“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
– “Man in the Arena” by President Theodore Roosevelt –
Excerpt from the speech, “Citizenship in a Republic”;
Delivered on April 23, 1910 at the University of Paris in Sorbonne, Paris, France
The National Football League is a world of its own. Stitched together by dreams, joys, disappointment, angst, and grit. It is about the men who grow up on first downs, who know the tantalizing defeat for a team by daunting injuries, who get emotional after a tough loss on live television and, at the end of the day, drag their feet when leaving the stadium because deep down they know – football is not forever.
For Tony Moeaki, that is what the NFL means to him. From an early age, his dedication to football gave him the lens to see, understand and experience the world. A proud Chicago native with Tongan ancestry, he played football and graduated from Iowa University, and was later drafted in the 3rd Round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. Since then his career in the NFL has not been with great ease or satisfaction; teaching him the invaluable lessons of discipline, commitment, risk, and reward.
TWID: Tell me about your childhood; your upbringing and growing up in Chicago.
Moeaki: My mom received a job in Chicago so my parents made the move. We have a big family; I have two older brothers, two older sisters, and one younger sister. As for my grandparents, I wish I could have known all of them. Most of them passed before I was born. I grew up with one grandma but she passed when I was a teenager. Kids who can grow up with grandparents should count themselves lucky.
Growing up Tongan in Chicago was good fortune. In the home, my parents spoke Tongan, we ate Tongan food, and understood that being Tongan meant family is everything. My fondest memory of being Tongan is family; we would travel often to visit family in Utah and Hawaii. Though my home was different, there was never any feeling of inferiority because with hard work and discipline – the sky’s the limit.
TWID: The 2010 NFL Draft was an exciting night. You were selected by the Kansas City Chiefs. How was your time in Kansas City?
Moeaki: That [draft] night was all about family. They were as excited as a family could get. The draft process was such a grind but they were so supportive through it all.
My time in Kansas City (KC) was great. The KC Chiefs is a first class organization and the fan base is one of the best in the NFL. My first year, we went to the playoffs and I played a big role in the offense. Then in the last pre-season game of 2011, I tore my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). It was a tough year. I rehabbed twice a day which made for long, long days. I made it back in time for the 2012 season. My knee bothered me the entire time but I played the whole season with only missing one game. Next season I was released.
I learned a lot about myself that year. I learned a different kind of hard work. The grind of rehabbing to perform at a high level, physically and athletically, challenged me in ways I was not expecting. I learned the hard work of mental endurance where I had to constantly remind myself how badly I wanted it. Those long days of rehabbing turned into even harder, longer days because I was in pain mentally. That is when I learned not to take the game of football, or being healthy, for granted. Life will knock almost every person to their knees but you have to just keep getting up and moving forward.
As time with the Chiefs came to an end, then there was the Buffalo Bills. It was a great opportunity but similar to Kansas City, it had the outcome for injury and rehabilitation. By August of 2014, there was no more play to make, no more reason to suit up and the lights were slowly dimming on a dream that took a lifetime to prepare. With a career that has been plagued early by injuries, one having seen more lows than highs, many would have thrown in the towel by now. But those are the many who will never understand the real blessing of having the NFL as life and football as the greatest teacher.
TWID: What were your fundamentals as a youth in sports?
Moeaki: I found something that I had a passion for and set an expectation early on. Since kindergarten, I knew that I wanted to play professionally. Now, I realize that my dream of playing in the NFL was always the vision, but I needed to commit to the smaller things that would get me there. I changed my focus from wanting to be an NFL player to being a great high school athlete. What did that take? It took hard work; it meant I had to be the best at practice everyday. I had to be the best I could be in the weight room, sprinting drills, and at watching film just so it could give me an edge. Took that mentality to college and had to learn it all over again. The fundamentals in sports were where I found the reasons to work hard and make tough sacrifices.
TWID: What is your regular in-season routine like?
Moeaki: My disciplined attitude naturally flows into my busy life. Football is a job, and with any job you carry a certain level of professionalism. From my early morning meetings, midday practices, to studying plays and opposition; I have pocketed a couple life skills that make this schedule livable (laughs).
First off, you never can be late. Punctuality and time management go hand in hand. For example, I am up at 5:30 every morning because I make time to get ready, stretch, and arrive early to my meetings. Understanding that my schedule is non-stop allows me to appreciate my down time. I usually get home at around 7pm and after a busy day, I wind down. My down time is so important to me because that is when I begin to prepare for the next day.
