As a youngster in Mobile, Alabama, finding ice time was difficult for Brian Peters. He first learned how to play hockey in Mequon, Wisconsin, but after his family relocated south, he traded in his skates and joined a local roller hockey league. It didn’t last very long. There weren’t a lot of kids playing roller hockey in Mobile in the mid-1990s.
When Peters moved to Ohio a few years later, he took up hockey again, playing on the rink behind his house. At that time, Ohio State’s hockey coach, John Markell, lived down the street, so his sons, Taylor and Ryan, would occasionally stop by to take on the Peters and his brother in a game of backyard shinny.
Although Peters got through Ohio’s winters by spending time on the ice, football was his passion. After excelling on the gridiron as a safety for the Tigers at Pickerington Central high school, Peters went on to play NCAA as a linebacker for Northwestern University. Despite an impressive collegiate career, Peters was never drafted by an NFL team.
Despite not fielding any offers on draft day, Peters and his agent were optimistic they would get a call in the fall. To stay in shape, should the phone ring, Peters went off to play indoor football in Iowa. Unfortunately, no calls came. After joining the Omaha Nighthawks of the now defunct United Football League, but failing to make the main roster, his football future seemed to be in jeopardy. Peters, however, wasn’t ready to call it quits.
While his agent tried to dissuade him from joining the Canadian Football League (CFL), Peters took it upon himself to email every club in the small eight-team circuit looking for a chance. When the Saskatchewan Roughriders responded – the only team – Peters was just working odd jobs in Chicago. After signing with the team in January 2013, Peters established himself as a valuable member of the special teams' unit and went on to win the Grey Cup, the league championship, later that year.
The opportunity in Saskatchewan opened doors for Peters in the NFL. In February 2015 he caught his big break when he signed with the Minnesota Vikings. Although the club released him before the start of the following season, the Houston Texans subsequently signed him off the practice squad.
Peters made an immediate impact in Houston. In his first full season in the NFL, he was tied for the lead league in special teams tackles. Following his third season with the Texans, in which he put up career numbers, the team announced on March 20, 2018, they had signed the linebacker to a one-year deal worth $800,000.
Violent Gentlemen had the chance to speak with Peters to ask him his football career that took him Regina, Saskatchewan to one of the game’s biggest stages.
How did you first find out about Violent Gentlemen?
Brian Peters: I initially saw the “Make Hockey Violent Again” shirts when I was up in Minneapolis and then I just followed up and saw the Violent Gentlemen brand. Then I was in Florida working out with some boys in Tampa and they had the Violent Gentlemen flag, so then I ordered some Violent Gentlemen stuff for my linebacker corps. I got everybody t-shirts and different versions of their brand and then I just followed up with a tag to see if they could do “Make Football Violent Again” and they responded quickly and made it happen. They’ve been awesome.
What do you think it means to be a Violent Gentlemen?
BP: I think it’s amazing. I think it’s a little too broad to say it, but I think that’s what a man should be. You should have the ability to be cool, calm, and collected and maintain a professional conversation and maintain and show respect off the field and be a professional both on and off the field is the concept it embodies. When it comes to football and a contact sport where violence is necessary, I think that’s what makes the brand awesome. There’s plenty of guys in the NFL that embody that. They’re amazing human beings off the field, but they’re incredibly violent players on the field. It’s very easy to gravitate towards it if you have any attraction to physical contact.
Football is such a physical sport, even more so than hockey, but fighting has always been part of that game’s history. Why do you think we don’t see fights on the gridiron the way we do on the ice?
BP: I think it’s a little more cultural. It’s always been allowed in hockey, but football it has never been allowed, especially with penalties. In hockey you go to the penalty box, but in football you lose field position. It’s just a different concept to the game. In a stop and go game where field position is more important than in a flow game like hockey or soccer, the consequences are different. Also fines. We get fined for fighting and ejected from games. Guys can potentially lose one full game check. If you’re making $10-million a year and you chop that up by 16 games, you’re losing a couple hundred thousand dollars if you get ejected from a game. So that’s obviously the overwhelming reason. Guys want to protect their money too.
You played two seasons in the Canadian Football League (CFL) before making the NFL. What was the biggest difference you found between the two leagues?
BP: Not extensively. The level of play is up there. Some of the special teams rules like the rouge [scoring a single point] or the ability to punt it back are the extreme rules, but the game is still pretty similar. The forward motion messes with you from a coverage standpoint, but you have more field and more moving parts because guys can get a running start toward the line of scrimmage. Other than that, at the end of the day, you tackle a guy with the ball. It’s not the most complicated thing in the world.
