Oakland Raiders offensive tackle and animal lover Donald Penn talks about the fish tank of his dreams — and that time he brought a gecko on a plane.
I grew up wanting to be a veterinarian. I always had a love for animals. Growing up we had a 16-gallon freshwater tank. My dad took care of it mainly, but it was an adventure when it was time for him to feed the fish — I would watch them eat.
When I was in fifth or sixth grade I did a science project, and I had an iguana. His name was Hungry. He was always hungry. One time he got loose; he was lost in the house for about a week, and my mom didn't even know. We had a fake tree in the living room, and he was up in that tree like he was in a regular tree. After that, I would let him chill in the tree when my mom wasn't home.
The first tank I bought with my own money was when I was in college at Utah State. I bought a little 10-gallon one — with some fish I bought at Walmart and a frog — for the house I rented with a couple of my teammates. It reminded me of home.
We played a game in Hawaii, and we brought a gecko back with us. It was running around the hotel, and one of my roommates caught it. We put it in a water bottle with holes poked in it. We already had an empty cage at the house, so when we got home, we bought all the stuff he needed. We would go to PetSmart and get crickets and watch him eat and see how quick he was.
I always told myself when I got old enough and made enough money, I was going to get a saltwater tank, and I was going to go above and beyond on it. I bought my first saltwater tank five years ago when I bought my house in Tampa while I was playing for the Buccaneers. I bought a 250-gallon tank, and it started from there.
I bought my current house when I signed with the Raiders, and my wife got me this tank (above) for Valentine's Day this year. It's 10 feet long, and it's 370 gallons. The guy who works on the tank said I could fit about 50 fish in there, depending on their sizes. I have 15 to 20 fish now, and he's putting in three to four new fish every two weeks.
I love brightly-colored fish that stand out and really catch your eye. That's why I always wanted a saltwater tank. I have the whole cast of Finding Nemo — my seven-year-old son loves that movie — but I'm waiting to get a bigger Nemo. My puffer fish ate the other ones because they were too small.
During the off-season I'm planning on getting a stingray or an eel. It'll probably be a stingray a little smaller than my hand.
I have the tank because it's relaxing. The TV is right above it. I can just sit there and reminisce. It's not too over the top, just something cool and perfect for me.
Photos: John W. McDonough for Sports Illustrated (fish tank), Brian Bahr/Getty Images (action)