For the Jets' elite cornerback Ahmad Sauce Gardner, there are few things that taste sweeter than his trifecta of awards earned during his rookie, 2022 NFL season.
Defensive Rookie of the Year. Selected to the Pro Bowl. First Team All-Pro.
"I wanted it all," he told Jason and Travis Kelce on Episode 36 of their ‘New Heights’ podcast. "Pro Bowl and Defensive Rookie of the Year. I told somebody from the media [before the start of his rookie season] and he looked at me like I was crazy. I just feel like I'm not going to let anybody put more work in. When I step on the field, no matter who it is, I'm going to dominate."
Gardner spent 30-plus minutes with the brothers, who also attended the University of Cincinnati, where Gardner was a star and ended up being the No. 4 overall pick when the Jets selected him at the 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas.
And before Gardner even pulled his No. 1 jersey over his head, he landed a sponsorship deal that could not have been more perfect -- the "Sauce Sauce" partnership he signed with Buffalo Wild Wings (which is also a sponsor of the podcast) at the end of this past August.
"It's BBQ, but it's sweet and spicy," Gardner told the brothers. "You can put it on everything, you might be able to get away with putting it on salad, too. Chicken salad. They sent me different types and asked me my opinion and I put my two cents in there. Sweet and BBQ sauce, tried it and said 'that's it right there.' "
He added: "We started a partnership before my rookie season. The first thing I did was I told my marketing team I wanted to be a part of something. They asked me about Buffalo Wild Wings. In high school [in Detroit], any time football games were on I was going there with my family. They had TVs all around. I was always there. It was a true blessing to make something happen."
The Kelce brothers (Jason, a center for the Eagles) and Travis (a tight end for the Chiefs, who started his college career as a quarterback with Cincinnati) have been called "football's funniest family duo." Each has been on a Super Bowl-winning team. During Sauce's spot on the podcast, Jason Kelce sent some love the Bearcats way by wearing a T-shirt that said ""Cincinnati Is Good At Football."
See the best images of the No. 4 overall selection by the Jets in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Toward the end of the interview, Jason poured some Sauce Sauce on a strip of chicken and pronounced: "Hey, a sweet kick. That's nice. Why not on eggs, too."
At the draft in Las Vegas last April, Gardner got an early introduction to what proved to be an exciting season with the Jets, teamed with veteran CB D.J. Reed and helping to lead a defensive renaissance for the Green & White.
"It was a great experience," he said. "I just remember getting drafted, and as soon as I walked into the hall the first person I saw was Ice Cube, it just blew my mind. We took some pictures, it was great. Then the thing that really messed me up, is when a Jets person came over and told me all the draft picks were going to jump on a private jet going to Jersey."
The Kelce brothers peppered Gardner with questions:
• "Is Sauce the best nickname in the NFL?" ... "Yes, it is," Gardner said.
• "Which other teams were interested in you before the draft?" ... "I heard from Houston," but their defensive scheme wasn't a fit. He also said he interviewed with the Giants, who owned the No. 5 pick. "I went to the Giants and met with their DC Wink [Martindale]. He's got this golf thing in his office and told me that if I could make three of 10 putts, then they'd pick me at No. 5. I definitely hit two. Thing is, I'm not into golf."
• Favorite player? WR Chad Ochochino. (Gardner played wide receiver until his sophomore year in high school.)
• "Your DB Mt. Rushmore?" ... Darrell Revis, Deion Sanders, Charles Woodson and Champ Bailey.
• The cheesehead at Lambeau Field and Aaron Rodgers: "Honestly, that was just a great experience [a 27-10 Jets win]. I can't even believe I did that. A Jets fan took the cheesehead off a Packers fan and gave it to me. My first text message to Aaron Rodgers was a picture of me and the cheesehead. He sent a message to me saying 'Why do you have that? LOL.' He's a great guy. I'd never expect to have anyone like that on my team. I can't wait. It would be great for me and for the team."
During his rookie season, Gardner said that he spent time with Revis at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, discussing the game and spending time watching film together.
"It was great, the first thing he told me was to just put my mind to it," Gardner said. "We started spending more time at the facility and we got a chance to break down film, some of his and some of mine. He's a great dude and I'm blessed to get a chance to spend time with him."
He added: "Everything has to go around confidence, you've got to have confidence, it's the core trait. I've been around some guys who had the mentality that they [opposing WRs] get paid, too, they can make a play. I don't care, I'm trying to not let that happen. I don't want to give up a 5-yard catch. Just having that mentality helps to mold you into a dominant cornerback."
Hot sauce. Sweet sauce. No matter. Sauce has got the sauce.