" Honor for Jets Rookies, if Only They Knew It " ~ ~ ~
Honor for Jets Rookies, if Only They Knew It
The jersey of the Bill Hampton Award winner hangs in the Jets’ equipment room all season.
Against the back wall of the Jets’ equipment room hangs a green No. 82 jersey. It rests on a green hanger and dangles from a silver hook, and it does not belong to Mickey Shuler or Rob Carpenter, who wore that number with pride, or, for that matter, anyone on the current roster.
The rare receiver capable of bothering Darrelle Revis, Johnson draws Cromartie, who has been slowed by a hip injury. Johnson excels at getting off the line in man-to-man coverage, but Cromartie is vastly improved at using his hands and long arms to disrupt a receiver’s timing.
E J Manuel’s completion percentage, fourth highest in the N.F.L. and better than the rate of, among others, Peyton Manning (67.1 percent), Drew Brees (64.2) and Tom Brady (52.7). “He’s not holding the ball long,” Jets Coach Rex Ryan said. “If somebody’s open, he’s getting the ball out of his hand.”
QUOTATION OF THE WEEK
‘It’s like going against your brother, as I’ve referred to it before — brothers who fight a lot.’
The Bills’ defensive coordinator, MIKE PETTINE, who worked with Ryan for 11 seasons, with Baltimore and the Jets, before joining Buffalo in January.
- BEN SHPIGEL
This can be the source of much confusion.
A year ago, when Konrad Reuland joined the Jets, he wondered why a No. 45 jersey was draped in the same spot. Three weeks passed before he asked.
“I thought maybe something happened,” Reuland said. “Did someone pass away? Were they honoring somebody? Is it a memorial? Then I found out, and I said, Oh, that makes sense.”
The answers to Reuland’s questions can be found on a small plaque affixed to the wall above the jersey. It celebrates the recipients of the Bill Hampton Award, presented to the rookie “who best exemplifies a ‘Pro’ in the locker room”— like Josh Baker (No. 45) and Hayden Smith (No. 82), who, to Reuland’s relief, remain very much alive.
The winner’s jersey hangs for a year, and in plain view of players milling about their lockers. But the award, named after Hampton, a beloved former equipment director who retired after the 2000 season, has retained an air of mystery. The five members of the equipment staff, who determine the winner by secret ballot, do not mention it to rookies unless they are asked. So far, only one, defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, has.
“You get rewarded for acting like a professional?” said Richardson, recalling his reaction. “Shouldn’t you just do that?”
In the eyes of the equipment director Gus Granneman and his staff, yes. Ideally, every rookie should comport himself like Brad Smith (No. 16, 2006), who after practice would pick up his teammates’ discarded sports drink bottles and deposit them in the trash. And ideally, every rookie would have the awareness to pack the shoes best suited to that week’s playing surface, instead of relying on Granneman or his assistants to do it for him. But that is not what happens.
As soon as rookie minicamp begins in May, the staff starts observing the contenders. They notice if someone arrives in a suit or bookends his requests with please and thank you. They also notice if a player turns his helmet into a storage receptacle or treats his locker like a junkyard. It was not immediately known how they felt about those players shooting wadded-up balls of athletic tape into trash cans from across the room on Friday.
Midway through the season, the staff decides on the finalists. Voting takes place in mid-December, which is also when the politicking tends to begin. With a laugh, Granneman said that Damon Harrison, last year’s runner-up, would call attention to his bag-packing prowess.
For much of the year, though, the players are not even aware that they are competing against one another. Like many of his fellow rookies, Ryan Spadola, an undrafted receiver from Lehigh, had not even noticed Smith’s jersey hanging in the equipment room, let alone known the significance behind it. When told, Spadola said it helped him appreciate the high standards to which he said he held himself as an N.F.L. player.
“Everything was our responsibility at Lehigh, so you really had to take it upon yourself to hold yourself accountable,” Spadola said. “That’s how we were taught. For myself, coming here, this is a great honor to have these guys helping us out, but I still need to take care of my area, like it’s my little home or bedroom.”
Cleanliness is only one of the criteria that Granneman said he considered. Attention to detail is important. So is politeness. A few rookies, who were otherwise unaware of the Hampton award, offered their interpretation of what the equipment staff valued.
“Being accountable to your teammates,” Richardson said.
“Treating people and your equipment with dignity and respect,” offensive tackle Oday Aboushi said.
“A high maturity level, because we all just came from college,” guard Will Campbell said.
Other equipment staffs around the league no doubt expect their players to act professionally, but the Jets appear to be the only one that honors them for it. Of the 26 teams that responded to an inquiry, only one bestowed a similar award: the Philadelphia Eagles, under Andy Reid, honored the player — not the rookie — who exemplified professionalism. An Eagles spokesman said in an e-mail that he did not know whether the new coach, Chip Kelly, would continue the practice.
When the Jets relocated here from Hempstead, N.Y., in 2008, Granneman said that one of his first thoughts was where to put the jersey. The tradition, informally, dates to 2002, when the equipment staff decided to reward a player who had shown marked improvement over the course of the season. As a joke, they gave him a sweatshirt.
But it occurred to Granneman to introduce a more formal award, and he did so in 2004 (Erik Coleman, No. 26). The nine previous winners range from the sublime (Darrelle Revis, 2007) to the shifty (Danny Woodhead, 2008) to the sturdy (Matt Slauson, 2009), with the victory by Slauson, a guard, bucking precedent and conventional wisdom.
“If a lineman wins it, you know he’s really going good,” Granneman said. “Those guys, by nature, aren’t the neatest.”
Not many seem to have much staying power. It is the Jets’ micro version of the Madden video game curse or the Sports Illustrated cover jinx, because the last three recipients — John Conner, Baker and Smith — are all out of the N.F.L.
“We haven’t had good luck predicting long-term success with the Jets,” Granneman said.
Naturally, that will not stop him from granting the award for a 10th consecutive season. Granneman declined to handicap an early favorite but said there were plenty of appealing candidates.