In one corner we have Shahid Khan, the Jacksonville Jaguars rookie owner and self-made billionaire with the task of reviving a dying franchise.
In the other corner we have Maurice Jones Drew, the powerful mite who, for the past six years, has shouldered all the hopes of said franchise. He has two years left on a 31-million-dollar deal he signed in 2009, but he wants something befitting the league’s leading rusher, which he was last year.
It’s about more than Drew seeking a new contract and Shahid Khan standing his ground. At its core, this is the story of the American Dream, about who most embodies it, about whose dream is bigger. In this epic battle—not for money or power, but for who most represents our most sacred values, whose side are you on?
Shahid Khan is a formidable opponent. I wouldn’t want to go against him. For one thing he’s transcendent. Remember during the first Gulf War, when Raghib Ismail was a Heisman trophy contender? The late great Ralph Wiley suggested that it wasn’t the best time to have an Arabic name. Same applies now to a man born in Pakistan, the most shadowy nation in the world’s balance of power.
But Khan planted roots in the heartland—Illinois to be exact— then set up shop in the deep south.
Khan has style, swagger, or “swag” as the cool kids say. Swag isn’t foreign to the NFL owners club. Jerry Jones, Daniel Snyder, and Jim Irsay have it, but they weren’t really in your face with it. Not right away, at least. That came later, after a few years on the job. This guy brought it from the beginning.
Khan had barely purchased the team when he introduced himself as the one guy who could blend a contemporary version of Ben Davidson’s mustache with the mystique of Omar Sharif (circa 1962) into his own exclusive brand.
He has perfect timing, too. Khan has effectively inserted himself into the raging debate about how businesses are born and who is responsible for their birth. His journey—from dishwasher to tycoon—is ready made for legend.
He says the right things that endear him to the local people. Khan says he would have drafted Tim Tebow in 2010. Who knows if he actually would have. But the iconic Florida Gator would have been an instant hit in the small southern city. Invoking that name in any context is the very essence of shrewd.
But that’s where Maurice Jones-Drew enters the fray. The Jags already have a star—and not just in the figurative sense. In Drew they have a tough-as-nails, yet pleasant and personable young man who has battled for everything he’s ever gotten. His running style is singular. He has a turtle’s center of gravity and chipmunk’s burst. He doesn’t so much run through lanes created by his offensive linemen as much as he liquefies himself and squirts through openings.
Jones-Drew is, for lack of a better word, a throwback to simpler times. In a day when offensive football is delegated by committees of backs and small communities of receivers and tight ends, Maurice Jones Drew is a workhorse.
Jones-Drew walks among the people. He was among the first players to interact with fans via a twitter account. He was one of the first real players to actively engage in fantasy football. He was raised by a single mother with three kids to feed. And after his mother contracted fungal meningitis and had a stroke, M.J.D. was the dutiful son who nursed her back to health.
Drew has never been arrested, never caused a ruckus in the locker room, and never done anything to suggest that he is anything other than a team player. The kid has done everything that’s been asked of him and been everything he’s been asked to be.
This is a tough one.
Let’s return to the first point, because it’s the most salient. Shahid Khan is an immigrant. He came from nothing, and has pulled his bootstraps, stretched them beyond recognition to build a manufacturing empire so impressive that he was received by the most exclusive club of all—the NFL owners club. By all accounts that should end the discussion. But indulge me for a moment.
Jones-Drew came from humble beginnings. We like that in our athletes. We like a struggle. We also like humility. Jones-Drew is humble. And demanding more loot flies in the face of what has become our very narrow definition of that word.
Some might say Jones-Drew doesn’t need any more money, that the money he has he’ll probably squander away. Many might say that he should just invest. (cue Bernie Madoff voice over: “Let me tell you something about investing..”)
It’s one thing when a regular schmuck saves his pennies and sinks it all into a venture that goes belly up. He’s just a regular schmuck so his business ventures are governed by the laws of regular schmuckdom. Sometimes good, hard-working American people fail. But athletes are … special. An athlete’s money is worth more than regular currency. If his business venture goes south, it’s because the athlete was stupid.
At least that’s what we’re led to believe.
I favor the little guy, the big-hearted, non-corporate entity, the one with scars on his back; who enjoys success in an objective field—where he never has to kiss hindquarters, jump through hoops, or worry about coming on too strong. He too sings America.
Advantage: Maurice Jones-Drew
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