“I remember sitting in my first meeting the next day, almost feeling like I wanted to cry because in my heart, it was so hard to let go of New Orleans.”
The relocation wasn’t easy for former New Orleans Saints center, Jonathan Goodwin. He knew exactly what he left behind when he signed with the San Francisco 49ers. As someone who has always found comfort in home and in family, Goodwin realized he had just parted with both.
Life of a Saint: Jonathan Goodwin
The positive influences of both home and family surrounded Jonathan Goodwin from a young age. While his parents separated early in his life, they lived close enough to each other to both stay very involved in Goodwin’s growth, providing the support and structure he needed.
As Goodwin described his childhood, he recalled visiting both his father in Hopkins, S.C. and his mother in Eastover, S.C. and playing with his cousins. He also spoke of the admiration he had for his older brother, Harold. His family was always involved in sports, but more in baseball and basketball than football. Goodwin wouldn’t start playing football until high school.
Seeing the Possibilities
“My mom took a test this week for Covid-19. It came back negative, so she came up to help us because we have a one-year old. She went through the attic and found a lot of things while she was at home looking for things to do. So, she brought up a lot of memorabilia.”
Goodwin shared that as he was looking through the relics, he mentioned to his wife that his brother was the more successful football player in the family back then. “My older brother was a USA Today All-American and went to Michigan. He didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school whereas I started as a freshman. Seeing his success gave me the idea that football may be a way for me to get to college. Originally, in high school, I didn’t quite have the success he had.”
Goodwin would end up attending Ohio University for his first year of college. But seeing the success of his older brother fueled Goodwin to dream bigger and, after that year, he looked to transfer to a bigger school. “Originally, I was going to go back to South Carolina, but they wanted me to walk on. Michigan ended up hearing about me and getting some film on me. I ended up at Michigan.”
Goodwin Becomes A Wolverine
There is no doubt that transferring to Michigan was the right move for Goodwin. And like his time as a youth, he didn’t have to look far to see what the possibilities could be for him in football. “My junior year at Michigan, everyone was a senior but me. The other four starters that year were Steve Hutchinson, Jeff Backus, Maurice Williams and Dave Brandt. Three of those guys were drafted and Dave Brandt went in as an undrafted free agent. During my senior year, all of those guys started as rookies in the NFL; three of them started the whole season and Dave started some games. At that point in the senior year of college, I thought, ‘Those guys got drafted. I was part of maybe one of the best lines in school history. Maybe I am good enough to play in the NFL.’”
While Goodwin got to see his line-mates achieve immediate success in the NFL, his own road didn’t come without some obstacles. Most notably was Goodwin’s physical size. In high school he was told that his height (Goodwin is 6’3”) is not ideal for an NFL lineman. As Goodwin answered those concerns throughout college, he then let his weight get beyond a comfortable range. “Also, coming out of college, I think I gained too much initially. As a matter of fact, a lot of the bios would have me listed at 318 pounds because I weighted that at the combine. The majority of my career, I played at 300-305.”
Despite those obstacles, Goodwin was able to prove his value on the field. When asked who he would pick as the most influential person during his quest to fulfill his NFL goals, it was no surprise that his mind reverted home to his family. “The support I had from my parents, they were always huge. My parents got divorced at an early age, but they always helped provide for me to be a part of things. Like I said, I grew up playing baseball, basketball, football, whatever it was. I think they made a lot of sacrifices that paid off and turned out to be huge.”
Goodwin on Getting Drafted
Jonathan Goodwin will be the first to tell you he didn’t handle the time leading up the draft as well as he could have. Aside from gaining a little more weight than he typically played at, he also decided to train in Houston and didn’t find himself around the right people. In hindsight, he noted that the better move would have been to stay in Ann Arbor and train with those that knew what he was capable of and knew how to push him.
Despite all of that, Goodwin did end up getting drafted. The small-town kid was headed to the big city as the Jets landed Goodwin in the fifth round of the 2002 NFL Draft. Goodwin described, “It was a thrill to get the call. My older son was recently asking me about this. I was at my mom’s house, upstairs in my bedroom when the phone was ringing. They called me downstairs.” He then continued, “I knew I was blessed to get that opportunity. It was definitely a life-changing moment. Even though I had graduated and got my degree, I was a football player who had spent the last year thinking I had a shot at the NFL. I never really prepared myself to go look for another job. I always tell people that I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t make it into the NFL even though I graduated.”
While Goodwin was disappointed to not go on day one of the 2002 NFL Draft (in 2002, day one consisted of rounds 1-3), he was excited to get to work. But Goodwin excelled at center and there was a well-established road block already playing in East Rutherford upon Goodwin’s arrival. “In New York, you have Kevin Mawae there, so… Being around Kevin helped me tremendously in my career.” Goodwin continued to increase his playing time throughout his 4-year stint with the Jets. An injury to Mawae opened the door at center for Goodwin, but the Jets opted to go with Pete Kendall at center, pushing Goodwin out to guard.
