There is more than
bravery at work. Players are evaluated by their production, and no one produces
while sitting on the bench with an ice bag on his neck. Many players applaud
the league's increased vigilance in diagnosing and monitoring concussions. They
want to be saved from themselves. "Most people know the smart thing is to
come out, for one play or one series or whatever, after you get knocked
woozy," says Cowboys defensive back Terence Newman. "Life is valuable.
People have families and kids. Pride just isn't worth it."
Big Hit 4
Nov. 19, Dallas
Newman stood at
the Cowboys' 45-yard line, awaiting a punt from the Indianapolis Colts' Hunter
Smith. The kick drifted to Newman's right, near the sideline. He shuffled
toward the ball and stole a glance at Kelvin Hayden, the Colts' gunner, or
outside tackler. "It looked like we got a pretty good jam on the
gunner," says Newman. "So I made a decision not to call a fair
catch." But in the time between Newman's glance and his catch, Hayden had
worked himself free. "They had me in a double vice," says Hayden,
"but I beat the vice."
At practically the
same instant, Newman, the football and Hayden arrived at the Indianapolis 49.
Hayden was running full out, and Newman was slowing as he moved up to make the
catch, briefly cradling the ball with two hands, when Hayden lowered his helmet
and crashed into Newman's chin. Newman was immediately thrown horizontal and
landed square on his back.
"First thing I
remember was thinking, What in the hell just happened?" says Newman, who
sat out the next defensive series. "It was so fast. I took it on the chin,
literally. I'm sure the only thing that saved me from a concussion was my mouth
guard. Of course, as soon as I got up, I was p.o.'d because I knew I was going
to be on "Jacked Up". Sure enough: Yours truly, Number 1."
In april 2003 ESPN
senior coordinating producer Mike Leber was on a flight from Houston to
Hartford, silently brainstorming ways in which the network might spice up its
Monday Night Countdown. Specifically, Leber sought to create personalized
segments for studio experts Ron Jaworski, Michael Irvin and Tom Jackson.
Writing on a pad of hotel stationery, Leber came up with a "Playmaker"
segment for Irvin (trading on the former wideout's nickname) and "Sunday
Drive" for Jaworski (exploiting the onetime quarterback's chalkboard
skills). Neither would resonate like his pick for Jackson. Mixing the former
linebacker's surname with a visceral description of the plays, Leber chose
"Jacked Up". It has been one of the most popular--and
controversial--segments in the history of the ubiquitous network.
It's a simple
concept: Jackson and his coanchors select the five biggest hits of the weekend,
minus any that resulted in injury or penalty. ("If a guy is injured, that's
not going to be on 'Jacked Up'," says Jackson. "Now if a guy is dazed,
that's another story.") The presentation is a rowdy reverse countdown. A
hit is shown, and the anchors shout, in unison, "He got ... jacked up!"
The phrase has found a place in the culture, to define any concussive act
involving people or objects. Last winter, at a small-town high school hockey
game in Connecticut, an open-ice body check was greeted with a "Jacked
up!" chant from the student body.
Jackson hears it
in airports, hotel lobbies, grocery stores. NFL team p.r. reps leave messages
on his cellphone, nominating hitters for inclusion in the segments. And players
love it. "We've had raw tape from NFL Films where you can hear a guy on the
field tell another guy, 'Man, you just got jacked up,' " says Jackson. The
segment is required viewing around the league; every player wants to be shown
delivering--and no one wants to be shown receiving.
Yet while Jackson
calls his involvement in the segment "rewarding"--and, according to an
ESPN spokesman, the league hasn't objected to it--"Jacked Up" has also
been roundly criticized by media watchdogs. "People say it encourages
violence," says Jackson. "I don't think it either promotes or detracts
from violence. The collisions are very appealing to NFL fans. The players love
to be on the segment, but I can guarantee you none of them are out there on the
field, thinking about "Jacked Up" while they're playing. They have to
make decisions too quickly."