GREENVILLE, S.C. -- For Pellom McDaniels, football is merely a starting point for discussion.
Very quickly, the conversation shifts away from zone blitzes and blocking schemes to very un-football-like passions such as writing, painting and poetry.
McDaniels is not just a defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons. He's an artist and entrepreneur, inventor and philosopher, civic crusader and willing role model, dreamer and renaissance man.
"Once I finally made it to the NFL, I knew if I put my mind to something I could do it," McDaniels said. "I started using football to get me in a lot of other doors, with my writing, my invention and all that other stuff. I just took a chance. I found out the worst thing in life that people could tell me was `no.' I find out the reasons they say no, then turn around and use it to my advantage."
He's written two books, with a third on the way. "My Own Harlem" offers poetic musings and deeply personal thoughts of a complex young man in search of a place for himself and his people. "So You Want To Be A Pro?" shares with young people his views on discipline, coping with peer pressure, time management and the importance of education.
McDaniels and his wife, Navvab, launched the "Arts for Smarts" program, which acquaints thousands of disadvantaged kids with dance, theater and literature. He owns and operates a clothing business. Even something as common as an unpleasant trip to the dentist started the wheels spinning: He invented his own flavored gel, got it cleared through the Food and Drug Administration and put it on the market.
"I'm an eclectic-type person," McDaniels said. "I let myself do anything I want to do."
McDaniels, 31, signed with the Falcons after seven years in Kansas City, providing the NFC champions with some much-needed depth on the defensive line. It's the same role he played with the Chiefs, filling in wherever he was needed on a team that featured Neil Smith, Derrick Thomas and Chester McGlockton.
"I figured out a long time ago that if you wanted to do anything, you have to know more about it than anyone else," McDaniels said. "I learned every position to get the job in Kansas City. Whenever I was called upon -- whether it was nose guard, left end or right end -- I had to do it."
McDaniels' work ethic stems from the rejection he felt on draft day in 1990, when no team called despite a solid career at Oregon State.
"It was devastating," said McDaniels, who earned a degree in communications and political science. "I thought I did everything right in college, in athletics and academics, and it just didn't pan out."
He took a job selling health and beauty care products, but football was still in his blood. The following year, he played for the World League's Birmingham Fire, earning a tryout from the Philadelphia Eagles. Failing to make the team, he returned to Birmingham for another season in the minors.
Finally, he earned a spot with the Chiefs in 1992.
"It all stems from not making it," McDaniels said. "I feel blessed going to work every day. I don't take it for granted. It's a job, but this game has given me a lot. Confidence, for one. Self-esteem. A feeling of accomplishment."
For him, the greatest feeling is discovering an opponent's weakness in the film room, then taking advantage of it on the field.
Last season, for instance, he noticed the Steelers ran a sweep every time the tight end went in motion to that side of the field. During a Monday night game, he seized on that revelation to tackle Jerome Bettis in the backfield for a 7-yard loss.
"That's a great feeling," McDaniels said. "I may not be a starter, but when I play I make plays."
He also makes a difference away from the field.
"I didn't know about all that other stuff until we started talking about signing him," Falcons coach Dan Reeves said. "I've never had anybody that has their own company, writes books. ... It's really intriguing to see all the stuff he's done."