Do you think playing on a wider surface in the CFL gave you an advantage on special teams in the NFL?
BP: Definitely. It translated great for me. With the priority of special teams up there because of the three downs, you’re on the field more for punts and punt returns and it’s more high scoring so there’s more kickoffs and kickoff returns. So with the repetition of it all, it made it more important for me because that’s how my career started. That’s my role down here still, that’s why I have a job and I honed all those skills in Canada. The CFL always has a place in my heart.
What was it like playing in Regina, Saskatchewan?
BP: It was awesome. The people were amazing. That place probably has the strongest fan base for sure in the CFL. It was cool to have the whole city have your back. It was really cool to see their passion for the game. I got plenty of buddies I still stay in touch with and a lot of good friends I made up there.
You’ve played football in cities from Omaha to Houston. Given the importance of football in Texas, where high school games sometimes attract thousands of fans, what’s it like to play at the highest level in that state?
BP: It’s a dream come true. I always wanted the gig here. But it’s not that different. From my high school where we had a little over a thousand fans a game to my college where we had a few thousand or where Regina sells out 40,000, it’s not a huge difference once you get locked into the game. But there’s always a few moments every game where you step back and say “wow, this is fucking awesome.” That’s kind of how I still feel in Houston. Playing in any NFL stadium you get locked into your job, but a few times a game you think about how cool it is.
You were tied for the NFL lead in special teams tackles in 2015, what makes you so effective in the open field?
BP: At the end of the day it comes down to tenacity. It’s your approach at the point of attack. Can you separate, can you butt and separate, which again is using your head, but it’s your ability to get to the ball. That first year it was instinctual and fast because I was fighting for my life to stay on the team. At that point I got signed off the Minnesota Vikings’ practice squad and once you get signed off the practice squad, you only get three games guaranteed to be active for that next team. It ended up turning into a three-game tryout and I have the pro personnel guy in my ear saying, “hey, you gotta keep doing this to stick around,” so it ended up being like a full season tryout. That’s kind of the approach I take to football now is that every day is a tryout at this point. I’m 29 now and 29 is pretty in old in football years when you look at position players like linebackers.
With the emphasis on avoiding head-to-head collisions, have you noticed a difference in how new players coming into the league hit or use their bodies differently?
BP: Not in particular. I think the recent rule change will play out very interestingly as we go through the preseason as far as helmet-to-helmet contact in general and dropping the head. Me, personally, I believe it’s very difficult in such a fast-paced game to control that because guys can dip and duck and there’s not that much time to react. The head-to-head contact is part of the game, but it’s frustrating for me because they’re talking about getting rid of kickoffs and that’s the part of the game that’s got me to where I want to be. It’s going to be an interesting development in the game.
One thing I find interesting is the Canadian Football League. It’s not as much downhill banging because the field is wide and a lot of the runs bounce outside and a lot of the tackles are open field tackles where you can square up and run through them. So maybe that’s where it goes one day.
Do you think about the long-term impact of concussions and CTE when you’re playing or are you able to compartmentalize the associated risks from the game you have to play?
BP: It’s definitely kind of always in the back of your mind. A lot of the stuff you won’t know until down the road so it’s easy to make these decisions when you don’t have the symptoms, but we had a guy, C.J. Fiedorowicz, retire this year because of concussions. You saw the symptoms and it kind of brings it into the light for guys when you see it and you see the lasting effects. When you see a guy hang up his cleats when he has $10-million on the table and that kind of thing, it makes it real. I’ve been lucky as far as concussions go, but it kind of comes with the territory.
It kind of connects back to Violent Gentlemen. If you’re going to be violent on the field, you’ve got to expect some repercussions. I think that kind of comes with the territory. Hockey players expect it and we expect it. To tell you the truth, I’m our NFLPA rep and we’ve had doctors inform us of the statistical ratios of football players versus the general public and the law of dominant thought and how you could use concussions as a crutch. There’s ways around it where it’s more manageable than it may appear compared to how the media blows it up. Things like that kind of calm you down a little bit, but at the end of the day you’re signing up to go mano a mano against another grown man and sometimes you’ve gotta lower your head to play.
Do you ever reflect on that email you sent to all the teams in the CFL and what the Roughriders’ opportunity meant for your career?
BP: When I get complacent I think back to that. I wasn’t supposed to get out of the Arena League. I wasn’t supposed to get out of Canada. I wasn’t supposed to be in the NFL. I’m grateful, but it’s also really motivating. At the end of the day, I value myself being a good person off the field, but I want to keep playing for as long as I can and in order to do that you need to be a violent motherfucker, man.