DAMIEN DANIELS REFLECTS ON CAREER AND JERSEY RETIREMENT
by Alex Husting
This week I got a chance to talk with “Nighthawk” Damien Daniels about some of his memories from his career and how he felt when his jersey was retired.
The first thing I wanted to know is could you just walk me through how you found out that you were gonna have your jersey retired and just like how you felt when you learned that it was gonna happen?
A. Yeah, man, originally, this was originally supposed to be done last season. But of course the season got shut down due to COVID. So I actually got called last year from Coach Gibson, and just saying that it was my time, because we just got done with doing rivers, Justin Rivers. So he just gave me the call saying that it was my time, and I was gonna be the next one going up. So it was definitely an exciting moment.
So could you just talk me through how it felt to be there this Saturday and have your jersey retired, what was going through your mind when all that was going down?
A. It felt great, man, I felt a lot of love in the building. All that week some of the fans were reaching out to me, a lot of my teammates reached out to me all that week, just telling me how excited they were, and they were looking forward to it. So that day was pretty special, especially because I knew some of my teammates would be there, but a couple other guys surprised me by showing up. It was a wonderful feeling to see all those guys come and share that with me.
Who are some of the players that surprised you?
A. Tyrone Moore, played with him a lot of years now, especially early on. And then Kendrick Perry is another guy that surprised me, and he came all the way from Louisiana, so that was pretty special.
You have got one of the most storied careers in the history of arena football with 116 interceptions, winning a number of championships and winning a number of Defensive Player of the Year awards. With that storied career, do you have a specific moment that really stands out as your favorite memory from your playing days?
A. That would be pretty hard to just narrow down to one moment, but the most special moments to me have been the championship wins. Just because those are things that you can never take away from me.
You set that record with 116 interceptions. So was there ever a point when you started to realize that you were on this sort of historic run and could possibly break the record?
A. I really didn't realize it until I would say it was 2012. It was the year I actually left playing for Columbus and went to Albany. And I was thinking about retiring, and one of my teammates told me, he was like, “Hey, you can't retire. You know, you're too close to the record”. So he's the one we actually went to high school together, so he's the one that kind of brought it to my attention, how close I was to it, and I think at that time, I was still maybe, you know, 20 away from it. But, he felt that it was close enough for me to continue to play.
Is that why you decided to come back to Columbus?
A. I played two years in Albany, but knowing how close I was, especially, I think I was three away at that time. So I knew that next year I was going to break it. So I told coach Davis in Albany and I told Coach Gibson, “Hey, listen, if I'm gonna do this, there's no way I'm not going to be, I'm not going to do this in Columbus”. And we made a decision for me to come back. They made a real big deal about it, like my return and I was able to make it happen.
Something I’ve always wanted to ask former pro athletes is, how much do you keep up with the team in terms of watching their games and staying in contact with the team?
A. I keep up with them all the time. For one, I just, I love the game. I love the game, I love the lions, they did a lot for me. And I still got a couple guys that I played with that are playing there now. So we keep in contact. So I always enjoy just going back to watch those guys play.
With that in mind, during Saturday’s game Marvin Ross had three interceptions and was just dominant. So what did you think of his performance on the night your jersey was retired?
A. To be honest, the crazy thing is I played with Marvin his first year, his rookie year In Columbus. So me and him have a great relationship. And the craziest thing is me and him had a conversation about that, before the game. He told me he said, because I went to the first game, I went to the first home game they had and he played well but he missed some opportunities. He had about two or three interceptions that he could have gotten that first game and we talked about that. So before this game, he came up to me and said, “Hey, bro, I got you tonight, trust me”.
You mentioned you still keep up with the team, do you ever imagine getting into coaching in Arena Football, even possibly for Columbus?
A. Oh, yeah, definitely, I could see myself doing that. We actually talked about that, that last year that I played, saying that it may be an opportunity for me to coach that next year, but things just didn't work out that way. But, I can definitely see myself doing that.
You ended your retirement with a message to the fans, do you have any other things you want to say to the fans of the lions after your long career?
A. Like I say, I totally appreciate you so much man, all the members that I was able to, to share, and go through with in the Civic Center, I couldn't, I couldn't have wished for a better career and a better team to do it for, my hometown. A lot of the fans I already knew, but a lot of fans I didn't know and they didn't know me, even though I'm from Columbus, especially some of my biggest fans, they didn't know me from anywhere. So to become a fan of mine and give me the love that they gave me over the years, it's priceless.
The jersey retirement can be watched on the stream of the Lions vs. the Sharks on the NALs Youtube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6M8tyZYwG8. The retirement takes place at the 2 hour mark.
Marvin Ross and the Lions defense will be looking to have another dominant performance this week as they take on the Carolina Cobras.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. EST. The game can be watched live with CTV Beam, at https://www.nationalarenaleague.com/home or on the NAL’s official Youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSzSD8STXiEVPVtUDO9juhA.
ABOUT THE COLUMBUS LIONS
The Columbus Lions are members of the National Arena League (NAL). Founded in 2007, the Columbus Lions are starting their 15th season in 2021. The Lions are a 3x league champion and 13 playoff appearances in their rich history. The Lions play their home games at Hughston Field in the Columbus Civic Center. Lions Season Ticket Memberships are on sale now call (706) 322-3336 or visit columbuslions.com. Follow the Lions on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Lionsfootball/, twitter @columbuslions and instagram.com/Columbuslions.