AP: You're now past OTAs and minicamp, so how much relaxation will you get between now and training camp?
Gafford: I'm off. It's time away, but it's also really key, too, because training camp is right around the corner. We just wrapped up OTAs and the whole team, myself included, just really worked our tails off to get ourselves in a good place to start training camp. If we just go away for a month and not do anything, we'd be starting over. While it's time off and time away, you have to be smart with it.
AP: What's the balance to vacate and get away from it all, because obviously when August hits, it's all-consuming again?
Gafford: That's absolutely right. I'm in a little town called Rockport, Texas on the Gulf Coast. I fished in the bay this morning, then played in the pool a bit with my kids. Now I'm going to get my workout in and then I'll go have dinner and relax. So I'm accomplishing both of those things. Mentally I'm taking a break, but physically I'll be ready to go.
AP: When you guys are done with minicamp, how much communication is there about how to handle the time off? Or is there that level of trust there since you're professional athletes?
Gafford: Well there is a lot of trust, but there's a lot of communication, too. We talked about it several times leading up to the last day and then on the last day again. We love our team. We love our guys. Part of it is because we know that, look, we know we busted our tails and went through that, but we also know we'll come back in better shape than we left.
We're all in this for the same reason. We're all trying to win a Super Bowl. This is one of those teams where we've gotten really close over the last year. Everybody's got this focus. It may be a bit of the taste of victory, too. It may be, "Oh, we can do this. This feels really good." It may be part of that, too, but there's leaders in each division group challenging their guys over the break saying, "If you're not with me, you better be working as hard as I am."
I have a lot of trust in the guys. I'll bet 99 percent of our guys are tearing it up. If not today, they will soon. They might take a few days off, but they'll end up working hard.
AP: You've been with the Chiefs for several years now, but I know you had to take your lumps getting cut from several teams in the beginning of your career. That has to make the consistency pretty sweet.
Gafford: Absolutely. When I came out of college, I was with the 2005 draft class and no one drafted me. No one signed me as a free agent. I didn't get any looks. It wasn't until 2006 that I was in camp. I just had a bumpy road, you know? I got cut from Green Bay twice, from Seattle, from Chicago. I was up and down and up and down and never played a regular season game. It looked like it wasn't going to happen for me to a lot of people. To me, at times, it felt that way, too.
But I had some huge encouragement from my dad. Coming out of college, as a long snapper, I felt like my window was a bit bigger than most. I set a goal of five years. I mean, I was single, so I didn't need any money to live. I could get a job making $10 per hour to get by. I had that dream of making it, so my dad always said, "If you ever get that opportunity and you're not ready, you'll never forgive yourself." So I just stayed ready.
It really makes it so much sweeter when I finally did play in my first regular season game in 2008 with the Kansas City Chiefs. Even though I've been on the roster with other teams, I've never played a regular season game with any other team than the Chiefs, so I've only ever been a Chief in my life. It really does mean a lot to me. It did taste really sweet when I got there and I'm not letting it go. [Laughs] I'm still holding on as tight as I can.
AP: Do you remember that very first game?
Gafford: Yeah, it was against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I think it was Week 9.
AP: How nervous were you?
Gafford: Oh, man. I was definitely nervous. But every professional athlete has some sort of arrogance to him, right? So there's a part of me going, "This is what I've trained for. This is what I've worked my tail off for. There's nothing to it but to do it now." But then you run out on the field in front of the screaming fans at Arrowhead and there's a lot of nerves.
I remember it being really well actually. The first time I snapped the ball was on a punt and we run out there, and I'm really nervous. On third down, I'm thinking, "C'mon man, just get the first down. I'm not ready for this." [Laughs] Then we don't make it and I go out there and I'm really nervous. But as soon as I get over the ball, everything got quiet and the focus took over. I was so focused on the job at hand that I forgot to be nervous.
It still happens that same way every game. I may be nervous in the beginning but somehow the job at hand is in front of me and I get focused on that so the nerves go away.
AP: You mentioned the long snapper's window earlier. Patrick Mannelly just retired from the Bears after 16 seasons. That's quite a window.
Gafford: I actually filled in for Patrick one training camp when he was nursing a hip injury I think. Then when the regular season came around, he was healthy. I struck up a relationship with him then. He's got maybe the most impressive long snapping career ever. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think he might be the longest-tenured Bear in their history.
AP: I believe that's correct. [Ed note: Yes it is.]
Gafford: That's outstanding. Everyone says if you're a long snapper, you can play forever. That might be the case if you work your tail off and stay at the top of your game, but I'll tell you what, there's only 32 teams and there's a lot of guys coming out of college every year. They're coming after your job. You cost more than a rookie, so you have to be better than him.
Hats off to Pat. I'll tell you this, it's not easy to stay in the league for 17 years. It's not easy to stay in the league for six years. That just goes to show you the quality individual he is. Obviously he's really talented, but he's such a hard worker.
AP: How much competition is there for you this year?
Gafford: Well, we don't have another pure long snapper on the roster, but that certainly doesn't mean I don't have any competition. The way I look at it is I'm competing with every other long snapper in the league. There are several teams carrying two long snappers and there are veterans on the street right now. The way I look at it, I'm competing with every other long snapper. If I'm not better than everybody, one of them is going to take my job. While we don't have a pure long snapper in camp this year like last year, I'm certainly not looking at it like I've got it made. As soon as you think that way, you'll lose your job to somebody else.
AP: What's the difference this year in Andy Reid from year one to year two?
Gafford: There isn't one. He's one of the most consistent dudes I've ever been around. You talk to guys who played for him in the early 2000s and they're saying, "This is how it was for us. I don't know how it is for you all." And it's the same thing to the letter. He's got a formula that works. He's still tweaking it to get the team to the Super Bowl, but he's just so consistent in the way he interacts with you and what he demands of you. Whatever consequence may come of what you do or don't do, he's super consistent.
So in that regard, not much has changed. But we also know what to expect now. We know what he demands of us and how things go as players. So we're not more comfortable and yet we are more comfortable. [Laughs] It's just helped things run fluid. It operates on a high level and faster. That's his thing. He wants everything to operate quickly.
AP: The Chiefs lost several veterans this offseason, which is par for the course, and you've been through that. When you come back for another offseason, how is that in the locker room? Is it hard or understood that it's just the business of the NFL?
Gafford: It's tough. You're in a work environment with these guys, but it feels different than a 9-to-5 job where you clock in and out. Everyone's pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into this deal. When you do that, you get close. You develop these relationships that go beyond football. But there's a lot of turnover in the NFL. Everyone knows it. Nobody is getting into thinking it's easy to keep. You develop these relationships and then suddenly he's gone.
Maybe I have a different perspective than a lot of the guys because I've been cut so many times, but I say you're more than a football player. You're a man. So go be a man and if you still want to be a football player then work your tail off at it. Then if you get another opportunity then you're ready. It's tough because you want to encourage guys who are that way. But at the same time, it sucks that he's gone but we have to move forward.
AP: This year, however, you lost a lot of those guys who've been with you since you've been with the team. How hard that is to see some of those guys go?
Gafford: It's really tough, especially for a guy like Brandon Flowers. That's a guy I've played with for six years. You get so close with those guys. You've worked so hard with them and you just hate to see them go. It's especially hard, too, when you know you might not see them again. I mean, with Brandon, he might be wearing the wrong colors, but you know you'll see him again. It's hard to see a bubble guy working his tail off to scratch out making the team and he didn't quite do it and you know it might be his only opportunity. That's when it's really tough.