By ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 31, 2000
Third-year middle linebacker Jamie Duncan has filled the void left by the departure of veteran starter Hardy Nickerson and has come into his own. Here are his thoughts on family life, replacing Nickerson, being a public figure, Michael Jackson, Prince and lots more.
RM: Who are you, man?
JD: I'm a guy that's brought up with a strong Christian ethic and is hard working. I get a lot from my mom (Bertina). She's a very strong person, very determined, yet she doesn't let too many things bother her. They say I'm a lot like her, very laid back, sometimes a little too laid back.
RM: Tell me a time when she wasn't that laid back?
JD: I remember when I was in junior high (Kirk Middle School, Delaware) my mom told me not to get these expensive sneakers; everyone else had them. They were adidas and were like $100. Actually, they were the first sneakers that were $100 and I went and got them. I don't know how she found out, maybe my sister told her something. Anyway, she came down to the school. The school! It was so embarrassing. The minute I saw her, I knew why she was there. I remember walking down the hall with her and she told me: "Do I have to take those off myself or are you going to take them off?" Luckily, I had an extra pair of sneakers in my gym locker. That was embarrassing. Funny though, she let me keep them."
RM: What's your relationship like with your dad?
JD: Yeah, I have a good relationship with my dad (James Duncan). My parents were divorced, but we've always stayed in contact. It's cool.
RM: Are you bitter about that?
JD: I've always known it wasn't ideal but it was what worked. I know my parents did their best to make it work for all of us, but it just didn't. There are a lot of guys I grew up with whose fathers weren't around at all. Mine was. He called me a couple days ago, he left a message on the day of the game.
RM: How have you been affected since the birth of your son (Jared, 15 months) to you and your girlfriend (Brienne Flagg)?
JD: It's affected me a lot. I want to cherish all the time that I have with him. For the fact that my dad wasn't always there, I think that it's important to be there if you're going to be a father. You want to spend time with your kid and cherish every moment of their lives. That's important.
RM: You've been outstanding recently. Are you playing your best?
JD: I don't think I have played my best. I don't think you ever play your best. But, I have been playing much better recently. I have been able to come off the field feeling pretty good, knowing that I have left everything that I have on the field. I did my part in giving us a chance to win and that's all you can ask.
RM: How problematic was it replacing Hardy Nickerson?
JD: It wasn't very difficult. I understand that when you lose a superstar, in the media's eyes and the people's eyes, they think that the team let (Hardy) go and they want to know why. That's normal. Obviously, they have a guy with whom they have the confidence in to replace him. I expected that I would be under the microscope. It didn't bother me at all.
RM: Were there moments when you felt slighted by the skepticism?
JD: Maybe occasionally. I understood that they never saw me playing at the level that I'm capable of playing at.
RM: Okay, grade your performance this season?
JD: I don't know, because we're still playing and I still think my chances of helping this team win go up with the stakes.
RM: What's difficult about being a middle linebacker in the NFL?
JD: Nothing. It's not easy, but every part about it I enjoy.
RM: What's difficult about being a public figure?
JD: Your life, your family are all in the public eye. It doesn't bother me as an athlete but it bothers my family. I remember getting in trouble at Vanderbilt (University) for the credit card thing. I got suspended and it was a mistake that I made. We all make mistakes that you wish you can take back. But being an athlete on a college campus, it was everywhere. It was a credit card that some of us used and we ended up getting caught. Now, it was a mistake I made but it was hard for my mom to understand why they were putting that out there.
RM: Away from the game, what's important to you?
JD: Being a good person. I've always been a good person and I want to be a person that people will respect and a person that treats people with respect. I try to do good by my fellow man.
RM: So you have two round-trip tickets to anywhere. Where do you want to go?
JD: The moon. Simply for the fact that very few people could say that they have been to the moon. You get first-hand experience about all the things that you read about the moon.
RM: You'll have a problem finding a date?
JD: No, I would take my son.
RM: What's something you've always wanted to know?
JD: I've always wondered why people have stereotypes. I know that people are different, but I've always wondered how we get people to feel the way they do about other peoples. Obviously our ancestors are different, but I always wondered about how stereotypes emerged.
RM: Where are we going to be as a species in the next century?
JD: It's kind of scary to think about it. The way evolution has worked so far, it doesn't look good for us.
RM: Who's more weird, Michael Jackson or Prince?
JD: I don't know if weird is the right word. I think that they are just guys that have very distinctive personalities. I wouldn't call them weird. Maybe they take it to the highest level, but I like their music. They are very creative in what they do. That's God-given ability.
RM: Did you say anything to Martin Gramatica on the flight home Sunday night?
JD: No. It was pointless. Plus, he's a Pro Bowl kicker. He's going to win more games for us than he's going to lose.
RM: What did you get for Christmas?
JD: I got a toolbox. I needed a toolbox. I'm always going around the house looking for a tool and could never find one. I got a sports almanac and some really nice luggage. I had a great Christmas.
RM: You a loner?
JD: I enjoy the time that I have by myself. I wouldn't call myself a loner, but I enjoy free time to just spend by myself. I enjoy it because the great thing is that you can do whatever you want. There isn't any one thing that I enjoy doing over the other. So, I do whatever I want.