The final cutdown day for NFL teams is one of two “hot-air balloon” days for fans during the year.
To me, a “hot-air balloon” day is a highly-anticipated day in which fans inexplicably hype themselves up over certain players and scenarios, often reaching a fever pitch, the tension rising higher and higher into the air. Then, the day comes, and after some momentary overreactions, we all quickly realize that the hype was nothing but hot air, and is quickly forgotten.
The most obvious example of this is the NFL Draft itself, now its own cottage industry of professional and amateur draftniks who intensely break down every prospect, predict every selection, and often help lead the masses in fevered hopes for “the right guy”. Then, the draft happens, and everyone forgets about all of the numbers and measurables, and moves on with the new guys in minicamps.
We’re like cornerbacks. We have really short memories. And, gosh darn it, what did these “draftniks” really know anyway? Ted Thompson is an actual GM with real NFL scouts, right? Why did we spend so much time drooling over this linebacker or that tight end?
Final cutdown day is another. Armchair pundits spend hours mapping out whom they think they will make the final 53 based on a few preseason snaps. We all have our dark horses and favorites that we believe will make the team, hope will make the team. And when cutdown day happens, we all express our joy and disappointment, and quickly move on.
As a man who has spent several decades picking who the Packers will most definitely, assuredly pick in the draft every year,* and has always had a long-shot darling that I hoped would make the team, I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a look back at my own record and realize how many favorites I’ve forgotten.
Perhaps the one the struck close to my heart yesterday was the cutting of safety Chris Banjo, who may have been a favorite as much for his name as for his play. I mean, seriously ... your last name is “Banjo”? I remember saying after watching him at a few training camp practices last summer that if he made the team, I was going to buy that jersey.
Well, I didn’t buy that jersey, but I did keep rooting for him. He was a physical player; noticed that right away in a few training camp sessions. Given the new “flavor” of our defense this year, led by Mike Daniels’ nastiness, I figured Banjo would find a way to bring that physicality and earn a spot again—if nothing else, on special teams.
But reality hit, and while there’s a chance he could be signed to the practice squad, or resurrect his career with another team, the truth of situation is that if he doesn’t return to the Packers, we’ll all soon forget him.
Each of the 32 NFL teams can put 90 players on its training camp rosters. That’s 2,880 players every July striving to be the next Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, or Clay Matthews. As we know, only a mere handful of those 2,880 truly become multimillionaire superstars. In fact, 1,184 of them are cut and likely never play a regular-season down.
Many of them are like Banjo, a guy with a world of potential, but a very short window of opportunity to prove it and develop fast enough to justify holding his position. Morgan Burnett’s fat contract, Micah Hyde’s indispensableness, HaHa Clinton-Dix’s monumental promise, and Sean Richardson’s steady play was just too much for Banjo to maintain his spot.
And that’s the reality. Most NFL players get nothing more than a sniff of the greatness that awaits the handful of players who we, in our heads, think of as “NFL players." Banjo may never get another chance to suit up in a regular-season game. He can pocket the money he made in 2013 ($405,000, a one-year figure most of us can only dream of), hang up his jersey and decide what he’s going to do with the rest of his life at the ripe old age of 24.
Once the season starts, we’ll forget about Ty Dunne’s heart-wrenching story from last season when we learned that Banjo’s parents immigrated to Texas from Nigeria, how his mother had fought a long battle against sickle-cell anemia, and passed away just before she could see Chris’s championship ring from SMU’s victory in the Hawaii Bowl. After that story, Banjo moved from being the player with the funny last name to the man I personally rooted for, the son who dedicated his battle to make the roster to his mother.
He’s a real human being, Chris Banjo. And so are the other 17 players that the Packers cut from their roster yesterday, and the 1,184 that were cut from NFL teams in the last few weeks. It’s why every cutdown day reminds me of the quasi-friendship I struck with a former Bears punter in 1987, and the anger I felt when it wasn’t just a name with some draft measurables and meager preseason stats to casually dismiss.
Oh, occasionally, you get a great story like Jonathan Franklin, who saw his career end after one good game, and worked his tail off to earn an internship with the Packers. Having met Franklin, I can tell you he’s got a heart of gold and is worthy of any chance he gets to make good on a career cut short.
But the reality is that not every guy whose career is ended before it ever got started gets an internship. They will likely try to keep pressing to make a life out of the only thing they’ve ever known, finally giving up and reinventing themselves at an age where most of us were still building our first career.
When the Packers kick off against the Seahawks on Thursday night, any begrudging regrets of not seeing No. 32 in a green and gold uniform will likely dissipate. We’ll be going into our closet and pulling out the old favorites from our jersey collection. Or perhaps we’ll be ordering our new jerseys with a No. 21 or No. 83 on it. After all, Clinton-Dix and Janis are the future of this franchise, right?
So, for one day, just one day, let’s tip our hat to the forgotten 1,184. Many, like Banjo and Franklin, have a heart of gold. In the end, they made a little coin and can tell their kids that lined up on the same field as Aaron Rodgers and Julius Peppers. They can take their jersey home, put it in a frame, and always have the memories of at least having tried.
As fans, we should do nothing less than appreciate those efforts. A guy like Banjo made sure to push others to play just a little harder, knowing someone was breathing down their neck for a roster spot. They made the team better, even if they won’t be a part of it.
* Incorrectly every time, at least until this past May, when I finally was right. Boom.
C.D. Angeli is a feature writer for Cheesehead TV and a lifelong Green Bay Packer fan. He can be heard on the weekly Cheesehead Radio podcast and is the good cop over at PackersTalk.com. He also has a nice new Clinton-Dix jersey, and none of you could have guessed that, right? Follow him on Twitter at @TundraVision.
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