My friend John stopped by again. To those that remember, John is my friend with the mystical take on everything. He is like a chiropractor for my thinking, a little twisting, a snap, I yell, and then everything is straightened out. I look up and John is there. I can feel his mind probe and then those eyes brighten, and that little half grin of his emerges, "Gene Smith has you confused, doesn't he" he says. "Yea, I guess so", I say, slightly surprised, "What is happening to my Jaguars, is there a power struggle going on?" "Nope, Gene is refocusing the team; he is fixing it, no power struggle at all". I look at him confused. "I have to say hi to Sandra first", he says, "do me a favor and repeat this a few times, One-Mississippi, One-Mississippi". With that he goes off looking for my wife. I see him give Sandra a hug, whisper something in her ear, she smiles, he whispers something else and she nods and heads to the kitchen. John sits down next to me. As usual, I don't have a clue as to what is happening.
I look at him and sarcastically say "One-Mississippi, what is that about". John explains "One Mississippi is about one elapsed second of time; football is played within that amount of time". "Now say One-Miss", he says. "John, knock it off and explain please". "OK, One-Miss is about two tenths of a second, games are won or lost in about two tenths of a second", he says. "In two tenths of a second, Percy Harvin is gone, separated from the defender". "In two tenths of a second, Barry Sanders could juke a guy out of his shoes". "In two tenths of a second Reggie Nelson would have knocked away those two long balls Tennessee completed on us last year and turned the game around, get it?".
My mind goes back to the Titans game and he is right, one more step and Reggie would have been there to make the play. "OK, I'll give you that, football is a game of power and speed, but what does that have to do with Gene?" I ask. "Football is a game of reaction", he says. "It is why some guys play faster than they run on a track". "A guy with 4.6 speed but faster reaction time can make a play that a guy with 4.4 speed doesn't make because he didn't react fast enough". I'm still confused but can smell a hamburger Sandra is cooking in the kitchen.
John explains "How fast is your game reaction time if the police wake you up in the Sonic drive thru at 4:00 AM on game day?" he asks. "Probably not real good" I say. "Right, and how fast is your reaction time if you are thinking about the legal trouble you are in for mouthing off to a cop the night before while driving drunk?" he asks. "How much is your head in the game when you are thinking about all the trouble your brother-in-law got you into, get it?" He looks at me like it is obvious. I'm still clueless. "Gene wants character guys because he knows their head is clear and focused on football". Gene knows the game is played in those two tenths of a second and he wants guys who are awake and ready to play the moment they step on the field, guys that show up to play football, period" John says. Sandra comes in and brings him a cheeseburger on a Kaiser roll and my last Guinness. I don't get that treatment.
"Terry, Gene wants a team of players who focus on the game and understand they must be ready to play at a high level, at a two tenths of a second level, that isn't where the focus has been recently. Jack can't coach guys whose head isn't in the game, Gene is refocusing the team" John explains, as he begins focusing on the burger.
My mind drifts back to all the stupid penalties and missed assignments I saw last year. It is clear there wasn't the same focus as in 2007. I think John is right about Gene, get the focus back to football. "A lot of football players don't live up to their potential because of the crap they have going on in their personal lives", he explains. "The more money they come across the more problems they see" John goes on. "Bring a team of players ready to play football and you will beat more talented teams that don't have focus, it is all about assessing motivation".
I remember how the Titans showed up on opening day 2007, ready to play. They took us totally apart even though we were a better team. Players ready to play, that would be great to see in 2009. "John, what is this thing about assessing motivation, how do you do that?" I ask. Sandra pokes her head in and smiles, something is up. "Doesn't money provide motivation?" I ask. "Money is not a motivator", he explains, "Everyone thinks they are worth what they are paid and more so, money doesn't cause a guy to play, it is deeper than that, you need to get into these guys' head". "Guys looking only for money will be scratched from Gene's list".
I still don't get it, so I decide to change the line of questioning. "Ok, tell me about Tra Thomas, why did Gene think he had the right motivation?" "Tra has a powerful motivation, personal pride" he says, "Tra was a top draft pick, played at a high level, he has kept himself in great shape, and he signed a contract that says he will show it to earn the money". "The man showed great integrity and a strong belief in himself, he is proud of who he is. That spoke volumes to Gene about Tra's motivation, he was smart to sign him". Personal pride, now that does sound like good motivation and a willingness to show it on the field, I get it, head in the game, ready to play. "So, John, what else keeps a player's head in the game?" I ask. "Well, love of the game is a big one, that is Jack's motivation, he loves to play, but there is another more powerful motivator", he says, "look up Earl Boykins while I talk to Sandra". He takes his plate back to the kitchen while I wonder what this next silly goose chase will reveal.
Earl Boykins let's see, no NFL background, I Google him. Earl Boykins is a ten year NBA role player with nothing special jumping out at me. John returns, "figured it out yet?" he asks. "Nope, don't see it" I say. "Earl Boykins is one of the greatest NBA players ever, he holds the record for most points scored in an overtime period, how can you not see that" he looks at me surprised. "I look at the stats again and don't see it, I look back at him puzzled. "Terry, Earl Boykins is five foot five inches tall, that alone defines his greatness". "What?!" I'm shocked, "How can a guy 5'5", play ten years in the NBA?" "Small guys who can play show up to play every minute of every game, they love sticking it to the big guys, it is a powerful motivation" he says. "You think Shawn Merryman would ever call Jones Drew anything but Sir?"
He is right again. You can't have a whole team of smaller guys, but a couple of them that bring the wood wouldn't be bad. "If I were the Jaguars", he says, "I would think hard about Alphonso Smith in the second round". "That guy has something to prove and I think he will bring it". "The rap on him is he's too small, that is not a problem to him and he will show it, every minute of every game". "Gene will find the guys who want to play, that is all he is doing, but doing it well so far, the draft will prove it".
He hands me an envelope marked "Sandra" and calls out to her saying I have a something for her. In two tenths of a second she is at the door looking at the envelope, I hand it to her and give him a puzzled look. "Tickets to Wicked tonight", she squeals, "I have to get ready". She gives me a hug and says something about me getting ready soon as she rushes off. I've been had. He smiles and announces it is time to go.
"One more question", I beg before he goes. "Shoot". "What about Andre Smith, what is your take?" I ask. "Andre is all football player, he shows it on the field, he isn't a showman or a track star, but suit him up and he is ready to play and play hard". "Any team below the top ten is hoping he falls to them". I know he is right about that.
As I sit through the performance I think about the new Jaguars. I dream of a training camp of motivated players, an O-Line knocking people off the line, running backs running for daylight, and a shut down no-name defense. Jack Del Rio, back on his game and David throwing to people I don't even know yet. I think about maybe an opening day against the Colts. I remember the last thing John said on the way out, "Remind your friends that Gene learned from Tom Coughlin, the new era is about to begin, get your tickets, this is going to be fun". I can't wait.