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mesaSteeler
09-19-2009, 06:01 PM
Q&A: Rashard Mendenhall
http://espn.go.com/chicago/columns/blog?post=4485746&name=friedell
Steelers running back returns home to Chicago as a pro

September 18, 2009, 6:22 PM

By: Nick Friedell

Rashard Mendenhall is still a Bears fan -- just not this Sunday.

The Skokie native makes his professional return this weekend when his Steelers take on the Bears at Soldier Field. I caught up with the former Illinois running back on the phone recently and discussed how much this return to the Windy City means to him.

Rashard Mendenhall is playing his first game in Chicago as a professional.
When the schedule came out and you saw that your team was playing in Chicago during the second week of the season were you just like, "This is perfect"?

Rashard Mendenhall: I wasn't necessarily, but just about everybody I know was. Everybody back at home was so excited that I would be coming back to play there. I thought it would be cool and exciting too, but I didn't think about it too much cause I didn't want get out of [thinking about] the things I needed to do.

Were you a Bears fan growing up?

RM: Yeah, yeah, I was a Bears fan growing up. I still am now.

How does that work? I know you want to win Sunday, but are you still following them and watching the games when you can?

RM: Whenever I catch them on TV I like to watch them and I'm a little excited when they win and stuff. (Laughs)

I'm assuming you watched last Sunday night's game then, right?

RM: The Packers [game]? No, I was traveling I think when that was going on so I couldn't watch it.

As a Bears fan then, you got lucky.

RM: Yeah.

How many family or friends have called you or asked for tickets in advance of Sunday's game?

RM: I only have twenty people that I'm trying to get tickets [for], but probably about 60 asked me.

Have people been coming out of the woodwork all week like, "Come on man, hook me up with tickets."

RM: (Laughs) Yeah, and people ask for tickets like, "You think me and a couple friends, you can get about 15 tickets?" That's not a couple people. They act like it's no problem, like it's so easy to get tickets like that.

Are there any people who you haven't heard from in a while that just came out of nowhere, or is it all family and friends?

RM: It's people I've talked to here and there, at least, because people I haven't heard from they probably wouldn't have my number, but people I talk to a little bit, at least [would].

On a different subject: What's the biggest difference between Coach Tomlin and Coach Zook?

RM: Coach Tomlin's a lot more relaxed, you know Zook, he's real fiery, in your face, real passionate. Coach Tomlin is a lot more chill, a lot more relaxed, sits back. If he feels like you're doing good he'll tell you, if he feels like you're not, he'll tell you. [Tomlin and Zook are] two completely different personalities.

So what you're saying is that Coach Tomlin would be the guy in the sunglasses on the boat, as compared to Coach Zook who would be water skiing and posing for pictures behind it?

RM: HAHAHA! Yeah something like … not necessarily. As far as a football game, if you're watching on the sideline, Coach Tomlin is always gonna be chillin', but Zook's gonna be almost on the field screaming.

Everybody here in Chicago is wondering what's going on with the football team at Illinois. From what you've seen and or heard, what do you think is going on over there?

RM: I think they'll get it together. I think what happened is, the year I left [2008], there were a lot of really important guys, where we had success with the team. There were really key guys who helped build that team, like captains, older guys who had been there, who had played. Just the whole character and demeanor of a lot of the guys that left, between J Leman … Justin Harrison and Kevin Mitchell, just the whole quality and how they carried [themselves]. I think that was a big part of it, the personality of the team leaving. Where there's a lot of young guys who are talented that haven't really done too much or [have been] kind of sporadic, I would say.

Do you still talk to some of the guys on the team?

RM: Yeah, I still talk to some of the guys on the team.

When you do talk to them, especially after the Missouri game, do you get the sense that they're down, or do you think they still realize that they have plenty of time to turn it around?

RM: They're not down or anything. I think with football in general, you kind of learn to keep your spirits [up] and move forward, and not kind of dwell on things. They're looking forward to the season and everything, they're prepared.

Getting back to the game on Sunday for a second, as a Bears fan, obviously, you grew up watching Brian Urlacher. Are you glad you don't have to face him now on Sunday?

RM: (Laughs) No, it would have been cool to face him. If you feel like you're the best, you want to go against the best. If I would have juked him or ran him over or something like that, it would have been something my friends could kind of … think it would be pretty cool. You want to be able to play against guys like that, especially growing up watching him. It's been like that being in the NFL in general, there's a lot of guys that … even on your team you play with, like Hines Ward and to go against Troy Polamalu, guys like that.

To that point, do you feel like you're going to get there on Sunday and just kind of look around like, "Whoa, I'm at Soldier Field … I grew up cheering for this team." Do you feel like you'll have that moment?

RM: Ahh, a little bit, I feel like I'll take it in for a second as I run out the tunnel, just kind of look around and take it in just for a second and then carry on business from there.

Did you go to any games at Soldier Field when you were growing up?

RM: I've been to a couple games when I was younger.

Do you think that place looks like a spaceship compared to what it was?

