Exclusive Interview with San Diego Chargers Great Natrone Means

Vincent Laforet/Getty Images

BFTB gets a chance to interview legendary San Diego Chargers running back Natrone Means about his career in San Diego, Jacksonville, back in San Diego, and what he's been up to since retiring from the NFL.

Nearly 20 years ago, you had a 3 TD game against the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. Was this the game where you felt like "Yeah, I can play at this level", or had that already happened earlier in the season?

I think at that point, it had already happened. I do remember the game though. It was the next to last game of my rookie season. Prior to that point, I had a few decent games, including a 100+ yard game at Minnesota, but that Miami game was by far the best of my rookie year.

1994 seems to have been a high water mark for your career. Of all the things that happened that season (starting 6-0, winning AFC West, playoff comebacks against Miami and Pittsburgh, Super Bowl, Pro Bowl) what sticks out in your mind the most?

There were so many things.

We only lost back-to-back games once. The start of the season, going 6-0 was absolutely huge. The Dolphins playoff game at home was memorable, but winning the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh, just the way it happened, I don't know if you could have scripted it any better.

You've got to remember that nobody was picking us to even make the playoffs at the start of the season and here we were, knocking off the Steelers to go to the Super Bowl. It was great to accomplish that with that special group of guys.

A lot of people talk about the 1994 Chargers team being cursed, with the unusual number of players from that team who are not with us anymore. Is there anyone of that group you miss in particular?

My two favorite guys on that team were Chris Mims and Lew Bush.

Lew and I were in the same draft class and that's how we got to be really close. Chris was another good friend of mine that kind of took me under his wing. He was a great guy to be around and one of my best friends on the team. I lost two of my best friends when Chris and Lew passed away.

Did you have a favorite teammate from your first three seasons in San Diego? If so, who and why?

It was always myself Chris and Lew.

As I said, Lew and I were drafted together and we just kind of hit it off from day one. We were always together and if you saw one, you saw the other. We just click. I think it may have had something to do with his cooking. He loved to cook.

Having a teammate that could cook like that ... man, I spent a lot of time at Lew's house.

Your initial departure from San Diego surprised a lot of fans. Is there anything about that you wish had gone differently?

I think the first go-around, with the contract dispute, it definitely impacted the way I was released in San Diego the first time.

There were some things done that I wish hadn't been done. I know there was a letter that was released and put into the paper. Obviously you look back and wish some of those feelings that carried over into the business side of things wouldn't have been so public. I just wish the contract negotiations hadn't gotten to the point that they did.

Your 1st season in Jacksonville was 1996, when the Jaguars pulled off one of the most improbable playoff runs in memory. What's your favorite moment from that season?

Going into Buffalo that first game, us coming up from Florida and I think it snowed the night before. Just being in the cold and in a hostile environment, coming back and pulling that game out, then going into Denver and winning there. We beat two Hall of Fame QB's in back-to-back weeks. That whole playoff run with Jacksonville was special.

Coming back to San Diego in 1998 must have felt really bizarre. New coaching staff, totally new players on offense. Did you ever feel awkward, or have the feeling like "you can't come home again"?

Not at all. It definitely felt like I was coming home again. There were still familiar faces in the locker room and in the NFL, you get used to guys coming and going and coaches moving on.

Obviously coming home to San Diego eased my transition to playing on a new team. I told some of the guys that it sometimes felt like two weeks as opposed to two years. That's just what it felt like.

During your NFL career, who was the teammate you respected most and why?

Junior Seau hands down. He was just a guy that showed up to work early every day. The first guy in the building, the last one to leave. He was the consumate professional. He was one of the greatest players I've ever played with and an all-around great guy as well. He did so much for the city of San Diego and left it all out there. He was a guy that I looked up to and respected.

It wasn't until I left San Diego and went to Jacksonville that it dawned on me that not every team has a Junior Seau. Hands down the greatest player I was fortunate enough to play with.

Over the last several years, you've been involved with the NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship Program, and have served as a position coach and offensive coordinator in high school and college. Is coaching something you feel drawn to, and how far would you like to go with it?

It was a bit of a fight at first. I wasn't sure if the commitment was something I wanted to undertake while in the league, but after I retired, I started a youth football league in my hometown and found that to be a passion. I went from youth football to college (Livingstone College) and did some work on the Division II level. Since then, it has been an ongoing goal of mine to work my way up and become the best that I can be. I coached some high school ball with West Charlotte High School because it was best for my family life and kids. But I'm pressing forward, hoping to get back into college and advance it as far as I can.

Are there any specific influences you've taken from Mack Brown, Bobby Ross, Tom Coughlin or other coaches you've played or worked for?

Yeah, I think there's something that you take from all of them. Not just the head coaches, but all of the position coaches too.

Coach Brown was a great communicator. He let it be known what he wanted to get done. Coach Coughlin was a very intense guy and I respected him for the way he handled people. He treated everybody the same and I could respect that. It may not have been what everyone liked, but he was consistent in his style. With Coach Ross, having a coach not so far removed from the college game benefitted me greatly. We had a great group of guys, but Coach Ross kept everyone together.

The game really has changed in the 20 years since you were an NFL rookie, and there's a lot of changes being made to help protect players, though some have criticized the changes as making the game less physical. Where do you stand on the player safety issues?

Anything that can be done to protect the players, I am all for it. Obviously there has been a lot of uproar about the safety changes and how it impacts defenses. A lot of guys think its just more rules put in place to protect those offensive guys. But you don't want to see anyone die out there on the field and you don't want to see those big-money guys get hurt.

We all deal with day-to-day issues dealing from our time with the NFL, so I'm all for the changes.

How closely have you been following the Chargers this season, and in particular, Ryan Mathews? Is there anything you've seen as a cause for improvement that many fans might miss?

I actually had a chance to get to the Miami game through a Thuzio fan experience. From what I've seen live and in color, it seems like Matthews is a guy coming into his own form and from all indications, he's headed in the right direction. In the beginning, there were questions about what he was going to be and what he was all about, but following LT's footsteps wasn't going to be easy for anyone.

I'll be honest though, I try and watch as much as I can, but as my can, but as my kids get older, it seems like less and less of my weekend is taken up by football.

Thank you, Mr. Means. It was a pleasure to watch you play and a pleasure to interview you.
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