An Arizona newspaper once described cornerback Chris McAlister as "quiet and hardly outspoken" when McAlister played at the University of Arizona. Judging by his comments below, McAlister ranks with linebackers Ray Lewis and Bart Scott as one of the most candid personalities in the Ravens' locker room. McAlister, a three-time Pro Bowl pick, sat down with The Sun's Edward Lee to discuss, among other topics, his status among NFL cornerbacks, the influence of his parents in his life and his dream date.
What was your welcome-to-the-NFL moment?
A double move. Tennessee Titans. Yancey Thigpen. My first NFL start. Touchdown. Welcome, son. (Laughs.)
What do you remember about the play?
I saw it all. Got a good break on the out, he turned it up, and I never recovered. I had my eyes in the backfield and from that moment forward, I've been a little slower breaking on those outs. (Laughs.) You put it behind you, but it's always the first thing I think about when I think about my welcoming.
Chicago Bears safety Danieal Manning has said that he replaced his first role model, Emmitt Smith, with you after seeing you play at Arizona. Manning even wore No. 11 at Abilene Christian, which was your number with the Wildcats. How does it make you feel to hear young players say they modeled themselves after you?
It makes me feel good knowing that I'm leaving an impression on the game and being a player out there on the field that people can look up to and want to emulate or even be better than. It makes me feel like I'm doing what I was out here to do, which is play good football, and people admire that. I've always loved Deion Sanders and Rod Woodson. I've never worn their numbers, but I've always loved their style of play. Two completely different styles at corner. One was the speed guy, while the other was fairly fast but more physical. I loved the way both of them play. So for someone to look at me the way I used to look at someone else makes me feel good.
What do you think when you hear people say you're one of the NFL's top cornerbacks
Finally. (Laughs.) They just now figured that out? I've been doing this since my first year in the league, son.
Is there a lot of pressure to live up to with that title?
There's no pressure in this. I don't feel pressure because this is what I do. We play football. If you don't strive to be at the top or to be the best, then really, what are you doing here? Passing time and picking up a paycheck?
You are only one of six players left from the 2001 Super Bowl-winning team. What do you remember about that experience?
I don't even remember it. It's over. It's a past memory. Yeah, I can remember coming out of the tunnel, getting my name called and the lights and everybody's taking pictures and the opening kickoff and the cameras going crazy and winning with the confetti coming down. It happened, but it's a distant memory. I don't dwell on it, I don't think about it. That's why I need another one. I believe everybody that's still here and everybody that's playing right now for this team wants one.
How influential was your father, James, one of the top running backs in UCLA history, in molding you for the NFL?
Actually, if it wasn't for him, my career could have been a lot different in a lot of different ways because I always wanted to play offense. I was a quarterback in high school, and when we started looking at the future ... I wanted to play running back or receiver. He was very adamant about me playing defense if I wanted a long-term career because the life expectancy of running backs and receivers from getting hit all the time is shortened. Since I get to pick and choose when I hit people, I can take less pounding on my body. So going into college, he said, 'Take a look around you. How many guys your height can run as fast as you and are as big as you?' At the time, there weren't that many. There was Charles Woodson in college who was about the same size as me. Other than that, there were maybe two or three guys in the league over 6 feet tall. So that was an easy way to get me to switch over to defense and my career just kind of took off from there.
Did you initially resist the idea of switching from offense to defense?
I didn't care. I was young. I just wanted to keep playing. I'm like, "He must know what he's talking about. He's been there. He played running back." And I can see him limping around now. His ankles still hurt.
Who was the most influential person in your life?
My mother. She worked two jobs at times just to make sure that we could go back to school without wearing the same clothes we had last year. At Christmastime, pulling off [double shifts], pulling off two jobs just to make sure we had Christmas toys and things like that under our tree. Those are the things that as a kid, when you see your mom go through it, you really don't appreciate that at the time. You really don't understand what's going on, but when you grow up a little bit more, you realize that all of this was done so that me and my brother can have the things that we had. Not that we had everything in the world, but we still lived a very comfortable life.
What's the biggest misconception that the public has about football players?
That we're just a bunch of kids with a lot of money and no sense. And that's only because the media takes only the negative and expands way more into what it really is. At the end of the day, everybody makes mistakes, and if we weren't such public figures and didn't get paid as much, people wouldn't care as much if someone drove around and had a DUI or if somebody got arrested for walking down the streets intoxicated. It wouldn't be that big of a deal. But when you are in the NFL, people look at you like you're God, like you're supposed to be somebody's role model. The role model's in the house. Parents, they should be the ones being the role models to their kids. The kids want to look up to them. I looked up to my parents. I loved Rod Woodson and Deion Sanders, but ultimately, it was my mom that held it down at our house. It was my mom that I always wanted to work hard for.
If you were the NFL commissioner for one day, what would you do? Lift all of the suspensions for everybody. Let everybody back into the league. I think it's only right. People make mistakes, but at the end of the day, if I was commissioner, I would let everybody come back in.
What's your favorite off-day activity? Sleep.
How long can you sleep? All day if you don't bother me. I will close my blinds, and my room will look like it's 12 o'clock at night all the time.
If you were stuck on an island, what's the one material possession you could not live without? My toothbrush. (Laughs.) Everything else I can get rid of -- cell phone, iPod, all of this other stuff. You can keep all of that. Just give me a toothbrush so that all of my teeth don't fall out, and I'm good to go.
Who would be your dream date? Paula Patton. She's an actor and had played in D?j? vu and Idlewild. That would be my ideal dream date. To be completely honest, I don't know the woman from Adam, but the way she talks in interviews, the way she carries herself as a very strong woman and she's as gorgeous as all outdoors.
What was your first job? I worked at Macy's. I was 16, and I was on the floor in the men's department. Folding up ties, putting shirts back, folding up sweaters, and all of that late-night clean-up stuff. I was like, 'Man, I can't work. I can't do retail. I need to find another job.' (Laughs.)