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"He could have taken us with him," Tony says, "but he didn't. He knew how much football meant to me."
While his father went to Germany, Tony and his mother, Patrica, stayed in Alabama. Ben missed his son's high school graduation, and he couldn't be there when Richardson became the first freshman running back since Bo Jackson to start his first game at Auburn. He couldn't be there much later, when his son received his college diploma in 2000. "It was such a great sacrifice—going alone so that I could be my best," Tony says. "But that's what life is all about. Life is sacrifice."
Joe Namath comes to Jets camp, which, of course, gives the players one more excuse to remind Richardson just how long he has been in the league.
"Hey, Tony, what was it like to catch passes from Broadway Joe?"
"Hey, Tony, remember when I used to give you the ball in Tecmo Bowl?"
"Hey, Tony, what was it like to play in those leather helmets?"
The funny thing is that Richardson is not even the oldest player on the Jets. Backup quarterback Mark Brunell, who'll turn 40 in September, is more than a year older. "And let's be honest," Richardson says. "The guy looks like he's 50, at least."
But it's more fun to needle Richardson. After all, you can be an old quarterback in the NFL. You can be an old kicker or an old punter. You can even be an old offensive or defensive lineman, once you've learned all the secrets of hand-to-hand combat. But there are very few old running backs. Blocking a linebacker, as Richardson was told many years ago, is like running full force into a garage door. He believes it. And Football's Best Man has hit a lot of garage doors.
It has been worth it, Richardson will tell you, because of all those players he helped have spectacular seasons. That's what makes him Football's Best Man. The tailbacks are the grooms. In Richardson's rookie season with the Chiefs in 1995, he blocked on Marcus Allen's 100th NFL touchdown—and came away from the game with a broken wrist. ("It was worth it," Richardson says.) He blocked for Holmes's three monster seasons and for Larry Johnson's best year. After the 2005 season Richardson moved to Minnesota, where he first blocked for Chester Taylor's only 1,000-yard season, then for Adrian Peterson's spectacular rookie year. He also helped groom his replacement on the Vikings, Naufahu Tahi.
The past two seasons with the Jets, Richardson blocked for Thomas Jones, who ran for a total of 2,714 yards and 27 touchdowns. "Tony is the best fullback I've ever seen," Jones has said repeatedly.