RM: (Laughs) I actually haven't been in the new stadium. But it doesn't look like a spaceship from the outside. I went it before they built the other stuff on top of it.

As a fan of the Bears, is there a part of you that wishes you could play for them, or are you just happy to be in the NFL?

RM: I'm definitely glad to be in the NFL, especially with a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it would have been cool to play in Chicago. I grew up there and played my whole life, but at the same time, being away from Chicago, you kind of learn and grow. If I had been there, with everybody in my whole life … [there would have] been good things and bad things. It would have been cool playing for the home team, but at the same time, everything happens for a reason and I'm glad I'm in Pittsburgh.

In terms of what you all have focused on this week, how do you think the loss of Urlacher changes, if at all, what you guys are trying to do?

RM: It's not gonna change anything we're trying to do. [The Bears] defense is a real good defense and they're gonna be good regardless. They got great linebackers with [Lance] Briggs and [Hunter] Hillenmeyer coming in to replace him, so we don't expect too much of a drop off. It's not gonna change how we attack.

Are a lot of the guys from Illinois going to try to come up for the game?

RM: Nah, I haven't heard from the people from Illinois trying to come up. They got their own things going on too, so it would be hard for them to try to catch a game. I'm sure they'll be watching.

Is there something specific you miss most about Champaign?

RM: Yeah, a lot of things. Just the whole college atmosphere. You kind of don't really realize 'til you leave there that you'll never live in atmosphere like that where everybody's the same age, everybody does the same things. There's a lot more freedom than high school but a lot less than real life. Just a small point in time that you can't really get back.

How would you compare the cities of Champaign and Pittsburgh?

RM: Champaign is like a spin-off of Chicago. The people, where everybody's from. Pittsburgh, being [near] the East Coast, it's a little more East Coast. Pittsburgh [has] a little more small-town feel.

But you've enjoyed being in Pittsburgh the past year?

RM: Yeah, I enjoy it. It's a little slower pace and I enjoy that, 'cause I'm a little more chill, I kind of have my own space and my own place. To be able to do the things I want to do is pretty cool.

mesaSteeler
09-19-2009, 06:01 PM
Have you been back to Champaign since you've been drafted?

RM: Yeah, I've been back a couple times.

Is it better to visit as a pro, or is it better to be there as the starting running back for the school's football team?

RM: It was better when I was there, cause I was the same age as everybody and doing the same things, and now … Even now, everybody kind of looks at you in a different way. I'm out of college so I feel a lot older than the whole [scene] and everything. It's just a lot different. It's cool to go back when I go back now and just to be with some of the guys on the team or be with friends that are still around there, stuff like that. It's a lot more chill now and I try not to be around everything and everybody because you'll [have] people recognize me.

Obviously, it's harder to fit in then?

RM: Yeah, yeah it's a lot harder. There's no such thing as fitting in [now].

One of things that popped up while I was researching for the interview was the hip hop class that you took. How much do you think that actually helped you in preparation for the season?

RM: I'm not sure how much it helps [with] football. I think it can help a little bit, just as far as your body movement and flexibility, strength and inner creativity.

Do you think that's something you'll continue throughout your career or was that class a one-shot deal?

RM: I doubt I'll have enough time to take a class like I did last year, but as far as dancing I don't see myself stop dancing any time soon.

So you don't think you'll be going on "So You Think You Can Dance," any time soon?

RM: HAHA! If I get a chance I will, but I don't know if I'm that good yet.

If you had to come out to a song at Solider Field on Sunday what would it be to get you fired up?

RM: I'm not really sure. Not to get me fired up, but something to make me feel good, it would probably be oldies. It would be like the Isley Brothers or something like that.

The Isley Brothers? That's like a karaoke dream right there. I think I've sung some Isley Brothers songs before.

RM: HAHA.

I know we don't have much more time, so let's start to wrap it up. Do you have a prediction for Sunday's game?

RM: No, I don't have a prediction, but I feel like the Pittsburgh Steelers are the best team in the league and I can't see us losing any time soon.

Do you guys fear anybody? Obviously, you all won the Super Bowl last year, but is there an opponent that the team really fears on a weekly basis?

RM: Not at all, actually. The only people that can beat us are ourselves … when you're not at your best in the NFL anybody can beat you, so we just try to do everything we need to do to put us in position to win games and we're confident that if we do those things we will win, no matter who it's against.

Is that an attitude that you've noticed which comes through in all the players, or is that something that comes from Coach Tomlin and above?

RM: I think it starts at the top with Coach Tomlin and in general, as a whole, in our building, that's the mentality. I feel like in the city that's the mentality.

wootawnee
09-19-2009, 10:40 PM
Looks like we gotta feed Mendy the ball........Give him a big home coming for his homeys..............

Galax Steeler
09-20-2009, 06:05 AM
Looks like we gotta feed Mendy the ball........Give him a big home coming for his homeys..............

Agreed I would love to see Mendenhall get more carries in this game. We need to get him involved because I think he has alot of talent.

steel striker
09-20-2009, 10:17 AM
I would to see a few screens to Mendy and, let's see what he can do.