I thought he was going to kill me.

His scowl scared me so much I took several steps back, sure I was about to become the first reporter in NFL history to be killed inside a locker room.

His Detroit Lions team had just suffered a crushing loss (when haven’t the Lions suffered a crushing loss?) to the Minnesota Vikings, and I was there, in the bowels of the Metrodome in Minneapolis, chronicling the event as a reporter for a regional newspaper.

I had the unenviable task of asking a 300-pound, All-Pro defensive lineman some tough questions moments after his team had blown a huge game in front of 65,000 screaming fans and a national TV audience.

I still remember sweat pouring down the player’s face, steam seeming to escape from his ears as I started asking him about what went wrong on the field. It was the type of tense, intimidating exchange many sports reporters know all too well. It was the only time I’ve ever been physically scared for my safety inside a locker room – the guy was that angry.

From the Lions to LinkedIn

Now, almost 20 years later, that same defensive lineman and I have exchanged several good-natured social media messages. (Note: I’m not naming him in this post because I haven’t directly received his permission to share the locker room story.)

What’s more, a former Detroit Lions quarterback I cheered against while growing up as a Vikings fan during the 1990s reached out to me to connect on LinkedIn back in 2013. (Turned out he and some partners had opened up a debt collection agency after his playing days were done, and at the time I was offering marketing services for debt collection agencies.)

In addition, a former defensive lineman for the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins follows my LinkedIn tips, comments on my posts and sometimes seeks 1-on-1 advice from me on how to sell more using LinkedIn.

What in the name of Vince Lombardi is going on here?

Football on the Field

The NFL and LinkedIn – Together at Last?

A Wall Street Journal story earlier this year chronicled how many current and former NFL players are turning to LinkedIn for career and business opportunities once their playing days are done.

In a league where most players are done by the time they hit their early 30s, it makes sense that many would look for life (and work) beyond football.

In 2014, LinkedIn put together a SlideShare presentation on how more than 2,000 former NFL players are using the site for networking opportunities and business partnerships.

More than 45 percent of those ex-players start a small business, get into sales or manage clients, according to LinkedIn. Many work in industries including finance, insurance and real estate.

The bottom line is, more and more NFL players – and other well-known, public figures – are getting busy over on LinkedIn.

3 Simple Tips to Boost Your Personal Brand on LinkedIn

A Great Opportunity For You … But Remember: “Folks are Folks.”

Depending on what type of products or services you offer, it might make sense to start seeking out and partnering with well-known NFL players, celebrities or other public personas on LinkedIn.

The key, however, is in how you approach things. As with any sort of prospecting on LinkedIn, you have to bring value first, explaining up front how you can help the other person achieve his or her goals.

Since you’re also dealing with celebrities, my best advice is to remember what New York Times Bestselling Author Keith Ferrazzi said in his book Never Eat Alone:

“While I’m aware of the impact a recognized persona can have on one’s network, and I’m certainly not shy about putting myself in a place where meeting such people can occur, too much fuss and adoration will kill your efforts before they begin,” Ferrazzi writes. “Folks are folks.

“I have found that trust is the essential element of mixing with powerful and famous people – trust that you’ll be discreet; trust that you have no ulterior motives behind your approach; trust that you’ll deal with them as people and not as stars; and basically trust that you feel like a peer who deserves to be engaged as such,” he adds. “The first few moments of an encounter is the litmus test for such a person to size up whether he or she can trust you in these ways or not.”

Yes, it’s fun to say I’m connected to and talk with some former NFL players on social media, and that some even seek me out for advice on generating more sales leads and landing clients via LinkedIn.

But the bottom line is, I never gush or act like a fan. Rather, as Ferrazzi notes, I just treat them like equals – which they are.

Yes, they’re way better at football than I could ever dream of being, but they’re still human beings. They have fears and challenges, they have dreams and dilemmas, and if I can bring them something of value in a professional relationship, all the better for us both.

I’m also careful about not asking for favors or endorsements unless I’ve “earned” that type of ask. (I’ve done that, by the way, and the results have been game-changing for my business.)

Regardless of what happens, just remember this: You never want an NFL defensive lineman angry at you.

Trust me on that one!