JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When he played at UCLA, Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) played second fiddle to USC's Reggie Bush(notes) in terms of attention and respect. Jones-Drew was a second-round NFL draft pick in 2006 (No. 60 overall), well after Bush went No. 2 overall. These days, Jones-Drew is putting up numbers (1,136 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns) worthy of being in the Pro Bowl. He has also helped the Jaguars to a 7-6 record as they hope to return to the playoffs after an injury-riddled and tragic 2008.
Jones-Drew talked about that and numerous other topics over a span of two conversations this season:
Jason Cole: The Jaguars haven't been selling out even though the team is playing relatively well. Is that frustrating?
Maurice Jones-Drew: It's hard. Obviously, with the economy, it's difficult. This is a blue-collar town and the economy has hit pretty hard. But it's like I tell the guys, you play for the city, you play for the fans. You play in this city and the city loves the team. We have guys from all over the country, even guys from Canada. This is our city, too, and sometimes you want to feel like you're appreciated and that's hard, too. But we just have to continue to keep playing and realize the wins will help us.
Cole: There has been a lot of talk about whether the team might move. Is that talked about a lot in the locker room?
MJD: No, we really just live in the moment and, right now, we have an opportunity to do something this season. So we're not worried about what might happen with the team or where we might play or any of that. All we can do is control how we play.
MJD: I really haven't thought about it. If they are talking about that, it's not just because of me. It's because of the guys around me who are making plays, the guys who have allowed me to make plays. You can ask Adrian Peterson and he'll tell you the same thing, you need those guys around you.
Cole: Correct, but people still didn't project you to have this kind of impact as a second-round pick.
MJD: A lot of people didn't even project me to go in the second round. There's nothing I can say about that. I'm just glad I'm on a team where we have guys who want to work hard and win. That's what we try to do around here.
Cole: For a relatively small guy (5-foot-7, 208 pounds), you seem to be able to handle a lot of punishment. You already have set a career-high for carries (251) in a season this year after sharing time with Fred Taylor(notes) before.
MJD: That's football, man. If you're not sore, you're not working. You have to be tough sometimes. I just see it as our position requires a lot of contact. If you want to play it, you're going to have to have that mentality that you're going to get hit sometimes. Sometimes you're going to deliver the blow, sometimes you have to make a move and get out of bounds. Obviously, you have to be smart about it. Sometimes you can get two extra yards by running through a guy's shoulder and sometimes you can lose those two yards by going out of bounds. It really depends on what is best for the team. Does the team need those two yards or not? We've seen some guys, the first down is right there, but they don't give it the extra strain to get that. They run out of bounds.
Cole: Is it a point of pride that you're now considered a better player than Reggie Bush?
MJD: The thing is, I can't compete against him. I never played against him. I played against his defense, so it was never like me against him. So when people say, "He's a poor man's Reggie Bush" or whatever, what's the deal with comparing people? I'd rather not compare people. I'd rather a guy be the best he can be. When you say you want this guy to be like so and so, you're automatically limiting him. You only think he can get to where this other guy is instead of getting past him. I put myself in there like, "I'm going to be the best blocker, the best runner, the best catcher, the best returner, the best of whatever I can do. I just want to be the best at whatever I can do." That's what we're all trying to do. Even if you say, "Hey, this guy could be the next Ray Lewis(notes)," you're putting a limit on him. Even though it's a high limit, it's a limit. What if he becomes better than that guy? You're not allowing him to because you're saying this is what he can be, this is what we want him to be rather than saying, "We want him to be the best whatever his name can be." That's how I think.
|Bush||480-1,860, 17 TDs||252-1,880, 11 TDs|
|Jones-Drew||781-3,669, 48 TDs||192, 1,711, 4 TDs|
That's what the problem with the whole draft is. They're looking to compare people to who's already in the league rather than worrying about strengths and weaknesses. Why are you comparing people just to justify where you want to take them in the draft? It should be: "Look, we like this guy because he's a playmaker, regardless of size or whatever he has done. He's a playmaker and we want him to be the best playmaker he can be. We don't want him to be like Reggie Bush or Maurice or Joseph Addai(notes), we want him to be the best he's going to be." That's why they should draft him, not because he shows flashes of Reggie Bush or things like that. That's the wrong reason to draft a guy.
Cole: OK, but you understand the connection to Reggie. The parallels are there. Both went to L.A. schools, played at the same time, neither of you is an Earl Campbell-type runner …
MJD: Which running back in the draft since we came out has been like Earl Campbell?
