Thursday, November 1, 2007

We do not want us.

Matt Jones has the potential to revolutionize everything we know about the position of wide receiver. Forget that he can run a 4.3 40-yard dash. Forget that he can do that while being 6’6” and weighing 232 pounds. Forget that he’s white. All you need to see to know that Jones can change the position is what happens when his incredible athletic potential is fully realized on the field. If futurist dynamism played football, I’d imagine it’d look something like this...

That’s what Matt Jones does. Once or two times each year, he emerges from his role as “draft bust” to show the world that he can do things based on his sheer physical ability about which other receivers can only dream. Given that Jones can do these things, it remains to be discovered why he doesn’t do them regularly. One could argue that defenses are too tough, but this fails to satisfy. Jones is too physically imposing and performs at far too disappointing a level for that to be a sufficient explanation. Instead, I think the answer is found by studying a fellow member of Jones’s draft class.

Braylon Edwards is a notorious prick. He’s obnoxious, he draws attention to himself, and he’s outspoken about when he’s unhappy. He’d be fairly hard to like as a personality anywhere; in blue collar Cleveland, he may as well be the antichrist. Even now, with his team as successful as it’s been since its rebirth, he can’t help but remind us all how miserable he once was. Yet we are currently in the middle of the Braylon Edwards receiving revolution, a revolution that should be Matt Jones’s. Edwards is three inches shorter, about 20 pounds lighter, and certainly no faster than Jones. Why has he blossomed where Jones has remained stunted? What is it that separates the two?

I like to think that what’s beating Matt Jones is himself, whereas Braylon Edwards has managed to defeat himself. That’s confusing and poorly worded, but explainable. The nature of being who they are (first round draft picks with unlimited athletic potential on less than successful teams) exposes them to the kind of criticism that goes to the core of their being. Every flaw on the field is an extrapolation of their own personal failings. What separates a stunning success like Edwards from Jones is how those insecurities are channeled.

Edwards externalizes. His interviews and his stormy relationship with the Cleveland fans tell us that much. Every insecurity he has is projected onto everything and everyone around him. Every reflection of the good around him, he brings to himself. It’s how he convinces himself of his own worth in the face of his own doubt; it’s how he survives.

Alex told me regarding Matt Jones’s beard that “he should grow it into funny designs.” The thing is, Jones would never do that; Edwards would. On Edwards, that beard would be a decoration, a trinket worn as a badge signifying who he was and the greatness he believed that identity entailed. On Jones, the beard isn’t an outer reflection of inner self confidence; it is an outgrowth of the self doubt he carries inside. Jones internalizes. Just look at Del Rio’s main critique: “Poor body language.” When Edwards isn’t happy, everyone is told about it. When Jones isn’t happy, he carries his failure himself. That’s what the slouching is about. That’s what the vow to not shave until he scored a touchdown was about. Edwards believes that by being who he is, he’s already amazing; Jones won’t feel right until he “earns” that feeling, which anyone who’s ever been depressed will tell you is impossible.

A friend of mine told me recently that “wide receivers are divas.” This, of course, isn’t a surprise to anyone who watches football. Think of the five most attention-seeking, glory-hogging, blame-deferring players in the league, and you’re sure to find at least two receivers on your list. So the stereotype that they are needy, pouty, often abrasive individuals was nothing worth noting. What made the comment interesting in context was that it came from a former wide receiver, one of the best from my college. Shouldn’t he deny the stereotype, or at least downplay it? Why embrace something so negative willingly? It struck me that perhaps the “diva” qualities we’ve come to despise in our athletes are survival mechanisms for the receiver superstars in the league. We can’t have it both ways, expecting our stars to behave like stars on the field and be like us off the field (rare exceptions [Harrison, Wayne] aside). We don’t want stars like us. We don’t want their flaws to weigh on them as heavily as ours do on us. Otherwise we’d all love Matt Jones.

1 comment:

thope said...

Hate to be the bearer of the obvious, but the answer is Braylon Edwards has been a wide reciever his whole life. Matt Jones has only recently taken up the occupation, he was a QB at Arkansas.