Day One: Wherein Broncos' Tight End Nate Jackson Dissects an Average Monday, Does W Impressions
Monday: I don't like the sound of morning radio show hosts. I can't help but picture them as obnoxious party guests. Before I got injured in week 5 of this NFL season against the San Diego Chargers, I was lucky enough to sleep through this noise on a Monday morning. In the NFL, Mondays and Tuesdays are like our weekends. Tuesday is off no matter what. Tuesday is a beautiful thing. Monday can be beautiful too, but only if we win. If victory is ours, then so too shall be Monday. If victory eludes us, then Monday belongs to the coaches, and we must come in late in the morning to watch game film and workout. If a team finds itself spending too many Mondays at work, things have gone awry. There are incentives everywhere in this game and getting Monday off after a victory is one of them. Win and you shall win your freedom.
Sadly, these rules don't apply to a cripple like me. Once you are placed on the "Injured Reserve" list, then your presence is non-negotiable. I am there every Monday through Friday doing pretty much the same thing every day, and it goes like this:
I wake up at 6:30 to a squawking boob on my clock radio, I drive 5 minutes to work, I eat some fruit and some eggy casserole, I get in the hot tub to heat my healing groin, I get it massaged (currently accepting applications for groin masseuse), I get stretched, I do George W. impressions, I do a great deal of core work (abs), I lift weights, I run, I drink Gatorade, I encourage the unintentionally celibate that getting laid is good for the skin, I shower and I leave by about noon. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, the media is in the locker room while I shower, so I try to have at least one awkward conversation with a reporter or a camera man while I am changing. They can't decide whether or not to acknowledge their discomfort. It's usually funny.
As an injured reserve player, I don't go to meetings or practice, but for the rest of the team, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are the work days. We put in the game plan on Wednesday and perfect it over the next few days. We spend about 4 hours a day in the classroom learning new plays, studying defenses and watching film. Coffee and sunflower seeds become very important. So does an ability to pick up on things quickly: the offensive scheme, the schedule, the media, the expectations of the coaches, the speed of practice, your own personal time management. These are elements of the profession that become a thorn in the side of the unadaptable athlete. Some guys can't figure these things out, and they soon disappear. On Sundays, a player must be able to put all of these things together and perform when it matters. Not everyone can do this. Coaches often say that if it were easy then everyone would do it. Coaches aren't always right, but they are right about this. It ain't easy.
The relationship between the athlete and the fan is an interesting dynamic of our daily lives. When I was a boy, I was a San Francisco 49ers fan. I grew up obsessing over them, adorning my walls with their posters, running around in the street pretending to be them, sleeping in pajamas tattooed with their logo, crying when they lost. NFL athletes were a Thing to me. They weren't people. They didn't really exist except on my television and in my dreams. The glory and triumph that I would act out in my front yard, alternating between Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, were more real to me than anything I knew.
Now I am that NFL athlete. I am that Thing, chasing a new glory and a new triumph that is far less real than it was on my front lawn. My new realities bear little resemblance to the gridiron dreams I had as a child. There is no such thing as Monday through Friday for a football fan. That is why sports will always be such a desirable escape for people. They get to enjoy the result and not worry about the process. I no longer have that luxury. Monday through Friday, I am an NFL athlete. I escape in different ways, like making fun our president.
-- Nate Jackson
Nate Jackson, when not on injured reserve, is a tight end with the Denver Broncos. Tune back in all this week as he sheds some light on what a week in the life of an NFL player is like.