The Interview: Dyakowski talks food, math and smarts

Peter Dyakowski, pictured above. (Todd Korol/Getty)

You’re a genius who plays football. How did this happen?
Early on, I saw a very academic career path for myself. I was a bit of a nerd. I spent most of my lunch hours in the library, reading. I spent far too much time on the computer. I devoted far too many hours in Grade 8 and 9 to a text-based online kingdom fighting game. There’s nothing nerdier than a text-based online game.

I don’t think I know what that is.
There are no pictures. You type in the numbers of armies of elves you’re gonna send against your arch-enemies.

Oh my gosh. No pictures!
Yes. So football really saved me.

You started playing in Grade 10?
I joined because I wanted to get more exercise. My first day, I was a little late for practice; they were already stretching, so I strolled over to the end of the stretch line. I sat down and put my 44-oz. Slurpee down next to me, and the coach runs over. He picks up my Slurpee and throws it about 40 yards.

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How long did it take you to get game-ready?
I spent most of the time trying to hide behind guys if we ever had a big lead so that I wouldn’t get thrown into the game. The few times I was put in, it was fairly chaotic. More often than not, I didn’t do the right thing. I played the whole season and decided, “I gave it a shot, I just don’t think football’s for me.” But that off-season, the coach got me in the weight room. They saw potential with my size. I went from about six-foot-two, 220 lb. in February to six-foot-four and about 275 lb. by the end of July. I gained a pound every three days. Once I got bigger and stronger, football was way more fun.

What were you eating?
Just about everything. I’d take an extra-long washroom break every day during my chemistry class and go down to the cafeteria and order a second breakfast.

Wait—you skipped chemistry?
 No, no, no. I just took about an eight-minute break. I can eat really quickly. We had a good deal: It was $2.60 for two eggs, hash browns, sausage and toast.

How does your brainpower help on the football field?
I think it must help to a certain extent. You have to review your assignment, check the defensive personnel on the field, see where they’re lining up. I’ve got to know what they’re likely to do based on hours of film study. Then I’ve got to react to every movement. There’s a lot going on, so I think being smart has to help. But at the same time, you’ve got to not overthink.

Do you agonize more than most players about what those hits might be doing to your brain?
Maybe those extra few grams of grey matter I have mean more momentum for when I strike. [Laughs.]

I have to believe you’re the first-ever football player to tell that joke. Amazing.
 Honestly, it definitely crosses the mind. I put my faith in medical science. We’ve seen the march of progress over past decades—hopefully that continues. So by the time I’m at an age where it’ll be a serious problem, they’ll have come up with all sorts of amazing cures and repair jobs. I’ll be A-OK. But it’s a concern that a lot of guys have—not just me because I’m smart.

How many languages do you speak?
Just English. You tapped on my secret shame, right there. I’ve got the Rosetta Stone software for French, and like everyone’s Rosetta Stone CDs, they’re collecting dust. But one day we’ll be able to conduct this interview in French, mark my word.

What’s 14 times 478?
Gimme a second.

No pressure. [Dyakowski is mouthing numbers and looking up at the sky. Twelve seconds pass.] Are you close?
Yep. 6,692.

Wow. That’s ridiculous. [Editor’s note: We used a calculator. It took almost as long.]
That took me a little while, sorry. We had some distractions. I’m usually a bit quicker with my mental math.

You must get trash talk on the field about your smarts.
 If I ever get a flag, there’s always someone who says, “Oh, that wasn’t very smart!” Heaven forbid I jump offside. There are comments about my ability to count.

Do you respond?
Generally, the trash talk I get is so crude that I try not to play into it. I don’t like to reward that behaviour with my own creativity. One time, a linebacker for Montreal said some absolutely terrible things to me, so I said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say then you shouldn’t say anything at all.”

You got him!
[Laughs.] He didn’t have a reply. The referee and the other guys thought it was pretty funny.

Do the goings-on in the locker room ever serve as an assault on your intelligence?
There are far more smart football players than you’d think. We have so many guys on the team who have multiple degrees. The biggest curse is having to cope with the monotony in locker-room musical selection. Maybe that taxes my mind more than others’.

This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.

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