Monday, September 10, 2007

A Young Man's Game

A while ago, I wrote about how the Houston Texans' new runningback Ahman Green and long-time defender Jason Simmons worked out a conflict over uniform numbers, with Green, at Simmons' suggestion, buying the rights to Number 30 by helping a single mother purchase a home.

Well, no good deed goes unpunished. Yesterday, having proved his off-field class, Simmons finally got a chance to ramp up his on-field status as well. Here, from the Houston Chronicle, is how it went:

Texans safety Jason Simmons had waited 10 NFL seasons before he was named a starter heading into opening day.

When the special day finally came Sunday, it turned into a nightmare.

Simmons' season came to a premature end in the second quarter of the Texans' 20-3 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs after the strong safety tore his left patellar tendon.

"I just was going to avoid a lineman and put my foot in the ground, and it just gave way," Simmons said. "Nothing more to it, just a freak accident. I was so upset. You finally get your chance — I wait to start my whole career — but I never could question God's timing. I'm fine."

Still a pretty classy guy, but this is the kind of injury that would be better happening to a 21-year-old rookie than a 31-year-old veteran.

At this stage of life, 31 seems awfully young, but it's not young when your body is your instrument, and it reminded me of a conversation I had back when a friend from college, Austin Carr, was playing in the NBA and his team came to Denver. I was going to say I was just about 31, but looking him up, I see that he had his jersey retired about four weeks before I hit that age, and, poking around a little more, I see that he and I were 27 and 28 respectively at the time.

Another friend from the college team was living in Denver then, so the two of us met Austin after the game for a beer, and Fatty Taylor, one of the Denver Nuggets, came over and sat with us. He and Carr started talking about Bobby Jones, the young Nuggets phenom who was the talk of the league that year -- and who was only 5 years younger than Taylor, 3 years younger than Austin and 2 years younger than me.

Austin had attracted some media attention at the time for being a vegetarian, which in 1977 was pretty unusual for a professional athlete, but he was serious about tuning the instrument. I mentioned to him that Kathy and I had gone veggie until she got pregnant, at which point her OB/GYN told her there were certain amino acids necessary for fetal brain development that you could only get in meat. Austin nodded, but then named three things you could add to a vegetarian diet that would fill that gap -- one was watercress, I can't remember the others. I was pretty impressed, considering that he was a young single guy with no kids at that stage.

How young? When Bobby Jones's name came up, Fatty Taylor started laughing about how this kid had an enormous contract and the team had a very, very generous per diem when they went on the road, but Jones would eat at Red Barn, a burger joint of the time, and pocket the rest of the money.

"Well, he can do that," Taylor chuckled, "he's young yet." And Austin nodded his agreement, and it was the first intimation I had that we weren't kids anymore.

Austin played until he was 30 and Fatty Taylor left the court at 31. Bobby Jones, despite his penny-pinching penchant for Barnbusters, played to the ripe old age of 34.

Jason Simmons may well rehab that knee and come back next season, but, if it isn't the end of his career, it's a sad end to what was shaping up as a year that would be a nice payoff for ten long years of hard work. (And I note that he is actually three months younger than my younger son, who probably doesn't think of himself as an old man yet.)


VT Teacher said...

As your youngest son, I read this article while still feeling a bit of discomfort in his ribs from a collision over a week a go in soccer practice...And that's as the coach.

So I'm young enough to participate in drills with the players but old enough to understand that my body doesn't recover like it used to....

ronnie said...

"You finally get your chance — I wait to start my whole career — but I never could question God's timing. I'm fine."

I'd sure like to meet this guys Mom and Dad. Young men - and certainly not professional athletes - don't turn out like that by accident.

Mike said...

I agree it's no accident, but if you click on the link to Bobby Jones' bio, you'll see another interesting young man who doesn't quite fit the jock stereotype. Fatty Taylor was also a class act, working with kids in the ghetto during summers when he was a player and now coaching high school in Aurora, Colorado. As for Austin, he was entirely special. I didn't see him around as much as the other guys and, years later, one of them explained that he had had academic problems and was taking extra tutoring sessions to make up for it. This profile of him says more about where good young men come from ... and why the people who knew him in school were so genuinely fond of him.