- Graham Bensinger, Contributing Writer, ESPN.com
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Editor's note: Each week during the season, Graham Bensinger talks with a high-profile NFL figure for ESPN.com's Weekly Conversation. This week, he checks in with Ravens TE Todd Heap, whose team is 10-3 and looking to clinch a playoff spot this weekend.
Graham Bensinger: You're having a great season (59 receptions, 597 yards and six TDs), but have been dealing with a variety of minor injuries. How are you feeling?
Todd Heap: I'm feeling great. I went through a couple surgeries two offseasons ago, dealt with that process of rehab, getting on the field, and battled through it all of last year. I had to battle through scar tissue and the aftereffects of surgery. This year, I can't complain. They're very minor things such as bumps, bruises and nicks. They're things that everybody goes through. It's been a lot of fun.
I have just been doing the same things and working the same way that I tried to work growing up and getting to this point. I've tried to keep the same work ethic. I don't get caught up in the positive and negative things. I just stay focused and keep working the same way -- that's how I prepare. That's how I try to improve, get better and still do the things that I know I'm capable of.
Bensinger: I interviewed Joey Porter for the Weekly Conversation back in October. As you know, he's quite the character. In 2004, as Kyle Boller spiked the football, you were injured by Porter when he shoved you to the ground. Following the injury, you both played on the same team in a Battle of the Gridiron Stars event during the offseason. To what extent was there the potential for an awkward moment?
Heap: I definitely knew there was going to be an awkward moment. Joey does like to talk. I knew that going into the Battle of the Gridiron Stars. We were on the same team. We were both AFC guys battling the NFC. Going into it, I said I've got to put it out there and get it off my chest. We talked about it. His excuse was that he was worried I was faking it and I was going to run by him for a TD. I said, "Joey, I'm not buying that one." But we got over our differences. Actually, I got to know him a little bit beyond his on-the-field persona. He's actually a good guy.
Bensinger: On the same trip, you were on a roller coaster with Peyton Manning and by the end of the ride you were questioning his manhood?
Heap: [Laughs] Wow, you got way too much inside information on this one! No! The Manning brothers just don't do well on roller coasters -- let's put it that way. I think my 4-year-old daughter handles the Tower of Terror better than they do.
Bensinger: What was the situation?
Heap: We had a bunch of guys on that ride where the floor drops out from underneath you and you drop three, four, or five times. There was Joe Jurevicius, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Joey Porter, Hines Ward, John Lynch, Jeremiah Trotter, and a bunch of others. It was a lot of fun. When the picture came out at the end, Peyton and Eli's faces were the most scared faces I've ever seen. Peyton ended up holding on to one of my good buddies because he missed the armchair. He ended up grabbing his leg, but the picture afterwards didn't show exactly where his hand was. It was a little sketchy [laughs].
Bensinger: Speaking of QBs, this is your first year with Steve McNair at the helm. How is it?
Heap: It's been a great year. He's everything that everybody has seen over the years. I've watched him over the years and he's just one of those guys that knows how to win. He keeps a steady demeanor about himself. He's given our offense a personality. It doesn't matter the ups or downs, we keep an even keel about ourselves. Once we get into a rhythm offensively, we're tough to beat with him as our QB.
Bensinger: How does he differ from other QBs you've worked with?
Heap: He's the most laid back QB I've ever played with. He doesn't let things affect him. He doesn't let good things get him too high. He doesn't let bad things get him too low. He just plays it in the middle. He's confident in what he's doing out there. He knows how to get the job done. It doesn't matter whether we're 20 points up or 20 points down, he still keeps that same focus. That's the bottom line.
Bensinger: What do you think of the McNair MVP talk?
Heap: Steve has had a great year. Since I've been here, our offense has not been the side of the ball that has been talked about. Now, we're becoming that a little more this year. While our defense has gotten all of the accolades over the years, our offense is beginning to get more as far as people talking about and respecting us. A big part of that has been Steve McNair and the personality that he's brought to our team.
Bensinger: How noticeable a change was there when head coach Brian Billick took over the offensive coordinator duties?
