He Call Me.
The voice on the telephone line was Rod Smart’s.
You might not remember Rod Smart, who in 2001 was a speedy running back for the bawdy Las Vegas Outlaws of the equally bawdy, and now long-defunct, XFL.
You most certainly recall his alter ego.
He Hate Me.
That’s what Rod Smart put on the back of his football jersey, in the place one’s surname usually goes.
With all respect due Tommy Maddox, quarterback of the XFL’s one and only champion Los Angeles Xtreme, the cryptic moniker made Rod Smart the poster child of the short-lived league founded by TV mogul Dick Ebersol and pro wrestling magnate Vince McMahon.
It also led to Smart playing in the Super Bowl for the Carolina Panthers.
An ESPN documentary about the over-the-top XFL debuted this week, and with the Super Bowl teams getting ready for another titanic clash in Houston, it seemed an ideal time to catch up with Rod Smart, aka “He Hate Me,” once and forever a Las Vegas pro football icon.
Q: You have said “He Hate Me” was given to you by a friend; that it’s another way of saying one can’t get respect or get a break; that “If you have a rocket in front of you, and it’s steady going past you, soon enough you’re going to hate that rocket.” Whatever that may mean. So which is the most accurate origin of “He Hate Me?”
A: All of the above. Everybody was hating me at that point (with the Outlaws). It was one of those things we’d say during training camp, thrown around loosely, when the coach would play politics, or I’d run over another player downfield — He Hate Me. After that first game, everybody noticed.”
Q: Do you think you would have gotten an NFL tryout were it not for the nickname, or had you a more traditional one, like “Rocket Rod” or something like that?
A: Yes, eventually. I had gone to training camp, got cut by the Chargers before the XFL. I pretty much worked my butt off. But the name got me notoriety. It catapulted me faster. But if you have a nickname (like that) you better not suck.”
Q: People may not be aware you played five seasons in the NFL, and played in Super Bowl XXXVIII, Panthers vs. Patriots in Houston — same site as this year’s game. A lot of football people have said that was the first great Super Bowl. What do you recall about it?
A: I remember it going back and forth, and toward the end, after we kicked a field goal to tie it, we kicked off to them, and we kicked it out of bounds. That made it easy for them (to kick the game-winning field goal.) Tom Brady was one of the best quarterbacks in the league — still is today. You can’t give him, a team of that caliber, an opportunity like that.”
Q: Didn’t you return a kickoff for a touchdown once?
A: Three times. One against the Colts in Indianapolis, one against the Bucs in Carolina, one against the Saints in Carolina. Two got called back. One was a hold — I was already by the guy. The other was a straight-up pancake block.
Q: Did the referees hate you, too?
A: (Laughing). Exactly.
Q: Do you still have your He Hate Me jersey? Is it hanging on the wall in your den?
A: I got both of ’em (home and away). They’re not framed yet. They’re in a closet.