Hank Baskett was a quarterback for the Clovis Wildcats when an Achilles injury knocked him out. He transitioned to wide receiver, and eventually found out he was good enough to do it for the New Mexico Lobos and three NFL teams.
Now, he’s transitioning out of life as an NFL player. He played five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings, posting 77 career catches for 1,077 yards and six touchdowns.
He’s now known mostly as the husband of former Playboy model Kendra Wilkinson. The two are set to make their debut on, “Kendra on Top” on WE tv following four years of “Kendra” on E!.
Baskett, while in town for his annual charity benefit golf tournament, talked in the basement of his childhood home about his time in the league and what lies ahead.
Q: When did you figure your NFL career was wrapped up?
A: I would say, probably, the middle of last season. It wasn’t so much that it was wrapped up; I was getting ready to move on. I could work out, train and try out. But there were other doors that were opening. I would have been foolish to let them close to maybe chase one or two more years in the NFL.
Q: Did you consider other football options, like Canada or the Arena League?
A: I didn’t think of any other leagues. I did my five years in the NFL, and I was very fortunate. I felt like it was time to move on. A person should reinvent themselves every four to five years. There are a lot of guys who play in the league, but there are few longterm guys. At the end of the day, those that don’t have those long careers, we’ve got to find jobs afterwards. It’s more common than people would believe. The things that are in front of me, it would be dumb to pass them up.
Q: So, what’s in front of you?
A: We have the show. I’m trying to get into hosting and acting. I’ve had some very good auditions.
Q: Was acting something you’d ever considered growing up?
A: I never thought I would act a day in my life. But you get around the right people, and you never know what you’re good at. That’s why I tried every sport when I was growing up.
Q: And the show you’ve got now, “Kendra on Top” ... is this show any different from “Kendra,” or is it pretty much similar?
A: It’s the same show — injected, like Kendra said — with a little bit of steroids. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a new network, on WE tv. We loved being on E!, and we appreciated everything they did for us. But we feel like they’re really pushing us out there. It’s a fresh start to an old routine. It adds some life back into our show. We’re looking forward to being on the new network.
Q: Having been through the league, what do you see differently when you watch an average NFL game?
A: Now that I get to watch it, I’m feeling like players are at a disadvantage now. Pretty soon, they’re going to be so scared to hit and get hit that it’s going to cause even more injuries. Look what happened in the playoffs last year when (Pittsburgh linebacker James) Harrison hit (Denver receiver Eric) Decker low. Harrison’s been fined so much about hitting up high, so what’s he going to do? Hit low. He wasn’t trying to hurt Decker, but he ended up doing that.
Me, as a receiver, I’d rather get hit up high. I know there’s a concussion risk, but there’s some chance of protecting yourself up high. A wide-open shot on your legs, that’s career-ending. Concussions are too, so it’s a give and take.
Guys are going to back off so much from hitting, and guys are going to be afraid of getting hit. It’s going to cause more injuries. It’s a violent game, I hate to say it. If you sign up for it, you know the things that could happen.
Q: It’s fair to say you think the punishments handed down to the New Orleans Saints are a tipping point? (Editor’s note: Numerous players and coaches have been suspended for a program that the NFL alleged included financial rewards for knocking opposing players out of games. The heaviest penalties were year-long suspensions to head coach Sean Peyton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma.)
A: The Saints’ punishments will open up a whole new world of things. I can understand guys having some games, but a lot of the former NFL guys on talk shows are saying something that’s very true.
Jonathan Vilma’s been playing for a while, and taking away an entire season might end his career. He’s not in his first year or his second. Coach Peyton will get the chance to coach again. Coaches’ careers are long; maybe not always as a head coach, but some kind of a coach. To play in the NFL is a very short window. To get that late in your career could end it, because who’s to say what kind of player you’ll be with that year out?
Q: You talk about a short window, and I’d like to ask about your window. Do you think it might have hurt your NFL career being a guy with a reality show?
A: I don’t feel like it hurt me. If I’m going to sit here and say that’s an excuse, then I’ve got bigger problems. If I would have felt like that would jeopardize my NFL career, I never would have done it. I felt like I could handle both, and I did. There are a lot of things that happened that were out of my control, but to say it was the reality show? Definitely didn’t hurt my career.
