I have no idea how many--if any--New Orleans Saints read or are even aware of this site. So it's not like anything I have to say is going straight from my lips to Sean's ears, or even to Fenuki Tupou's. Still, I have something to say that I hope gets back to them somehow. Maybe I could get Dave to engrave it on some bats...except it's probably too long. And I can't find bat donors.
It's this: "As you are now, so once was I/As I am now, soon you shall be." That first half isn't entirely accurate--I was actually never an NFL player, though I did come close (I saw Jim Taylor once in a coffee shop). But it's the second half that's the important part, and that principle still holds: you are living on borrowed time.
Every NFL player, from the moment he's signed, whether as a high draftee or a broken-down free agent on his last lap, is in the position of a patient just told he's got a fatal disease and only a short time to live. That disease is simply time--it works against us all, but against athletes faster and more surely than most. The average career in the NFL is between three and four years long. Even if you manage to play every week, that only comes to 56 games, on average. Maybe 2500 snaps, for a starter. A tenth of that for a special-teamer. Then it's over, forever; and you become, at best, a fan. Just like us. Just like the millions out here who would give their left nut (if they have one) for the chance to do, for free, what you get to do every weekend of the season.
So here's where I'm heading with this: why don't you play each game like it's your last? Because it might be. Why is it hard for you guys to get up for games? Why do you have let-downs, like against the Bucs and the Rams? Why aren't you thinking, every time you step on the field, "God, this will all be over soon...so I'm going to play balls-out, give it everything I have, because there's no telling if I'll ever do this again"? The question especially interests me because I can't remember having an off-week as a fan. Sunday rolls around, and not once do I say "I'm just not up for this game. Maybe losing to Atlanta isn't like injecting my face with Drano after all. I think I can stand watching them win, so I'm only going to care half as much this weekend."
I can appreciate that sometimes jobs can get kinda stale. (But you wanna swap? Didn't think so.) So don't think of it as a job. Pretend that you won all that money in a lottery, and it's given you the financial independence to spend your time doing what you always dreamed of doing: to play a game in front of millions of adoring fans. In my line of work, I don't get that chance. Nor do I get the chance for a pick-six; or a strip sack; or a pancake block; or even the limited satisfaction in knowing that all I do is snap for kicks, but I do it well. I don't get to wear the colors; I don't get to charge out onto the field through smoke and deafening cheers; and I don't get to test myself against the best in the world. Do you know what I'd give for that chance? Do you know what I wouldn't give?
But here's the deal: someday soon, you won't get that chance either. You'll be like me: too old, too slow, too small. (We won't touch on the talent part for now.) You can only look back; and hopefully you'll only have pleasant memories. Not like, giving up six sacks to just about the worst defense in the league. Or making just about every opposing quarterback look like he's Aaron Rogers. Or having a headlock on the division lead and suddenly finding yourself on your back with a heel in your groin.
No, you want good memories: like dancing on the Falcons' logo, again; like shaming Eli Manning in the city of his birth, again, and showing Detroit how far they still have to go; like watching all the columnists and talking heads eat dung, like they always do at the end of every season, but this year it's your dung. Like blasting through everything that stands between you and a 13-3 season, and then everything that stands between you and another ring. Nine more games is all; maybe ten. For some of you, that's all you've got...so make them count.
Make them count. Don't do it for us (although we'll surely appreciate it if you do); do it for yourself. Give yourself the best gift of all: the knowledge that you did all you could, and damned if it wasn't good enough.
Or kick back, take it easy, give it a C+ effort, leave it all up to Drew. Be satisfied with 9-7. You're still part of the elite. No pressure. What do I know?