MJD: And he got drafted in the fourth round, right? The thing about comparing is that the game is starting to evolve. It used to be that everybody wanted the Earl Campbell-type guy, but they only last what, four to six years? So if you want to get your maximum production out of your investment, you're going to find a way to keep them healthy. That's where Marshall Faulk(notes) comes in. He's the one who started all this pass-catching by running backs.
Cole: What are your thoughts about the Pro Bowl and your chances this season?
MJD: Pro Bowls should be decided by the players. I know you want the fans in it and interested, but the players are the ones who are out there playing and who know whether this guy or that guys is good. The fans are going to pick the guys they're following and the teams that have a big following are going to have a bunch of guys in there. One year, Dallas had like eight or nine guys go and they lost in the first round of the playoffs. Is that because those guys were really the best at their position or because they have a big following? Yeah, we get part of the vote, but if you're going to have an all-star game, it should be the players who decide because they really know who's good. They're going to vote for the best guys. Even if you don't like certain guys, in the back of your mind you know, "Hey, when I played that guy, I had to buckle up and be ready every play. I saw that guy bring it week after week." Like Albert Haynesworth(notes), you have to respect him. He should be a Pro Bowler every year.
I don't know, that kind of upsets me. Like the year that (former Jacksonville running back) Fred (Taylor) didn't go. Are you kidding me? He may not have been the leading rusher, but every game he was breaking off something. It's ridiculous. That shouldn't be that way because that trip should be deserved. You shouldn't go just because you have a big following like Pittsburgh. My rookie year, we almost had two 1,000-yard rushers. I had 950-something, Fred had 1,200. You're telling me that offensive line didn't have anybody who deserved to go? At least one or two guys. I'm still trying to figure how they didn't have anybody go.
Cole: You've seen guys on this team and around the league get in trouble. Is there a solution for it?
MJD: I tell people all the time, "What do you think you would do?" I hand you a check for $2 million or whatever it is and you're 22 years old, what do you think you're going to do? You're going to buy yourself a nice ride because that's what's going to attract the women and you're going to do everything that woman is going to want to do, regardless of the situation. That's what it is. But when people come down and criticize young guys for doing something, that's when I say you were doing the exact same thing when you were 22 or you would have if you had the money. That's what I say when I talk to people, put yourself in that person's shoes. If someone makes a mistake, I try to put myself in their shoes and nine times out of 10 I feel like I probably would have done the same thing they did.
Cole: You grew up in a relatively tough section of the Bay Area in California, but you went to De La Salle High School, a private school with a great football program. Whether you knew it or not at the time, you were given some life skills there. A lot of players come from backgrounds where they aren't taught a lot of life skills.
MJD: You're right and this is what a lot of people who watch the NFL don't understand because they may not come from dual households. Like my mom and dad, they split when I was 13 and I was raised in a single-parent home. The good thing about De La Salle is that I was able to see how people with money acted and, when I came home, I was able to see how people without money acted. I had the best of both worlds. I could see that some of the people I was around, whatever they lived in, whatever they saw, that's how they acted. They saw rap videos, saw how those (rappers) were acting, these guys who supposedly have money and that's what some of my friends acted like. If that's what you see on TV, that's all you see, that's what you're going to act like. But me, I went to a private school, I watched kids with Escalade trucks, (BMWs), all these fancy cars and they dressed nice and acted a certain way. That's what I wanted to be like. I wanted to be like them, not like the guys on street corners when I was driving home or going over to some friend's house and seeing these other guys and how they act when we watch MTV or whatever. That's how De La Salle helped me in that way.
You see these other guys who come from these other (high) schools, then they go to college and, really, what is college all about? You're there to play ball. They can talk about all the academics they want to, but you're there to play football and nobody helps you with life skills. But this is how UCLA was really good for me and what every school should do. They made every athlete take this class called English A where they had this lady who taught you how to speak. It's a speaking class. … At first I was listening to this lady and saying, "Come on, you're insulting my intelligence." But then I said, "Hold on, she's saying some things I might need to know." I come to find out, the stuff she told us helped all of us. We had guys from inner-city Houston, inner-city New Orleans, inner-city L.A., Oakland. We had all these guys and when you hear them speak now, they sound like they know what they're talking about, not like they're talking to their buddy on the street. No slang, it's professional. And that's the key. Once you understand the professionalism side of this sport, everything else is fine. It helps you with everything.
Cole: How many guys in the locker room are ready for what might happen with the collective bargaining agreement in 2011?
