Hello Kitty! Two words you’d never think would describe an NFL player. Especially one weighing more than 320lbs, but those are two fitting words that accurately describe Antonio Garay (or at least his jokester personality), defensive tackle for the San Diego Chargers.
It took everything in my power not to take the easy way out of this article and just post a photo essay on Garay because to be honest [Editor’s note — We had no such qualms. Enjoy!], I’m not sure words, even my words, can do this guy’s personality justice, but here goes.
Before our interview I was warned that Garay was a character. He even owned a Hello Kitty smart car was the word on the street, and it seemed overpoweringly appropriate to start the interview there. “I got it like that from the dealership. I’m just a guy with a good sense of humor. I don’t take life too seriously; I take it for what it’s worth. I think everyone should have a good time, and laugh a little more. I try to do my part and make everyone laugh,” Garay says.
I’m all for jokes, but an automobile just for laughs? What about a more economically savvy YouTube video instead?
“I went to the Mercedes Benz dealership here in San Diego last September, and I told them I wanted a smart car, and as a joke they brought me the Hello Kitty car. It was kind of a joke when they drove it out, but I told them it was perfect. At that point I didn’t know a whole lot about Hello Kitty, but I said, ‘I’ll take it.’ And I’ve been driving it ever since,” laughs Garay.
Before you start thinking a 6-foot-4-football player/former college wrestler is riding dirty in a pink Hello Kitty car, think again. “It’s not pink,” Garay quickly corrected me.
“None of my teammates make fun of me about it. Some were taken back, but I’m bigger than a lot of the guys, so they don’t say much. A couple thought I was a genius for getting that car,” Garay adds without confirming or denying if he’s referencing the “chick magnet” affects of the car.
“I even have a New Era baseball cap with Hello Kitty on it,” Garay adds. “Women give me random Hello Kitty gifts,” he trails off. “And I’ll just leave it at that.”
“I have two smart cars. The other is all black with blacked out windows, a red racing stripe, and my number on the wheels. I also have an off road jeep wrangler. All my cars are fun cars – the doors come off, the tops come off. I have a bunch of those accessories you don’t need; like a cruise ship boat horn and a PA system,” Garay says. “They are fun things to have in your vehicle when you’re driving. Everyone wants to borrow it, drive it or just sit in it. Smart cars are a lot bigger than people actually think, especially the front seat. The Hello Kitty car kind of speaks for itself, but the other one is the tougher version. Instead of the smart car emblem, it has my initial ‘G’ on front, all leather seats with red stitching, and surround sound” Garay explains adding that black and red were his high school colors.
Having just turned 33 at the end of November, I told Garay how rare (and impressed I was) at his off the cuff and seemingly “random” personality. “What’s random about it?” he asked. I hated to admit it, but I guess I wasn’t used to so much personality, especially from one of the “older” guys. Garay, now in his 6th NFL season, is comfortable with his play on the field and the man he is off the field — a rare combo in professional sports.
“Pound for pound, I’m probably one of the bigger jokesters on the team. Contrary to what people believe, football doesn’t define the guys that play the sport. A lot of people make their judgments based on what they see and hear on ESPN or Twitter. That’s why I tell people to have fun while playing football. It is your job, but have fun doing your job. If you’re serious 24/7 it’s pretty exhausting and that shows up in your play,” Garay says from firsthand experience. “I know when I’ve gotten serious, my play isn’t necessarily the best. The more confident, laid-back and fun, allows athletes to have more to their edge, almost that x factor.”
I hate to quote Wikipedia, but I felt compelled to ask about the claim that he’s “notable for outrageous hairstyles.” “I don’t really let the media get into it, but there is always a background story to my haircuts. A couple weeks after Hurricane Sandy I did a Jersey Strong haircut. The word ‘strong’ was across the back of my head and inside the O it had the state of New Jersey. I’m from NJ, so I had to represent,” Garay explains.
As for crazy hairstyles, “I have one right now. It’s Two-Face – that’s the theme. The left side is normal with a beard and standard taper cut and the right is completely designed in black and turquoise and my beard is designed out. Contrary to popular belief I don’t do my hairstyles to stand out,” adds Garay.
While the Hello Kitty car was more for comedic value and proof of not taking himself too seriously, the big guy really does have a soft side to him. “I remember back when football was fun – when it was pure and we just played to play. That’s why I brought back some of the hairstyles from my high school days. I met a kid, Timmy, who was going through treatments. When I first met him he had a [hair] design in mind and I told him I would do it. He also asked me to get him a sack – that was tough, but I did it,” Garay says proudly. “After that I changed it up a bit the following week and then people expected me to do it every week. That’s kind of how that whole story played out.”
“As far as the crazy hairstyles, it’s more of a self-motivation thing. If you do something crazy, you better play good. You don’t do something like that to play lousy, or for people not to know you’re out there. It started with Timmy, but it’s brought it to a different level of play,” Garay explains.
“I have a pretty solid belief to help your community and establish relationships with teammates off the field and outside the locker room. I think everything carries over. If guys support each other in their personal charities, it creates a relationship and helps with camaraderie,” Garay says. “In my personal opinion, if guys are supporting each other, it’s easier to have that person’s back when you’re playing on the field, as minor as that might sound. I’m not really a big birthday person but guys that came up and wished me a happy birthday – something that minor goes a long way. When I play, I don’t just play for myself but I play for my teammate and kids like Timmy. Maybe that’s why I try to be funny – some people don’t think I am. My mom thinks I’m pretty great,” he adds laughing.
Be sure to follow Garay’s Hello Kitty escapades and hairstyles on Twitter. His bio says he’s located in the San Diego Zoo, if that’s any indication how much of a goofball this guy is.
See the rest of the photos in Antonio’s gallery! And for what it’s worth, Garay is not the first NFL player/seo services specialist I’ve had smart car chats with. Perhaps they should go cruising around together sometime.
This post is part of The Blonde Side’s Momentum Challenge series to interview one active player from all 32 NFL Teams within the short time frame of 34 days. Antonio Garay and his hilarious photos cross the San Diego Chargers off the list.
Jayme Lamm is a freelance sports and travel writer based in Houston and is currently in a full-court press writing her hugely opinionated sports column, The Blonde Side. Follow her travels for sporting events and check her out on Twitter.