Football taught Adam Carolla how to handle adversity

By Eric Moreno | Posted 4/21/2017

Adam Carolla, the Ace Man to his legion of followers, is a master of many extraordinary talents.

The actor and comedian is a pioneer in the realm of podcasting, launching his own network in 2009. His podcast is recognized by Guinness as the most downloaded of all time.

He also has been a successful terrestrial radio host, a night-time talk show host, a film star, and the writing partner of late night’s Jimmy Kimmel (the duo having launched The Man Show and Crank Yankers).

You’ve seen him on Dancing with the Stars, Celebrity Apprentice, and Family Guy. These days, you can hear the three-time New York Times best-selling author on one of Carolla’s half dozen podcasts on his network, see him on his Spike TV show To Catch a Contractor or find him in the editing bay as he has become an award-winning documentary filmmaker.

If you’ve heard him over the years, you know he has a deep drive and work ethic, which he credits a lot of to his days playing football for the North Hollywood High School Huskies, where he earned All-League honors.

I had the chance to catch up to one of the hardest working men in show business to talk about grit, long snapping and the return of the Rams to Los Angeles.

EM: So, Adam, let’s go back to the beginning. When did you first start playing organized football? And do you remember why you wanted to play?

AC: I started playing organized tackle football when I was 7 years old. I think I saw a like a flyer or something back when they let you staple things to telephone poles out in front of my house. There was this orange sign that showed a crude outline of a football player for the East Valley Trojans.

I was so bored, so energetic and I craved just contact and movement and my parents were the opposite, just lazy and lethargic, and out of it. I knew I had to go get in on this. We knew someone who coached the East Valley Trojans, but at a different level, a higher level, than me. I got signed up and that was it.

EM: Having never played it before, what was that first experience like for you? Did you “take to” football right away or did it take you some time to fall in love with it?

AC: That first year, I sat on the bench, and I was never sure why, but I came back the second year and never stopped playing all through high school. I liked everything about football, but the things I liked about it were also the things I hated about it, if that makes sense. Practices were very hot out here in the San Fernando Valley. This was back when they thought water was bad for you! I mean, they wouldn’t let you drink water and I was a mouth breather because I have a deviated septum. My mouth was always so dry and it was just so hot.

I just wanted water and they said it would make you soft or make you cramp up. It was brutal, but I love it for how tough it was. I loved that it made me think I could out grit and out work people. Doing all the laps and all the pushups and all the wind sprints, I thought I could master myself. I could push through the pain and rally if I need to. I could play hurt if I need to. I use that every day. I have a pretty crazy schedule that has me do a lot of things that a lot of people don’t do. You know, my wife would never do what I do because she doesn’t have that background of just pushing through. I got a lot of those things out of football.

EM: What positions did you play? I seem to recall a story where you were actually a pretty good long snapper. Did you play both sides of the ball?

AC: Yeah, I played both ways. I was on the offensive line and defensive line and later on, I was on the offensive line and linebacker. I did do long-snapping. I never really left the field.

EM: Did you have a preference, offense or defense?

AC: Oh, for sure. I loved playing linebacker. Blocking on offense wasn’t exactly fun. I had a lot more fun on defense. I always kind of looked at it that offense was the work part, where I had to pay my penance, and then I got to play defense.

EM: What about coaches? I’m sure having played as long as you did there had to be some pretty impactful ones on your, right?

AC: Yeah, I had a lot of coaches that made a big impact on me. One of the guys I played with is Erik Kramer, who played in the NFL for like 13 years for Detroit and Chicago. He started for a lot of years. So, Erik Kramer’s dad, Coach Kramer – I don’t know his first name, I was just a kid. He was a guy who told me that when I came back after that first season of just sitting on the bench, and he told me that he was “tickled pink” that I had come back that second year. I remember not knowing what that meant, but I kind of liked the fact that he said it.

I’ve had many, many coaches over the years that meant something to me. A guy by the name of Duke Gallagher was a great coach for me. He was one of those guys who was kind of like a substitute dad for me.

EM: So, when you got to high school, did “success” come easier for you or were you still having to grind things out to make varsity?

AC: No, you know, I didn’t have success right away. My puberty didn’t work out that well for me. I ended up sitting on the bench in the 10th grade on the “B” team as they called it. The next year, my coach’s plan was for me to play my 11th grade year starting on the B team. He told me to keep my weight down so I could play for them. So, instead, over the summer I ate a dozen eggs a day and lived in the weight room. I packed on like 30 pounds of muscle.

I don’t know what my plan was other than I didn’t want to have to come up to varsity my senior year and introduce myself to the coach and then spend the rest of the time on the bench. As it turns out, the guy ahead of me got injured in the preseason or in the first game or something and I ended up starting the rest of the season on offense. I got Most Improved, which I don’t like to think about because it has always been something of an embarrassment to me. I was really good in Pop Warner and I wasn’t used to Most Improved. Dr. Drew told me I should take some pride in it, but I never did. It was always a bit of a consolation prize to me.

EM: Would it be fair to say then, that you experienced the most success personally your senior year in high school?

AC: Yeah, my senior year, I got to start both ways and I got All-League and Best Defensive Player as a linebacker. As a team, we sucked. The guys that were good when I played were Canoga Park High School and Van Nuys High School, and if you watch the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, you can see stock footage of their game the season that I played them. It’s kind of funny that I can go back and see some of the guys I played against. But, we lost a lot. I was the only player from our team to get All-Valley. I think they had to take somebody and they grudgingly took Carolla. We punted a lot, so I got to do a lot of long-snapping.

EM: I seem to remember a bit you did where you had a tryout with the Arena Football League as a long snapper. Now, this was well into your career in show business, but did you ever give any thought to actually taking them up on it? Even for a second or two?

AC: Yeah, that was for a home improvement show I did and one of the guys on my crew was actually a semi-professional kicker. He was trying out for the Los Angeles Avengers, and the coach didn’t know me or him or anything. He just knew we were coming down and we were going to film it. Now, the kicker guy didn’t make it, but the coach did offer me a spot as a long-snapper. He told me I could run the shotgun or do some deep snapping and he meant it.

I at the time was probably 38 or 39 and in decent shape. I remember thinking to myself it would be a fun goof to do just one game. Just do one L.A. home game run out do a snap and throw myself in the way of something. But I said to him, do you have the “no can” rule for deep snappers [meaning you can’t rough the snapper]. They had it in high school, college, and in the pros at that point. He said no, they don’t have that in arena football and that was the deal breaker for me. If they would have had the no canning rule like the rest of civilization, then I would’ve come out and given it a shot. I couldn’t see risking my career on a goof though.

EM: What are your thoughts on the Rams making their return to L.A.? I read you were a fan of them as a kid in their original stint there. Is any part of you excited about having them back?

AC: It’s kind of surreal and kind of fun to see them back. It’s also nice to have some more traffic in this town, so that’s awesome. Normally we get Sundays off from traffic, but now we have some that will keep me from getting to the airport on time every time they have a home game. Look, it’s been a long time, I’m too old, I’ve got kids, I’m too busy and I’ve got bigger fish to fry, but it is fun to have people talking football in Los Angeles after all these years.

EM: Last thing for you, I know you touched on this briefly earlier, but if you had to pick one “thing” or lesson that football taught you that you still use every day what would that be?

AC: Overcoming adversity. Being able to dust yourself off and get back to work. Having someone say “no” to you or knock you down and get yourself back up, that’s something I got from football. Being able to listen to myself and say I’m not gonna beat myself up when something doesn’t go my way, but I am gonna be just hard enough not to let that happen again. I’m going to get my helmet back on and get back out there.