The Human Factor of Football

Sam Greenwood

As training camp begins, the inevitable roster cuts will arrive along with it.

We all love football, whether we played it or not. We're mostly intelligent, or at least pretend to be and, most importantly, a lot of us here on the site tend to listen and learn. Key words: "tend to." However wise this tactic, we can make the mistake to elevate ourselves past what we consider to be a normal fan or situation. Part of this stems from seeing a situation repeat itself over and over and no matter what you do, you turn numb to the situation. It can get cyclical.

"I know that for me personally, I don't always see the man, I see the success or failure of a career and so much more is on the line."

Perhaps you see a coach lose control of his locker room and handle every press conference with the desperation of a man trying to hold onto his job. At this point, you may not consider the human ramifications of a man possibly losing his job and having to search for a new job while at a crossroads in his career. You may not consider the relationships torn apart by splitting a coach from his staff and players. You may not consider the family being moved. In fact, I don't expect you to consider these things because I, along with many others, fail to consider it. I know that for me personally, I don't always see the man, I see the success or failure of a career and so much more is on the line.

It's the fan perspective. A warped, twisted perspective where the only thing that matters is the scoreboard and we don't care who you are or how much money you donated to an orphanage last Christmas. We only care if you can make our team better and for many reasons, that's exactly how it should be.

Certain coaches and players slip through this filter and touch us as fans and we root for them in ways we never expected. However, most of these players become a forgotten figure fairly quickly. Everyone gets replaced at one time or another and they simply turn into a memory, some more fuzzy than others.

Don't worry. I'm not sitting here saying all the nice people should keep their jobs and the "bad guys" should get fired regardless of how well they coach or play. I'm simply reminding you of the human aspect of the game; of the physical pain, the time lost to families, and the memories between a team and it's fans. It's important we all remember more than X's and O's. It's important we remember pain taken on a hit instead of shout at a QB for not getting up fast enough, though yelling at Tom Brady for false complaints remains perfectly acceptable by all accounts. It's important we remember the fearlessness of a receiver such as Wes Welker when he catches a ball right in front of the linebackers and doesn't drop it due to "footsteps".

Yeah, we can yell at the guys that literally drop the ball and get scared. This is the NFL and it will make or break you but when we yell while also forgetting the human factor, we become the fans we hate. You know what I mean? The fans that yell at a guy on your team for whiffing a tackle. They don't know how much work that guy put in to become what he is. They don't know that they only witnessed a bad moment. They don't know that he was a practice squad guy and he shouldn't be starting anyway, etc... That's okay because you, the informed fan, know the man and not just the player.

Remember WR John Broussard? We all loved him and now he is a distant memory. At least we have a certain play against a hated rival in 2008. That will be with us for a long time.

This rooting for the coach or player becomes worsened when the man inside the ballcap/facemask supersedes the player, such as recently cut Jaguars defensive end Austen Lane.

Upon arrival in Jacksonville, Lane immediately began grabbing the attention of the fans because of his wit. On the field, he struggled at first to form an identity but that was easily forgivable. He was hilarious and came from a small school. He practically formed the underdog identity that this team is all about and I imagine the move from Murray State to the NFL involved a bit more of a swirl in the head than a move from Alabama, Oregon or any other large school that you have at least heard of before Lane arrived. He both needed and deserved time.

Lane played 28 games for the Jaguars and in that 3-year span became a staple of endearment to the fanbase. An easily likable guy that looked like he could dominate anyone in a street fight. Couple that with a hilarious twitter account that may be the best in the NFL and you have a fan favorite. If he missed a tackle, it was okay because it was Austen Lane and he was a "jar on the shelf" guy who was developing, not some fancy over drafted first-rounder. Expectations are different when you like the man inside the facemask. Just look at a recent tweet. It only took me 5 seconds to find one to laugh at.

HAHAHA!

What fan doesn't root for this guy? The more he played, the more he solidified an identity. He was getting better and better at setting the edge and helping defend against the run, though it was pretty obvious he would not become the sack specialist on the top-10 plays of Sports Center a few times a year. He did, however, have Michael Strahan's personality, some would even say an upgrade, but not the numbers.

Once released by the Jaguars, Lane didn't know what to do and neither did the fans. We just hoped GM Dave Caldwell made the correct move but never would we ever as fans hope this happened. Most Jaguars fans were in utter dismay, though not shock. One of our most beloved Jaguars of recent memory would not continue on with the organization. It truly was a sad day made even worse by Lane's recent firsthand account of getting released on Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback (link here). It was, in many ways, a fantastic, beautiful, and human account of Lane's release. He captured the Human Factor of playing football and related it to the common fan. He made you feel the sorrow of the release, as opposed to noticing a team move on the waiver wire on ESPN. Lane really can write the paper off the page and make you sad right along with him.

Small pieces really place you into his perspective, such as this bit:

I wish they would have gone more in-depth on Hard Knocks about players getting cut, because I have no clue what to do. I head into the locker room and frantically grab all my stuff. All of my teammates are in meetings, and I want to beat them out before they come back. I look around at the vacant lockers and feel a single tear drip down my cheek. A new emotion hits me, one I can’t even name. Here I am trying to get out of the stadium as quickly as possible, but at the same time I feel like going as slowly as possible because this is last time I will ever be here. I want to abandon but cherish this moment, all at the same time.

I really began to feel for the man Austen Lane far beyond the football player Austen Lane. He will certainly be missed around Jacksonville. This is the truth of the revolving door that is the NFL: good men will disappear within the ranks of teams. They will fade down depth charts, skirt toward other teams and eventually have to reprogram their minds to a life outside football. It's not nearly as glamorous as it looks on TV but real-life characters such as Lane help everything become better.

Here's another Twitter quip:

Truer words have never been spoken. We all wish you the best in Kansas City, Austen!

Entering the training camp period, I encourage everyone to keep their minds aware of what the players go through wondering about their job security and career potential. Just remember that there is a Human Factor and that we are not playing Franchise Mode on Madden. That said, let's only keep the winners, Dave!

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