Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Domata Peko Interview

Position: Defensive tackle; Team: Bengals

Height / weight: 6-foot-3 / 320 pounds; Age: 26
College: Michigan State; Hometown: Pago Pago, American Samoa
Domata Peko hasn't cut his mane since 2002. And five seasons into his NFL career, the popularity of his poofy, long hair also hasn't stopped growing. Peko's mane is very much a part of his game, but he's also been a solid contributor on the field. He leads the defensive line with 55 tackles after being voted one of the team captains this season. This week, the dude who calls most everyone "dude" talked to The Enquirer about some people's bizarre fascination with his hair, potentially making money off his mane, football in American Samoa and what one play has done for his career.
Q: Word is that fans and strangers will approach you on occasion and ask if they can touch your hair. Really?
Peko: Sometimes they don't even ask. I'll just feel something, and say, "What the heck?" I was at Hollywood Casino a couple of weeks ago, and someone just randomly said, "Hey, can I feel your hair?" It's not a big deal to me, but sometimes my wife doesn't like it. (laughs)
Q: Troy Polamalu has the Head & Shoulders endorsement. Would you endorse a hair product if given the opportunity?
Peko: It's actually in the works. My agent called me the other day and told me that someone called him and he's working on it. I don't think I can tell anybody about it right now. I'm really excited. Ever since I saw Troy's commercials, I've thought that seems pretty cool and hopefully I can do that.
Q: What's the football tradition like in American Samoa?
Peko: Football is starting to be really big out there. Rugby is our main sport. But now that more Samoans are coming into the NFL, people back home are seeing that as a way to provide for their families and make a name for themselves. Our genes in our culture, we're all big people and I think football is a perfect sport for us.
When I was growing up, I always thought about Junior Seau. He didn't grow up there, but he's Samoan. He was a role model who set an example for us. I had a poster of him on my wall from when he was with the Chargers.
Q: How often do you get back home?
Peko: I've been back one time since I've been in the NFL, and that was last (offseason). I wanted to go back home before that, but I didn't want to go back empty-handed. I wanted to go back with something for the people. So I started the Domata Peko Foundation. I bought shoulder pads and helmets for all six (youth) teams on the island. So now that I have the foundation, I'm going to try to keep going back every year. The next thing I'm going to try to do is start a camp and try to bring as many NFL players as I can down there to teach the kids.
Q: One of the highlights in all of college football from the 2005 season was your 74-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Michigan. Why do you think that play became so big on television highlight reels and YouTube?
Peko: I think it was a lot of things. The hair flopping. It was a rivalry game, and it helped us go to overtime and win. And you hardly get to see a big nose guard go 74 yards down the field and not get caught from behind. Whenever I go back to East Lansing - I went to the Final Four earlier this year when we played Butler - a lot of people remember me because of that. It kind of opened up the doors for me to make it to the NFL. It helped put me on the map. Scouts could see that this big man can move.

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