MJD: I don't know. I really don't know. I knew when I came into the league that there was a chance the owners might opt out of the agreement. Yeah, I just got a contract, but I was prepared before that. The only money I've been using since I got in the league was the money I got from endorsements. Everything else is put away because I know (2011) is going to be a tough time for some people. It's going to get bad. But in order for all of us to get what we want, we have to all be on the same page. You can't have guys calling and saying, "We gotta get this deal done 'cause my wife just spent all this money." We have to be ready. But it goes back to guys seeing stuff on TV, thinking that's the way you're supposed to act, buying all this stuff instead of getting their lives in order. If you see Bill Gates, who really knows what he looks like other than you see him in commercials. Bill Gates doesn't walk around with all these body guards because people really don't know who he is. You don't really know what he looks like.
There are all these billionaires, guys in charge of Yahoo! and Google who nobody really knows who they are if they're just walking around. They don't wear all this jewelry. I don't wear that stuff. I don't want people to know who I am or what I'm worth. All I want people to know is that I play football and that I have a good time doing it and I'm going to take care of my family. That's all that matters at the end of the day. Ask Kirk Morrison(notes), he's from right around where I'm from. All I know is that after going to De La Salle and after being around the guys I grew up with, just because you have money doesn't mean you have to show. If you're showing it it's because you think you're better than somebody else. I read the Warren Buffett book where he talks about how all these business leaders go up to this lodge and they talk about ways that they can make more and more money. It's some lodge up in Idaho and first they have the Internet guys come up and talk, then they have the finance guys come in and talk. But guys like Warren Buffett, nobody in here knows who he is. They have no idea. I do, but only because I saw his picture in the book. What we have, as players, is like this (puts his fingers together) much piece of the pie. It's nothing compared to what the owners have and what these investment moguls and what these real estate guys have. That's what we should be trying to be.
Cole: TV people laugh at the amount of money football players get.
MJD: Oh yeah. Paula Abdul quit "American Idol" because she wanted $12 million instead of $10 million. I mean, come on. That's all guaranteed. Our game, it's only partly guaranteed. … Our guys, they make $400,000 and they think they're living large. Come to L.A., that's nothing. I went to a school where we had donors like the guy who owns Jamba Juice. The money that's around UCLA, it's a whole different world. You come out of the dorms looking at $5 million or $6 million homes. You see how people like that live. I've seen guys with all this money driving Hondas. They're not showing off. They're driving GMC trucks. No Maseratis. They might have one nice car, a Ferrari, something like that, maybe. But other than that, guys like that are driving Honda Civics to work every day.
Seeing that really helped me out in college and meeting some of these kids at De La Salle, seeing how they live and then being around some of the people who I grew up with. You ever read the book, "Rich Dad, Poor Dad"? It talks about one guy who dropped out of school in the eighth grade, but his mind was so focused on business he realized that what he was being taught in school was to be a hard worker. He knew that he'd rather own stuff. So he started to own little businesses, like mowing grass. Then he hired people to mow grass and he was collecting more and more money and then went to buying his own Laundromat, then owning grocery stores. Then there's the part about the dad who was poor, who went to Harvard and got this education, but all he ever knew was how to work hard, not how to own stuff. It's about understanding the difference between the two. This is how I came up. I see these people owning stuff and I see my mom working three or four jobs to provide for me and my sister. I understand the value of working hard and the value of owning stuff.
Cole: There are so many opportunities in this league.
MJD: The opportunities that this life gives you, it's crazy. It's like the biggest thing we talk about in there (the locker room) is investments because obviously guys are starting to learn about this lockout thing. So it's like this thing is getting serious.
Cole: So you guys are preparing for a labor war?
MJD: It doesn't bother me because I'm one of those guys, the way I was brought up, that if that's what we have to do, you jump in and ride with all the guys, especially if it's for a good cause. If I had this contract or not, I was going to be down with what the union needs to do because you have to see what they're talking about. It's about seeing both sides and learning the business. Hey, if you're the owners and you're trying to make as much money as you can and the best way to do that is to tell your workers not to come to work, well, that's what you have to do. But if you're one of the players, you have to hang together. … You can see it coming if you really pay attention. Like with the DirecTV deal and every team getting $30 million. DirecTV, whoever their business manager is, for doing that, they gotta get looked at seriously. If you're one of the owners and you have that deal, why do you have a deal done with the players? Why do you have to hire all these people to run the stadium? If I'm an owner, I'm OK with that. You're just handing me money. Granted, I'm a worker. But when I look at it both ways, I can't see where we have this huge problem that we can't work out. Still, as players, you have to understand where this is headed. You have to understand the business part of this. … I just don't like it when people out there think that we, as athletes, don't understand. We understand, we get it. You don't think we get it when we see three guys competing for a position and the veteran guy, the guy who makes the most money, gets cut even if he's playing a lot better? Of course we understand what's going on. This is a great game. This is a lot of fun. But it's still a business.
- Reggie Bush