Heap: What happens immediately is that when he comes in, he is so thorough. You could tell it is his offense right from the get-go. You could tell that he was comfortable in the position as offensive coordinator. Really, it's like he's studying his first language. It's his offense that he brought from Minnesota. He's got all of the plays and things that we can work off of every single play. He's got it all down like the back of his hand. He came in immediately and was able to explain things and hold everybody accountable right away.
Bensinger: How did that rub off on the players?
Heap: When he's up there in the meeting room and when we're going over plays, that's where we're able to most learn. Then, we're able to go out and practice the right way because of how he's able to explain things. He holds everyone accountable. When we're in the meeting rooms, he's asking questions and making sure you know what you're doing. If you have an idea, you can bring it to him and explain why you think certain things would be successful as well.
Bensinger: I hear you like to be called GI Joe.
Heap: [Laughs] Oh, wow. You've been talking to Tom Cruise [his agent Ryan Williams, who he calls Tom Cruise because of the movie "Jerry Maguire"] a whole lot, huh? Been talking to my agent Ryan Williams a little bit, huh?
Bensinger: Rumor has it you've earned quite the nickname.
Heap: Yeah, we don't even talk about that especially not coming from Tom Cruise.
Bensinger: Apparently, the nickname is because of your size [6-foot-5 252 pounds]. You have 10-month-old twins. One of them has been described as a beast.
Heap: Yeah, I mean 10 months old, you can tell he's got the big hands and big feet. Actually, they both have big hands and big feet. They have the potential to be good-size kids. They're young, fun, and growing quick. It's fun to watch them get older and learn new things everyday.
Bensinger: What's it like having twins?
Heap: It's a lot of work! A lot of work! Especially on my wife while I'm gone. I definitely wouldn't want to do her job because with three kids and two just under 10 months old, it's definitely just about all you can handle.
Bensinger: You have five siblings and already have three kids, so you're used to big families. How likely is it that there will be future editions to the Heap household?
Heap: We'll see. The past week the boys have slept through the night so my wife is feeling better about having one more. Two weeks ago, when they weren't sleeping through the night, there was no chance of that. Tides are turning a little bit.
Bensinger: Last week, you went up against another fine TE in Tony Gonzalez. What was that like?
Heap: [Laughs] If I was playing linebacker it'd be different
Bensinger: Right, but at the same time he's another tremendous TE in the league. Heading into the game, to what extent does that provide you with extra motivation?
Heap: We both have tremendous respect for one another. We've kept a healthy competition between us as far as trying to make each other better. It ups the bar for the play of the TE. The position has changed drastically over the last five, six, seven or eight years. We're just trying to keep that process going as far as making sure defenses are accountable for the TEs.
Bensinger: Regardless of the era, you said Shannon Sharpe is the TE you'd take. Why?
Heap: He's got the "it" factor about him. He knows how to win and is a natural leader. He's the type of guy that makes plays in crunch time. There's a reason why he's played on so many Super Bowl teams. I definitely learned a lot from him when we played together for that one year during my first season. He's a good one to learn from. You can see why he holds the record for catches and so many other records for TEs because of the way he works and his sheer ability.
Bensinger: You don't trash talk, though?
Heap: [Laughs] That's one thing I didn't learn from him. I've got to stick with my own personality. One thing I've always tried to do is to just be me. I can't worry about anything else. I've got too many other things to focus on and be worried about on game days other than trash talking.
Bensinger: This summer, we did a TV segment together at the American Century Championship [celebrity golf tournament] in Lake Tahoe. Your agent Ryan said you were really pleased because you played your best rounds of golf ever there.
Heap: [Laughs] Wow. You know what? I think Ryan is feeding you some lines there. It was a great time, but it was a nerve-wracking week of golf. Playing on my own is hard enough. Playing in front of fans and crowds is a whole different story. It's definitely unsettling when they announce your name on the first tee. It definitely wasn't the right time to be sitting down, relaxing, and hitting a golf ball. I look forward to going back and hopefully getting the nerves out of the way and improving. They say if you've been through it once, you can figure out how to handle it the next time.
Graham Bensinger is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Visit his Web site at: TheGBShow.com. You can e-mail him at email@example.com