Q: Same question, except with the onside kick in the Super Bowl? (Editor’s note: No play in Super Bowl XLIV got more attention than the New Orleans Saints recovering an onside kick — the first third-quarter onside kick in Super Bowl history — that bounced off Baskett’s helmet. New Orleans defeated the Colts 31-17).
A: If that’s what hurt me, I guess people believe football is only one play. Everybody else knows I was special teams captain twice in Philadelphia, and people knew what I did on special teams. That’s why, to this day, whenever people bring up heat on the Super Bowl, I say that I never knew the NFL was one play. I like to go a little further, like ... man, I didn’t know I cost the Colts two years ago too.
I never let something break me like that. I only let it make me stronger. I only laugh when that comes up.
Q: But does it change your perspective a little bit? Did it affect how you saw what happened to Kyle Williams in San Francisco? (Editor’s note: Williams fumbled away two punts in the NFC championship, including one that set up the Giants for the field goal that put them in the Super Bowl.)
A: Definitely. The only time one play can affect the game, I think, is like the last play ... a hail Mary. If he catches it, it’s a win; if he doesn’t, it’s a loss. All of these people that want to say that one play cost something, I guess they don’t understand athletics. One play doesn’t change the game. It may change momentum. But it doesn’t change the game.
Q: In defense of Williams, those punts might not have mattered had San Francisco done better than 1-of-13 on third down, too. Likewise, in Super Bowl XLIV, the Colts took the lead back later in the game, and a pick-six pushed the margin out of reach late. Do those things tend to get overshadowed?
A: When you’re a professional athlete, you know there’s a whole game that can happen, like the 1-for-13. When you’re outside, on the bandwagon, it’s easy to point at one thing.
When people come up to me and talk about that kick and they tell me it was a momentum swing, I agree with them. Now, if it’s an armchair quarterback saying that was the game, I tell them it was right after halftime.
Q: Since we talked at length about a bad football memory, what’s your favorite?
A: Of all time?
Q: You can separate by levels if you’d prefer.
A: I remember when I was in junior high and we were in Portales. I tossed it, it was a pitch to the right. The guy looked back around and was about to make a tackle, and I had one of my hardest hits ever. See? I’m sounding violent.
In high school, when I partially tore my Achilles my senior year, I thought I wasn’t going to play anymore. That’s when I transferred to wide receiver in those two weeks — we had a bye week before district. I think my first play as receiver was a 67-yard touchdown.
College, it was my game against Missouri (10 catches for 209 yards and three touchdowns). Their coaches and players said they didn’t even bother scouting the receivers. The only one they looked at was (running back and Roswell native) DonTrell Moore. That was my career-changing game.
In the NFL, my favorite thing was that everybody said I was going to be the slow receiver. Yet I have three touchdowns that are over 87 yards — 87, 89 and 90. You tell me how many people have that (Editor’s note: Baskett’s the only player in NFL history has two touchdown receptions of more than 80 yards). People would tell me I was the slow receiver all my life, but I proved people wrong.
Q: Earlier on, we were talking about how one play can rarely change a game. How odd is it to look back, and think about how one play at receiver changed your life? If you don’t score that long touchdown, maybe the New Mexico recruiters don’t find you.
A: It’s easy to say that one play can change your life, change you. But in the scheme of things, what did it do for the game? Did that play help the team? It could have been the greatest moment of my life, but what if somebody fumbled or thrown an interception? I could have run the greatest route of my life. If something else took from it, did it really help the team?
Q: Hank IV has been running around a little bit here. How has being a parent changed you?
A: Being a parent has changed me in such an incredible way. I’ve always been a kid at heart, being around my dad. But you get to see Hank every day, learning something new. He’ll ask, “What’s that?” or “What are they doing?” And you get to tell him the simplest thing. “Oh, they’re working.” It’s the biggest joy to him. I love it.
Q: But that simple thing is the biggest thing he’ll learn that day.
A: Having a child makes you appreciate the little things again. It makes you realize, “I should stop and smell the roses a little bit more.”
Q: Anything else?
A: I just wanted to say thank you to everyone in Clovis, Albuquerque, the state of New Mexico. It’s been amazing, but I know it started in Clovis. To my family and friends still here, and the fans still here, just because I’m done with the NFL doesn’t mean I’m not going to come back and help. I wanted to say, for the 20-plus years I’ve played football, thanks to every coach, every teammate, every official, everybody who had a piece of helping me get to the NFL.
— compiled by CNJ Staff Writer Kevin Wilson and edited for clarity