We caught up with Cincinnati Bengals fan-favourite, Domata Peko to talk about his faith, his love for Chelsea FC and his NFL highlights.
You’ve been with Cincinnati for your entire NFL career, how special is the club?
Oh I love being here in Cincinnati, this is my eleventh year so my three boys have grown up here, my eldest being 12 so he has pretty much been here the whole time. Cincinnati has been treating us well, the people are kind, the organisation is great and hopefully I can retire here.
If I had to push you for your highlight from your time in the NFL, what would you say?
One of my standout memories with the Bengals was a certain play where I was playing offense, I wasn’t even playing defense. It was against Pittsburgh and I ran over to Troy Polamalu, who was their best player and I got a chance to run him over as we scored a touchdown. That was one of my favourite plays that year, but also recently in London I achieved a milestone in that I hit my 500th tackle. It was really awesome to be able to do that because I never thought as a player I would play that many games and make it that long.
What do you make of London?
London was awesome, I am a big Chelsea fan although I know that there are also a lot of Arsenal fans around. We had a good time, my wife came down too and so I took her to Harrods for some shopping. Overall it was a great trip.
I have to ask about your support for Chelsea, what’s the story behind that?
It’s crazy man, because first I was a massive fan of Manchester United back in the day. However, what got me onto Chelsea was the signing of David Luiz. I started seeing how he played the game, that he was a great defender who could also get forward and take those free-kicks. I just always liked Chelsea’s defence because they’d go one up and then drop everyone back and protect the lead. I also like JT, Ivanovic and Cahill. Ever since then I have been following David Luiz, I wish he had come to our game whilst we were in the UK. He seems like a really cool guy!
What’s the best thing about playing in the NFL?
For me every day is like a dream come true, from when I was little I had dreams about being in the NFL and now I am there. It is a blessing and I am just so appreciative and grateful, coming from a small island like Samoa and being able to come over and play here. To be able to do it is such a blessing.
The real question though, is could you cut it as a Rugby player?
Yes I think I could, I grew up in Samoa so we know something about Rugby, I think I could score some tries!
Now as a Defensive Tackle your focus is to restrict, do you ever wish you could just go on a mad run like a quarter back and get the glory?
It is alright brother, coach says that in my position you have got to be very unselfish, you don’t get too much glory, other guys make most of the plays but whenever I do make my plays I make sure I celebrate and have fun with it. That’s just the aim of the game as a nose guard, you’ve just got to serve. It’s much the same with being a Christian, God calls us to serve and that is what I do. When my number is called I just make sure that I am ready to go.
If you could play alongside any player, past or present, who would it be?
For me, I would like to play with middle line-backer, Junior Seau. He is also Samoan, I would be playing nose guard and he would be line-backer, right behind me. That would be a dream come true for me because as a kid I grew up loving Junior, he is a well-respected Samoan and I would have loved to have played with him.
Could you tell us how you came to know God for yourself?
I grew up in the church because my dad is a pastor and so growing up you just know a lot about Jesus. However, it wasn’t until my high school years that I really got to know him personally. It is one thing to know about him but to know and accept him into your heart is a whole different story, so as I got older I built that relationship with him. I have been walking with Christ since, now that I have been with the Bengals for eleven years, I have a great church here that we go to. It’s called Seven Hills Church and I feel myself growing more and more as a believer. I just thank God because I know that without him I would not be in the NFL today and wouldn’t be the person that I am right now. I owe him everything.
How do you use the sporting platform that God has given you to point people to him?
I try to walk the walk, with my team also, I have been defensive Captain for seven season in a row now so I try to lead by example. I just want them to see the way I play, how I compose myself and I also use my platform through social media. Being an NFL player means that a lot of kids look up to you, so you must be careful what you do because kids are like sponges. Whatever they see you do they will want to copy, it is just about showing the world that if I can do it so can they and with God all things are possible.
I always ask God before the game and I ask him to give me the strength that he gave to Samson to defeat the Philistines and I say give me the courage that you gave Daniel when he faced the Lions. I want God’s strength out there.
With there being so many Christians in the league, does that make it easy for you to have positive God chats with teammates who don’t know Jesus?
Well every week we have our own little bible study and get together every Saturday evening. We share some scriptures and sharpen each other up. We want to encourage each other and keep each other going. There are so many believers across the league and after each game players get together and pray, giving thanks to God.