When the Jets looked to retain Goodwin, having to potentially play at guard again carried a tremendous amount of weight in his decision. But it wasn’t the only reason to find a new place to call home. Goodwin explained, “The Jets tried to sign me back but one of the reasons I didn’t go back was because they were unsure what position they wanted to play me at, center or guard. Another factor that helped me decide was that Doug Marrone went to New Orleans. I told you earlier about Doug thinking about some of his mistakes, one of the coaches that he had was an o-line coach named Tony Wise and at times I think they didn’t see eye-to-eye on things. I also thought getting out of the city of New York was going to be good for my career. I just decided I wanted to move on from New York.”
A Tough Decision
The decision to call New Orleans home wasn’t a slam dunk by any means. After all, the Saints were coming off a 3-13 season, they were still rebuilding after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the possibility of moving to San Antonio was still very real. The players were new. The coaching staff and GM were new. The list of reasons to pass on New Orleans was long. Goodwin shared, “My last year in New York was the only year we were out of the playoff race early in the season. It was really the only year in my career that we were out of the playoff race early in the season. It was, by far, the longest year ever. Going into New Orleans, I was thinking, ‘Do I really want to be on a team that’s out of the playoff race before half of the season is over?’”
But Goodwin “got a vibe” in New Orleans.
His trip to visit the Washington Redskins (after his New Orleans trip) didn’t have that same “vibe”. “The whole time I was in Washington, Doug Marrone was calling me. Terry Malone was my offensive line coach at Michigan. He was calling me too. Just knowing those two guys, and the vibe I got from Coach Payton and Mickey Loomis and everybody, I just started to believe and had faith in them. I finally decided to take the leap of faith on the city of New Orleans. Look how it ended up paying out in the long run!”
Home Away from Home
Looking back, Goodwin had just three starts in his first three seasons with the Jets. In his fourth season, he accumulated 10. And just when was making his mark in New York, he had the vision to see a batter path in New Orleans. Unfortunately, as Goodwin finally earned those NFL starts, he would head to a team that had just traded for center, Jeff Faine.
Goodwin would once again take a back seat at center. But the former Michigan Wolverine made the most of the opportunity to learn from another talented lineman in front of him. Watching Jeff play the center position I think also ended up helping me. I spent my first six year in the NFL sitting behind two great centers and got to watch them. I think seeing both of them play, and how hard they played the game, ended up doing a lot for me once I got the opportunity to become a starter.”
And while learning behind two great players has its perks, it was the 2006 home opener, the ‘Rebirth’ game, that confirmed to Goodwin that he had made the right choice. “It was absolutely amazing. I mean, the worry of what we were going to be as a team and having to raise a family in a city that’s rebuilding, every fear I had – none of it came true. We were winning on the football field. We go on the road and win away the first two weeks. Then, you come back to that game in the opening of the dome and to see how passionate the fans were about that city, that whole night was amazing.” He then continued, “To know I was a part of that and to help change the culture of the New Orleans Saints is something that will always hold a special place in my heart. The regard that Saints fans have for their team is something that’s special and something that a lot of other fan bases don’t understand. It almost has a little bit of a college atmosphere in how passionate Saints fans are about their team.”
Goodwin was home.
As time went on during the 2006-08 seasons, Goodwin cited how the chemistry continued to grow amongst teammates. Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton continued to fine tune the roster. And while the 2007 and 2008 seasons were disappointing, the Saints had something special brewing.
“Things Were Always Going Our Way”
For Saints fans, as the 2009 season progressed, there was one glaring difference from every other season in team history: the ball was bouncing our way. That fact wasn’t lost on Goodwin, or the rest of the Saints roster. “Some of the games we were winning, and the way we were winning, was different. One game, in particular, is when we played the Dolphins that year. We got down early, and it was a hot, outdoor game. The first couple of years, some of those games where we got down early, we didn’t always necessarily come back.” He continued, “Certain games, if the defense needed to make a big play, they made a big play. If the offense needed to make a big play, we made the big play. We picked each other up. The game when I really knew how good we were was the Monday night game against the Patriots. Obviously in my days in the AFC East, I had to deal with that franchise. In my four years in New York, I think we beat them once. The way we beat them in ’09, it was just a whole different feel the whole year. It’s hard to put into words, but something just felt different that year. We started that year 13-0. Another game was the Washington game. We didn’t play great but then Meachem makes that great play. I think the kicker missed a kick for the Redskins. It used to feel like my first two or three years, those games wouldn’t go our way. That year, it seemed like things were always going our way.”
Aside from the unprecedented good fortune, Goodwin also mentioned the commitment to the run as an important ingredient in their overall success. Not having to rely on Drew Brees to win barn-burners and becoming a more unpredictable offense was paramount in separating themselves from the rest of the NFL. Goodwin summed things up by saying, “We believed in ourselves and the rest is history.”
“We were practicing during the week of the NFC Championship game. After practice, we would normally breakdown as a team and then go into our individual position groups and do a breakdown. As the o-line is breaking down, Coach Payton is waiting on the o-line. Normally, he’s not over there. As the o-line is breaking down, Coach Payton says, ‘I have some good news and I have some bad news. Do you want the good news first or the bad news? Good news is Goody made the Pro Bowl, but the bad news is he’s not going to be playing in it. He’ll be playing in the Super Bowl.’”
