Imagine sitting down at a high-stakes poker table and seeing a three-time Super Bowl champion and legitimate Hall of Fame-caliber player sit down across from you.
Could you even focus on the flop? Would you be intimidated? In awe? Or maybe bound and determined to say you got the upper hand (pun totally intended) on a seven-time Pro Bowler?
‘It challenges you in so many ways’
If you play competitive poker, maybe you’ve seen Richard Seymour around the casino. Seymour, who played for the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders during his 12-year career, finished an impressive 131st at the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas, busting out of the tournament Wednesday night. The field began with 8,569 players putting up the $10,000 buy-in, and as of Monday afternoon, it still hadn’t concluded.
It’s the first time in a handful of tries that Seymour cashed in at the year’s marquee event for pokerphiles, winning $59,295.
“I started Day 5 with like 2.7 million in chips and at my peak I was at 3.6 million,” Seymour told Yahoo Sports on Sunday from Las Vegas. “Our starting stack is 60,000. To run 60,000 up to 3.6 million is a pretty big deal.”
Because the WSOP Main Event starts with such a big field, Seymour believes there’s a smart strategy to pursue early.
“It’s more important to survive than be the chip leader,” he said. “Here’s the thing: In the game of poker, you just want to make the best decisions possible and what happens after that is out of your hands.
“That’s a hard part of the game to mentally understand. Normally in life, you’re like, ‘If I do everything right, things will go my way.’ And you can do everything right in poker and still lose. It challenges you in so many ways.”
‘You still have a competitive drive’
Seymour, 39, began playing poker several years ago. He was introduced to the game by his late father, Richard Sr.
“My dad would play video poker when I was growing up [in South Carolina], and I worked with my dad,” Seymour said. “When he’d get off work he’d stop at the store and obviously I didn’t play then, but I had to sit around for a couple of hours while he played video poker. Watching him I picked up a basic understanding. Obviously that’s not the type of poker I play now, what I’m in now is more of a competition poker.”
Seymour’s final NFL season was 2012. Not long after, he took up poker.
“Once you’re done playing football you still have a competitive drive,” he said. “Poker is an outlet for me where I have a competitive drive, you have to be very cerebral. It requires a lot like it did for me in football – I have to be patient, I have to know how to pick my spots, pay attention to guys’ tendencies. It was just a natural progression after leaving sports at a high level.”
When he began playing, his wife Tanya rolled with it, telling him to have fun but not to lose too much money. Once she saw some of the perks, however – Seymour played a tournament in Spain last year, and his family traveled with him, and he finished third in a tournament in the Bahamas in 2018, winning over $375,000 – “she doesn’t mind as much,” he joked.
‘My temperament fits poker well’
Seymour has been known to use one of his Super Bowl rings as a holder for his chip stacks. Part of that is intimidation, but part of that is to satisfy the curiosity of others.
“Every time I sat down, people wanted to see my rings or talk football,” he said. “Guys have different things as a chip protector and I thought it was cool to use my ring and let them see that too.”
But because he’s Richard Seymour, well-paid 6-foot-6 ex-NFL player, many opponents assume Seymour is going to be an aggressive player. Sometimes he plays to that assumption, bluffing when he has a big hand and getting paid off anyway because opponents didn’t believe him.
And for others, beating Seymour adds a layer of sweetness.
“Some guys play me differently because they say, ‘If I knock Richard Seymour out it’s a cool story to tell my buddies’,” he said. “Which I don’t mind that, it just depends on how I’m feeling that day.
“My temperament fits poker well; I’m naturally kind of reserved, I’m not super emotional one way or another, so if bad things happen, which they’re going to in poker, it’s about how do you respond?”
Is Hall of Fame call coming?
The sixth overall pick in the 2001 draft out of Georgia, Seymour was the gold standard for 3-4 defensive ends during his career. Because he played much of his career on a three-man line, Seymour doesn’t have the stats some expect to see from a defensive end – he totaled 57.5 sacks and 496 total tackles in 164 career games.
But Seymour’s impact can’t be seen in raw statistics. Ask those who played with and against him, the offensive lines that would send two and even three players at him, trying to take him out of a play. When Seymour was tangled up with multiple linemen, it provided an opening for teammates like Willie McGinest or Mike Vrabel to get sacks or make the tackle.
Earlier this year, he was one of 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 2019 induction class. He wasn’t selected this time, but is hopeful his day is coming.
“An honor would be an understatement,” Seymour said of a possible Hall call. “To be mentioned among the greats to ever play the game ... I think one thing that I’ve always said is I wanted to be respected by the players I played against.
“When you’re kind of hanging out or at events, I have a lot of offensive linemen coming up to me and telling me I played the game the right way, I was one of their toughest competitors or I was the best they played against.
“When they say that, I feel like I’m already in the Hall of Fame because of that. Some of it comes down to voters, and I can’t control any of that. I just feel honored.”
Seymour was blindsided on the eve of the 2009 regular season when he discovered that the Patriots had traded him to Oakland. He didn’t report for days, in part because of the circumstances of having a young family with him in Massachusetts. Seymour had been a four-time team captain in New England and was incredibly well-respected in the locker room.
He did report to Oakland, adding two more Pro Bowls to his résumé before ending his career.
In the years since, the relationship between Seymour and the Patriots has healed. Based just outside Atlanta, where Super Bowl LIII was played this year, the team invited him to parties and other events.
Seymour said the respect was always there between himself and the organization, and himself and coach Bill Belichick.
“He’s light years – the distance between him and the second-best coach in the league, it’s not close,” Seymour said. “Obviously I didn’t agree with how everything was handled when I was traded but I look at that ... I don’t know. I wouldn’t have handled it like that, but that was out of my control as well.”
When it was time for longtime NFL writer Ron Borges to make the case for Seymour in front of the other Pro Football Hall of Fame voters the day before the Super Bowl this year, he had a letter from Belichick in his arsenal, stating the case for why Seymour deserved their vote.
“I didn’t know [about Belichick’s letter],” Seymour said. “I knew it was going to be somebody in the organization. But if you want anybody writing for you – he’s seen all the players, he’s coached so many defenses and he’s so smart on that side [of the ball], I feel like you’re getting a letter of recommendation from the best to ever do it.”
When he’s not playing poker, Seymour spends most of his time with his family. His daughters and son play travel volleyball, and the financial benefits of his playing career have allowed him the ability to be at their games and see his oldest off to her prom instead of needing to find other income.
But Seymour does have designs on returning to football in the future.
“I had some opportunities to do some TV stuff but it was just too time-consuming for me,” he said. “For me personally, it was more important to be there for them during these times. I still have aspirations of being a [general manager] in the league one day, and I’ve been talking with [Raiders owner] Mark Davis a lot.”
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