You may know Mike Daniels best for the passion he displays on the football field with the Green Bay Packers. But off it, Daniels is arguably even more consumed by his love of anime.
Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Daniels has quietly become one of the best in the league at his position, making a name for himself as a bruising defender who is also a fiery locker room leader.
Over six seasons in the NFL, Daniels has racked up 207 tackles, 27 sacks and a Pro Bowl nod in 2017 — not to mention the respect of his Packers teammates, fans and opponents alike.
But even though it might appear that Daniels eats, sleeps and breathes football — after all, wouldn’t you have to in order to be as good as he is? — his life has been consumed by another passion: anime.
“It was fourth or fifth grade, and it was Halloween. They could go dressed as whoever they wanted to,” says Mom, Carlean Daniels.
“He had to be Piccolo.”
That’s right. Picture this: a fifth-grade Mike Daniels walking into his classroom dressed in a homemade Dragon Ball character Piccolo costume his mom fashioned out of his football pads and a sheet.
He was obsessed.
“From then on, he was anime,” says Dad, Mike Daniels Sr.
Daniels discusses his lifelong love of anime in Crunchyroll’s first-ever documentary feature, He Was Anime, which premiered today:
“I am a huge anime fan first, a football player second,” says Daniels. “I love to go out there and pretend that I’m a Super Saiyan, because they can’t stop me.”
A Super Saiyan, of course, hails from the Dragon Ball universe — an advanced form into which members of the Saiyan race can ascend. Saiyan hybrids, including Earthlings, can also achieve the form by unlocking their dormant Saiyan powers.
If you’ve ever watched Daniels command a football field, you might assume that’s what he did long ago to get to this point.
After all, being a powerful anime character and a successful football player really might not be all that different at the end of the day.
“One of the things about anime is the power level of each character,” says Daniels Sr. “The way they increase their power levels is through working out and practicing their skills. And that instilled a good work ethic in him.”
A Stratford, New Jersey, native, Daniels was drafted by the Packers in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft after a standout college career at Iowa, where he earned a spot on the second team all-Big Ten team.
But until that point, he had flown under the radar. Daniels was a two-star recruit coming out of Highland Regional High School, only receiving scholarship offers from Iowa and Temple. Asked once why he was so lightly recruited at that time, Daniels said, simply, “I don’t know.”
It wasn’t the only time those around him would fail to estimate Daniels. As a child, he never quite fit in with his peers.
“I was different,” says Daniels. “That’s the best way to put it.”
Because of his differences, Daniels dealt with a significant amount of bullying — people trying to steal his lunch money, push him in the mud, stuff him in a locker.
Watching Daniels terrorize quarterbacks on the gridiron now, it’s hard to imagine that ever happening. But then, of course, Daniels wasn’t always 6’1″, 310 pounds.
When he came home crying from school yet another time, his dad said, “I’m going to toughen you up.” Daniels Sr. enrolled the younger Daniels in football, wrestling, baseball and track. “It’s the only reason I got into sports,” Daniels says.
Of course, he would go on to letter in baseball, be twice named a team captain in football and qualify for the state championship in discus.
Needless to say, whatever Daniels sets his mind to he seems to succeed in.
“I’m a dork with muscles, baby!”—Mike Daniels
By the time high school rolled around, the tables had turned.
Daniels shot up to 6’1″ and 230 pounds — no more getting stuffed in lockers when you’re bigger than the locker.
“I’m a dork with muscles, baby!” Daniels laughs as he recalls that time in his life. “And there’s nothing you can do about, because I’ll put you in the locker!”
And believe it or not, anime is a big part of what has driven him to push to that level, physically.
“Dragon Ball has helped me become a better athlete,” says Daniels. “It’s the same; we’re preparing for a challenge, and we’re going to push our body past its limit, so we can meet and overcome said challenge.”
“I really found a lot of joy in anime because it was out of the norm,” he says. “It was another reason people would pick at me, but I didn’t care because I could take pride in it, it was something I liked.”
Needless to say, if Daniels needed any reason to carry a chip on his shoulder, there it was.
Whether it was being bullied for refusing to conform to mainstream interests or being under-recruited as a high-school athlete, Daniels has risen above all those slights to become a Pro Bowl-level defensive end.
When he trains, Daniels pushes himself as far as his body will let him. His philosophy is that if he can push himself to the point of breaking, then no opponent lining up opposite him will ever be able to do it.
His message to them? “Who are you? Do you know what I do to myself? There’s nothing you can do to me.”
It’s that mentality that has made him such a leader in the Packers locker room and on the field, where he pushes his teammates to keep hustling until the whistle blows, never giving up on a play.
Even though no one in their right mind would think of bullying Daniels now, he still carries those psychological blows. And he’s channeling them into action. According to his best friend, Mike Saenz, the NFL gives Daniels a platform to show the world that it’s okay to be yourself. “And we’re more proud of him for that than any of the NFL [accomplishments],” Saenz says.
But anime and football are also separate for Daniels, parts of his life that don’t always intersect — and don’t need to.
One of the things anime has given Daniels that he holds most dear are the friendships that have formed over this shared passion — which he says brings together people from all walks of life — including his friendship with Saenz, who he counts as a brother.
“It’s like, if you like anime, you’re with us,” Daniels says about the other fans he’s met.
Daniels’ wife, Heaven, has even become an anime fan, herself, thanks to Daniels’ exuberant passion. “If we start a series together, and [he watches] an episode without me, then we have a problem,” she says.
The Daniels’ children — three, with one more on the way — even get in on the action.
When Daniels is enjoying his rare time away from the league during the NFL offseason, you’d better believe that, in addition to spending time with his family, he’s “binging anime.” And now that he’s made it into a family affair, the two offseason pursuits are one in the same.
“When my oldest says, ‘Can we watch Crunchyroll, Pop? Can we watch My Hero Academia?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah we can, son! We’ll do your homework later!” Daniels says with a hearty laugh.
“I did it, and I turned out fine,” he adds.
Anyone who’s watched him on the field — and, clearly, anyone who knows him off it — would have to agree.