Confidence is something Sean Payton never lacked.
Following the Super Bowl Championship season of 2009 (13-3) and the following season (11-5), the Saints and Goodwin were establishing themselves as perennial contenders. And as that 2010 season concluded, Goodwin was faced with a tough decision - Do you stay in a great situation in New Orleans or capitalize financially and ink what will most likely be the most lucrative contract of your career?
“I didn’t want to leave. I really didn’t.”
Goodwin worked with his agent and ultimately took a trip to San Francisco to test the waters. “. My agent got me to take the trip. I told the 49ers I was going to sign. I went to bed and woke up three or four times and looked at my wife and told her, ‘I can’t do it.’ I ended up calling my agent and then Jim Harbaugh and the general manager came to the hotel and tried to talk me into staying. They left me with the contract. They told me and my wife to go think about it some more. I spoke with my wife and we were going to fly back. She was going to go to South Carolina and I was going to go back to New Orleans. We were on our way to the airport and I call my agent and told him, “I’m on my way to the airport. I’m just gonna sign back with New Orleans.’ My agent called back and said, ‘They (49ers) just upped the deal even more.’ Unfortunately, at the time I had told myself I needed to take more money.”
Goodwin left New Orleans, but New Orleans didn’t leave him. He explained, “I remember sitting in my first meeting the next day, almost feeling like I wanted to cry because in my heart, it was so hard to let go of New Orleans. I was going to miss my line mates. It didn’t help that eight or nine days later I had to come to New Orleans to play a pre-season game. That was, by far, the toughest game for me to get through, emotionally.”
Memories in San Francisco
When asked what his favorite memory was in San Francisco, Goodwin gave a very honest answer, regardless of how much it may have stung to hear. “You’re gonna hate it, but obviously, that year we ended up playing the Saints in the playoffs. The last thing you want to do is leave a team and then watch them go and win a Super Bowl. I think we both know that if we don’t beat them in San Francisco, the probably go win the Super Bowl that year. I know Saints fans are probably going to be a little mad at me for this. For what I went through, leaving New Orleans and not wanting to leave, I think I would have had to revisit all those feelings again if I left for more money and then they went on to win the Super Bowl.”
Goodwin did mention that another obvious candidate was his second trip to the Super Bowl a year later, a Super Bowl played in New Orleans of all places. The 49ers would end up losing that game to the Baltimore Ravens, 34-31.
A Return Home
After three seasons in San Francisco, Goodwin got an opportunity to come back to New Orleans in 2014 and didn’t hesitate to accept. “I knew for a while that it would be a possibility. I was so excited. I felt like a rookie all over again. I felt like I was coming home.”
Goodwin stated that he had one of the best training camps of his career leading into that 2014 campaign. Despite the good start, the season didn’t quite play out the way he had hoped. ”Week two we went to Cleveland and I hurt my elbow. The following week, I rolled my ankle against Minnesota. I kept playing through stuff but then I sprained my knee a couple weeks later against Detroit. At that age, those leg injuries didn’t exactly help me that year. I don’t feel like I got to play as well as I could have. That’s just the way things worked that year.”
But in true Jonathan Goodwin form, he chose to look at the positive in the situation. He offered, “I did feel blessed to know that I would be able to retire a Saint. I got to come back and finish where I wanted to be. I didn’t have to go sign a 1-day contract to retire as a Saint. I got to finish at the place I felt like I had the most success in my career and the place that felt like home.”
Goodwin stressed that while he was afforded the opportunity to play in the big cities of New York and San Francisco, it was New Orleans that felt most like his home of Columbia, South Carolina. “It’s not New York. It’s Not San Francisco. Those were big cities. This was more down to earth. New Orleans was closest to home, I had the most success there and the people in the city of New Orleans were great. It was definitely a blessing to finish my career where I wanted to be.”
Life After Football
When asked about the transition to life after football, Goodwin didn’t offer any surprises in his answer, and predictably, the next stage revolved around family and home. Goodwin said, “As a player, I felt like I came home a lot and I was too tired to play with the kids. Whether it was just going to play catch or even playing video games, I just felt like I was always too tired to want to do those things. When I retired, I want to make it a point to get my kids involved in as many sports as they wanted to be involved in, not be too tired to go shoot a basketball or just go out and play. That was a goal of mine and I’ve been able to do that.”
While Goodwin had the opportunity to go back to the field as a coach alongside his former head coach Jim Harbaugh (this time at Michigan), Goodwin chose to decline so he could continue to spend time with his kids. And while he admittedly misses seeing his former teammates every day, the trade off has been well worth it.
As for what’s next for Goodwin, he mentioned his wife is currently a franchisee in the day care arena. The couple may eventually branch out and explore more franchise opportunities. But for now, it shouldn’t be too tough to find Jonathan Goodwin, husband to Alnessa and father to Channing (14), Jace (11), Kade (7) and Zailey (1).
He’s with his family, at home.
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