New England Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona, who played at Navy from 2011-2014 and serves in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a lieutenant, was named one of three finalists for the NFL’s Salute to Service Award, which recognizes those in the league who are committed to supporting the military.
The other finalists are San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch and AMB Sports and Entertainment CEO Steve Cannon, who runs business operations for the Atlanta Falcons. The winner of the award will be announced as part of “NFL Honors” Feb. 6.
Cardona has played in every game for New England since being drafted by the Patriots in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He has won two Super Bowls and appeared in another. Cardona was promoted to lieutenant during a ceremony on the last day of Patriots minicamp in 2019.
Cardona joined Glenn Clark Radio Jan. 21 to talk about his service in the Navy, the opportunities for football players at the Academy and more. This interview has been edited for clarity and content.
PressBox: Considering your life and the things that you’ve done, what does the word service mean to you?
Joe Cardona: I come from a military family. My dad continues to serve, even after his career in the Navy ended. He continues to be a civil servant for the Department of Defense, so it’s something that has always existed in my life. For me to get an opportunity to go to the Naval Academy was a no-brainer. It’s been a pleasure getting to do it in a different realm — being in the NFL and having a platform, but also gaining the expertise of an NFL player when it comes to performance. These are factors that I’ve used in my real job in the Navy to continue to develop as a leader and to progress my service and how I do things on that side, too, so it’s definitely taken form and been part of my life in every aspect.
PB: In 2015, in a practical sense did you believe that you would be an NFL player still in 2021?
JC: No, not really. I think when you go to the Naval Academy, you don’t have any real aspirations of going to the NFL and playing in the NFL. Your focus is on service. Your focus is on graduating and leading sailors and marines. For me, it was no different but at some point, I made the conscious decision to say, “If I’m going to get an opportunity, I’m going to be prepared.” So I focused a lot on the physical preparation to be an NFL player, and I’ve been extremely fortunate that things have worked out and progressed in the way they have, for sure.
PB: You mentioned your job in the Navy. The twin roles that you’ve had to keep up, both as an NFL player and continuing to move up in the ranks in the Navy, what’s the day-to-day, week-to-week life like for someone who’s doing both of these things at a very high level?
JC: I think the best way to think about it in terms of kind of balancing the two jobs, what it’s been is just compartmentalizing and saying, “All right, well, I’m in uniform one day and then I have another one on the next day.” But at that time, when I’m in my reserve job I don’t get to be NFL player, Super Bowl champion, all that stuff. I’m focused on the task at hand and whatever I’ve got to do because that’s what that job deserves. Likewise on the football side, these are two jobs that take total focus. Luckily for me, that makes things pretty easy when you really think about it because hey, I get to put the other side down and just focus on what I’ve been trying to do either way. Balancing has been good, but also, there is a lot of carryover. I think traditionally, people look at football and the military and all the clichés come out — go to battle and do all that stuff. That’s not the case, but there is a lot of carryover in terms of what it really takes to come together as a team and as a unit to accomplish a mission and everybody plays their role, whether you’re a Navy SEAL or the supply officer in the back or the quarterback or the long snapper that is only on the field for punts and field goals. There’s a definite carryover there and everybody’s role is important. I’ve learned a lot and I’m obviously grateful for it, but I think the benefits are just starting to come to fruition.
PB: Obviously, you’ve been in the league for some time, but since then there have been more opportunities for other Navy football players to get their chances. You got to go up against Malcolm Perry and the Miami Dolphins. What has it meant to you to see some more guys get this opportunity that you’ve had to continue their football career and know that this is a viable path if you choose the Naval Academy?
JC: It means a lot. The first thing I want to highlight is the only reason we’re getting this opportunity is because more pressing issues aren’t calling. Beyond that, I think the best way to look at it as my career has progressed and the roles have shifted a little bit, I’m just happy that the Navy and the military as a whole, the Department of Defense, has seen it as it as a valuable resource to advance their mission. I think that, to me, is one of the biggest [points] I’ve taken from it — a source of pride for me, really, in saying that I’ve done it the right way to the point where other guys get opportunities. Every time I’ve been able to face a fellow service academy player so far in my career, it’s been a really special thing, especially this year with Malcolm and [Cole] Christiansen from Army when we played the Chargers. Knowing that I may have played a small role in their opportunities is pretty special to me.
PB: It’s well-documented that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick cares deeply about the Naval Academy. Can you explain what he has meant to you in giving you the opportunity to be able to do this and the reverence that he’s shown for what it is that you guys do?
JC: Bill is definitely an Annapolis guy through and through. I think as a coach he’s shown me real strategic leadership. I can sit here and say I signed back early and all that to be a part of this team and it was a great thing for me to sign an extension a few years ago to continue to learn from a coach’s leadership and the other players that we’ve had and that we do have who are incredible leaders on the field, but it’s that strategic level of leadership as well as his ability to break it down to the smallest tactical level for every single position. No matter what job I’m doing, I think I’ll be able to take that with me in saying that there’s always room for expertise and there’s always room to know more about what you’re doing. Coach has been great as far as that goes, and obviously he has a tremendous amount of respect for our military and the history of the American military and everything that comes along with it. He’s a student of history and I think that’s been reflected in his coaching career as well.
PB: It was a down year for Navy, but does Ken Niumatalolo still somehow not get enough respect and appreciation for just how nuts his overall consistency has been for a long time? Do you feel like there’s still not enough appreciation for how truly great he’s been?
JC: When you’re at the Naval Academy, you’re going to face a different set of problems than the rest of the college football world as far as recruiting and academics and all this and, oh by the way, your student-athletes are signing up to join the military while they’re there and after. For him to have such success, it’s a testament to him. And it’s also the fact that he’s stuck around through other job offers. That’s how the Naval Academy sustains so much success — his leadership and then also the special group of players that have been at the Naval Academy throughout the years. I think we’re all looking forward to things getting back on track [as a society] but also down there in Annapolis. It should be a good rebuild.
To hear more from Cardona, including his support for the Travis Manion Foundation, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the New England Patriots/David Silverman