This post is a thought-riff off Scott Salmon's There's a Storm Coming
Maybe you guys can come up with an example, but I can't remember a football player turning around his effort, his attitude, his play and perhaps the most difficult thing to turn around...his Image...as much or as fast as McKnight has. He began his Jet career throwing up in the pre-season and despite lots of athletic talent always seemed like a mentally and physically fragile player, the kind of stuff that "don't change". He headed into this pre-season as a likely number 2 back but then out of nowhere suddenly was behind Powell - who was pretty much nobody - when the season began. It surprised most Jet watchers. Did Sparano just not like him?
Then the season started slow for Greene. Then the season became painfully bad for Greene, and it as all about Powell being our only hope as it was clear Greene just wasn't a top 1/3 of the league player. We were stuck with a Water Buffalo at running back, and it seemed that McKnight was cure that was needed, but there was not a glimmer of him in the offense as he had only 16 offensive snaps in the first 5 games. Then he was humiliated by being "traded to the Defense" as Rex put it, in what seemed like a Rex (defense first) panic move, which resulted in McKnight saying it made him doubt his value as a running back at all. He saw what we all saw, the team desperately needed dynamic athleticism on offense, but they didn't want him. Not him.
Now we look at McKnight differently. It was pretty much after his huge burst up the middle against Indy - showing his TD type speed - only a few weeks ago and the resulting injury. It wasn't just an injury. With Greene floundering for most of the season, and Powell going down, with the OL opening gaping holes for anyone who would carry the ball it was an injury that seemed mocking, like it took his one last chance, his one glimmer of hope and snatched it from him. The fates were just not going to let McKnight, or the Jets, get up. We all know that high ankle sprains don't just "go away". We've seen so many intense competitors be taken out by these for weeks, sometimes even longer. Perhaps it is a mild one, but there are no such things as "mild" high ankle sprains. McKnight left the stadium after the Pats game reportedly on crutches, he is playing this week against the Dolphins. Just as the Jets were DOWN, when injury after injury to prime players piled up to absurd proportions, suddenly the Offense has a tough guy. A guy who will not lay down. A guy who won't take the out. What the hell happened here?
Did Rex pulling a Parcells? Was the duffus clown coach who goes all motivational far too often actually crazy like a fox? Was Rex the Keyser Söze in the case of McKnight? Did Rex see incredible physical gifts in McKnight but think to himself, this guy has to come back from the dead or he won't be worth squat? It seems clear - whether it is intentional or not - that McKnight was put in a humiliating place this year. He was thrown out in the junk pile when the Jets were rummaging through the junk pile. But somehow he really has become Joe "The Dark" McKnight, and made the whole team feel like it might be Batman. He suddenly symbolizes the young, undeveloped core of talent that is thinly spread across the roster, and the mindset that might set it free. When he talks he sounds like a vet of 10 years, who knows the gold of opportunity and won't get it go to waste when it presents itself.
I'm not sure how the McKnight story will unfold. It could be that Powell returns to action and all the carries just get swallowed up again by unexceptional others. Somehow though his injury provided Joe with a different sort of opportunity, it was not just the loss of his athleticism, but the recovery of his heart. I can't remember the offense having this sort of voice, not for a long. long while. I hope it does not get lost in the events of the season. And just perhaps, perhaps, Rex gets some credit for engineering its possibility.