TWID: What motivates you to keep this kind of disciplined schedule?
Moeaki: Family, especially on Game Day. They are a big reason why I play the game of football and it means a lot to me when they make it to my games. I also keep in the back of my mind that not a lot of people get to do what I do and that it does not last forever. When I am in Chicago, I wake up to below 20 degree weather and have to workout – it is tough but I do it. Especially, during the off days when no one is there to police you but it’s worth it.
Keeping an eye on the horizon, there is a certain kind of hope that comes with true grit. It is the hope that rising to the NFL will provide a foundation for others, regardless of trials or tribulations, to believe in themselves and chase the chance to live their dreams.
TWID: What values and/or principles do you hold that you can share with others?
Moeaki: My education set the path, sports were my passion and hard work is a powerful tool. Nowadays, there is such a desire from young people to become “famous” instead of the desire to be hard working, thoughtful, and generous. I think that is the path to a better life. I am particular towards Tongans because I have twenty nephews and nieces that I care deeply for. I want more Tongans to be successful and I hope my story can play some part.
TWID: What is a quote that has always stuck with you and has motivated you?
Moeaki: When I was still playing for Iowa, one of my coaches would always say in the beginning of each season – ‘Boys do what they want to do and men do what they have to do.’ To me this meant that boys do the easy stuff and when it gets hard they back off and don’t put all their effort in.
Yet, as men, we have to give our best in everything we do – whether we like it or not. The little stuff counts; like, being on time, stretching before practice and studying the playbook. Men understand the vision, and we do everything it takes to get there. These all add up to how successful you will be. So, when you have a vision in your heart, do not lose it.
When the final minutes fall and good is all that is left, good is as great as it will ever get. No one will see the long hours of rehab, hear about the countless tryouts with presupposing teams, care about missed holidays with family, or understand the agonizing frenzy made by trade rumors in the media. But with every second played on the field, the loss, the regret, the agony all becomes worth it – till that very last whistle. For with hard work and purpose, the impossible is only one practice, one game, one effort away from being a point in the far distance to glance back and say, “look at how far I have come”.
TWID: What is something you want your coaches, support staff, teammates and fans of the NFL to remember about you?
Moeaki: Growing up, all I wanted to be was an NFL player. That took hard work. From high school to college, my mentality was to be the best and treat every practice as game day.
Now that I am here [NFL], I want to be remembered as a good teammate and a hard worker. That it was never about individual success or statistics but hard work with the need to win. That’s it. Then, at the end of the day, the Super Bowl is the ultimate prize. That is the need to win with a purpose.
Within a couple months after the interview process began, his relentlessness had paid off – Tony Moeaki was picked up by the Seattle Seahawks. In his first appearance as a Seahawk, he scored a touchdown against his former team – the Kansas City Chiefs. He was stepping up, standing out and making big plays; setting the stage for his journey in the league, even with the trenches, dread and doubts, that Seattle was always meant to be. Looking back to August, there was never any idea as to what February 1st now holds – let alone the chance to play in the regular 2014 NFL season. For where there was once loss, regret, and agony, now resides hope, faith and an unconquerable soul.
When the unruly hunger for the game knows no other place than the gridiron… that is where you will find the Man in the Arena. When the lights go out and the stadium empties, he will find his way to the weight room – burning the midnight oil. For some, the high life with flashing lights is the statue of being in the NFL. Then there are those who live for the line of scrimmage; where the NFL is home, family is the powerhouse, and football is all they know. For that is where the glory of football dwells; within the hearts of men who unravel the status quo and drive the chains of perfection to lift the hopes of a franchise; who dare greatly, who at best know, in the end, the triumph of high achievement. For the man who comes up short again and again but does not falter or retreat – let him have the final touch. For with his presence comes a purpose of relentless excellence. As there is no greater glory than an unconquerable soul, unruly hunger, and the invaluable lessons that come when you stand and fight for your dreams. For there is no place in the world like the NFL as long as there lives Tony Moeaki, the Man in the Arena.
Best wishes to all the men in the arena. Especially, the Seattle Seahawks as they make their claim in Super Bowl XLIX – chasing another chance at destiny.
Interview By: T.H.