teenager, Spikes started to dabble in photography when he noticed that his mother, Lillie Spikes, was not necessarily capturing the quality of photographs that he envisioned.  That was the origin of his artistic curiosity about photography, which led him to purchase higher quality cameras, and ultimately, his obsession with photography even brought light-hearted ribbing from NFL teammates. 

“In 2010, I was with the Forty-Niners,” recalls Spikes, “and we played the Denver Broncos in London in the international series.  I got on the plane with my camera, and all of the guys looked, and said, ‘Spikes, take that damn camera off, you’re too big to be having a camera.’  So I said, “Alright, whatever”. 


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Southern Journal magazine

During the week in London, Spikes would take a lot of shots with teammates in the image. 

“When we got on the plane heading back after a week in London,” laughs Spikes, “one guy asked, ‘Hey, Spikes, let me see some of those photos’, “and very quickly, one guy turned into three guys, then five, and soon the whole team was after me for photographs.

Refreshing is an understatement for this guided tour of NFL greats, led by their own brother, Takeo Spikes.  Oh, there is much, much more to Takeo’s story, and to the other eleven subjects in Behind the Mask.  But who would want to spoil such a good read?!

For Auburn football fans traveling to the April 8, 2017 A-Day Spring game, Takeo Spikes will hold a book signing at J&M Bookstore on College Street!  Takeo looks forward to meeting the Auburn Family, and signing copies of Behind the Mask from 10:00 a.m. to Noon at J&M before the A-Day game.  Don’t miss it!

About the author . . . Doug Dean (Eagle5 on the InterWebz) is a close observer of Auburn and SEC sports and cohost of the Auburn Football All-Access podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @DeanEagle5. Write him at doug.dean@deaneagle5.com


To learn more about Behind the Mask, or order your copy directly, go here:

https://behindthemaskbook.com/

 

 

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Eagle5    18
20 minutes ago, homersapien said:

Great story! Thanks so much for posting.

Thinking about coming down to get a personalized copy. 

Come on down, bruh!  I'll be helping Takeo with the book signing from 10:00 am to Noon at J&M bookstore at Toomer's Corner!

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JMR    502
31 minutes ago, homersapien said:

Great story! Thanks so much for posting.

Thinking about coming down to get a personalized copy. 

I got the book a couple of weeks ago, and enjoyed it very much. Not a typical "football book", it's more about what drove those NFL greats to be great. Outstanding insight into just who each of those guys is/was. Takeo shows a real talent for getting down to the nuts and bolts of what made those guys drive themselves and how each willed himself to greatness. 

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icanthearyou    787
On 4/5/2017 at 10:28 AM, JMR said:

I got the book a couple of weeks ago, and enjoyed it very much. Not a typical "football book", it's more about what drove those NFL greats to be great. Outstanding insight into just who each of those guys is/was. Takeo shows a real talent for getting down to the nuts and bolts of what made those guys drive themselves and how each willed himself to greatness. 


"Things I Think I Saw"  A-Day edition???   

I want brilliant insight and I want it NOW!

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JMR    502
On 4/10/2017 at 8:44 PM, icanthearyou said:


"Things I Think I Saw"  A-Day edition???   

I want brilliant insight and I want it NOW!

LOL! I thought about it, but unfortunately, there wasn't a lot to see, typical of a spring scrimmage. I didn't pay much attention to the line play on either side, as the teams were seriously mis-matched in terms of talent, and there was a fair amount of experimentation going on. Like everyone else, I was impressed with Stidham and Willis, although both have things to correct....Willis obviously more than Stidham....but both are extremely capable. In more of a "conjecture" vein, I also think Sean White will be better in this offense than he was in the Malzahn/Lashlee version. Bottom line, I'm not convinced we can't win with any one of the top three quarterbacks.

There will likely be some shakeup on the OL once the grad transfers get on the field, and those changes could change the look of that group significantly. I was mostly pleased with the play of some of the young guys on the back end, glad to see that, as we really need to develop some depth back there. First group across the board is talented and even reasonably experienced, but depth is a problem for now.

Don't see how anyone could not be pleased with the improvement in the overall passing game, from some of the routes that were run, to the play of the wide receivers, and (with a few exceptions) the play of the quarterbacks.  As it was indeed a spring scrimmage, what we got to see was very limited, and rightfully so, with a new coordinator on offense and a formidable opponent coming up early in the schedule. Like any fan, I'm prone to conjecture, speculation, and even "extrapolation", and I *think* I saw some exciting stuff in Lindsey's plan. Some pass routes we haven't run before, and some "variety" in the way of option routes, crossing routes, rub routes, and easy reads for the quarterbacks. Obviously, some of that is guesswork on my part, so take it FWIW.

Defense was vanilla, and although there is an abundance of talent/potential on that side, the teams were not equal, the players knew that, and I don't think there was much to be gleaned from the defensive play due to the "rules" and the circumstances. Bottom line, given that it's April, I'm pretty happy with where we are. Almost all the pieces are in place, and the opportunity is there for a special season. Whether that comes to fruition or not depends on how much the players and coaches invest between now and September. I like the fact that we generally "looked good" at A-Day, as that will encourage the investment.

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