Do you miss playing football?
That’s the question I most often get asked when people see me nowadays. And though the question is straightforward enough, in my opinion the answer is still complicated. Although I have no desire to play again, the memories of the game are what I tend to think about and miss the most.
Being on the Jets, I’ve developed many deep relationships with my teammates and their families, Demario Davis being one of them. Though I am older the he is, I’ve noticed that Demario has an air of wisdom that surrounds him. As a rookie, Demario performed a “joke” at the rookie show, which usually the young guys do throughout different points in training camp in attempts to add some levity to an already tough environment.
He began describing a fictitious story about an acrobat who could perform incredible feats as he walked across a tightrope over a great waterfall. Nearby was a large crowd of onlookers that cheered him on and as they cheered he would do more tricks with greater difficulty, like walking backwards or lying down on the tightrope. The acrobat finally brought a wheelbarrow on the tightrope and asked the crowd if they believed he could walk across? They cheered YES and he responded, “So who wants to get in?”
As we tried to process the punchline of what we just heard, Demario said, “I am willing to get in, but are you ready to lead?”
“Wait a minute, what just happened!!??” was the response of the room as the players slowly realized the challenge that had just been put forth.
Moments like these are the ones you reflect on and appreciate over time. Those are the memories that make you smile, and yet there are those that don’t.
In 2016, the first season I hadn’t played football, my wife and I decided to visit Demario and his family in Cleveland, and go the Jets-Browns game.
Being at this game was going to be a new experience for me. We had field passes, which made me hesitate as I wondered if I was ready to see the game up close.
Arriving at the stadium, I took the elevator down to the bottom level and proceeded through the stands and down towards the field of FirstEnergy Stadium. I began to feel more and more uneasy as I watched the stretching lines from the Cleveland side.
I’ve done those drills, I thought to myself, recognizing coaches and teammates I’d played with, and yet now I was the fan, blocked by a rope and a stadium security guard. My identity was out there. I knew more of what it felt like to get ready for a game than I did being a bystander watching it. I was glad when I returned to my seat upstairs high above the field.
During this same season I’d done a Jets event at MetLife Stadium. However, I was distracted by the questions, the pictures and the fans to really consider how I felt to be back.
In the past I never understood why some former players who I saw at games always appeared a little standoffish, slow to engage in conversation as if the brotherhood we shared no longer existed.
But as the game concluded and my wife and I stood by the buses waiting to see my old teammates, I remembered what I saw in the eyes of those former players. I felt out of place.
I began having conversations with those who passed by. Being acknowledged by my teammates and those from the Browns allowed me to relax a bit, realizing that perhaps I had created this isolation in my head. Still, I leaned over the rope that separated me from those I knew, a tangible reminder that I was no longer a part of the team I’d played with just a season before.