The Juxtaposition of the Modern NFL

You have to be a real sicko to be intently watching a 3rd quarter of any NFL preseason game. Panel van and untidy moustache type of sicko. Watches Schindler’s List on Christmas Eve type of sicko. Yet, there I sat last night, glued to my TV, taking detailed notes of every play from the Packers 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints preseason squad. And, I loved every damn minute of it. Don’t judge. I love the preseason. I love the hopefulness that surrounds it. I love the new car smell of the games. I love the vets on the sidelines acting like they are at their first college kegger. Most of all, I love being seeing players step up seemingly out of nowhere to scratch and claw their way to a spot on an NFL roster. I was introduced to one such player in last night’s game–Micah Abernathy. In a decidedly rough week for the NFL, seeing Abernathy’s intensity and passion gave me hope for this game, and drew a sharp contrast to the juxtaposition of the modern NFL.

So, the NFL finally got off their lazy asses and dropped the squeaky toy hammer of justice down on Deshaun Watson on Thursday afternoon. This nearly five months to the day that the Cleveland Browns traded 6 future picks and what was left of their souls for the “embattled” former Houston Texans quarterback. And, roughly 28 hours before Micah Abernathy would take the field for the Green Bay Packers. Deshaun Watson spent most of Thursday awkwardly accepting a sentence for a series of crimes he claims he did not commit (editors note–he did). Micah Abernathy spent Thursday studying his playbook and meeting with his position coach, Jerry Gray, to sure up his assignments for Friday night’s game.

I, quite honestly, did not see myself writing an article like this two weeks ago. Mostly because Micah Abernathy wasn’t on the Packers roster two weeks ago. Abernathy, four years removed from a solid, if not spectacular, collegiate career with the Tennessee Volunteers, and suiting up for his 6th professional football team in the last 36 months, was not expected to play much on Friday night. That was, until Green Bay’s reserve safety Vernon Scott went out with a shoulder injury early in the second quarter against the Saints, marking the fourth safety the Packers have lost to injury in this preseason stanza. Injuries are as awful as they are inevitable. They are also enormous opportunities for players like Abernathy.

Micah Abernathy’s story is a remarkable one to tell. You see, this past summer, while Deshaun Watson was halfheartedly learning his new teammates names and most of the masseuses in Cleveland were looking for jobs in other states, Micah Abernathy was sweating in the hot Texas sun, plying his trade for the USFL’s Houston Gamblers, and finishing ninth in the USFL for total tackles in the upstart leagues initial season. While most vets often comment on how tired they are after a football season, Abernathy shook off his exhaustion in an effort to secure a coveted NFL roster spot. It was the game film from his stay in the USFL that led Brian Gutekunst to bring him in for a tryout after Packers safeties Darnell Savage and Tariq Carpenter went down with injuries one week in to camp. Abernathy credits his time in the USFL to allowing him to remain in game shape heading into NFL camps. Most people miss opportunity because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work. Abernathy had his hammer at the ready.

Cut to Friday night–Vernon Scott goes down with an injury late in the second quarter. Abernathy’s number is called. And, holy shit, did he ever respond. His third play was a spectacular interception of Saints quarterback Ian Book, giving the Packers the ball at midfield with slightly over four minutes to play til halftime. Tyler Davis, generous lad that he is, would give the ball right back to New Orleans a few players later, but that is a different story for a different time. Opportunity wasn’t just knocking. It was damn near kicking the door down. And this young man from Atlanta, Georgia, was ready to answer. Throughout the rest of the Saints game, if you wanted to find Abernathy on the field, all you had to do was direct your eyes to where the ball was located. He was everywhere. His night culminated with an absolute text book diagnosis and tackle on a swing pass to Saints running back Tony Jones and a postgame shoutout from Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. It was a thing of beauty.

This is what the preseason is all about. The effort. The intensity. The passion. The desperation. Only 1696 players get to be on active rosters come August 30th. You can see what securing one of these 1696 spots means to someone like Abernathy. It is evident in the air of gratitude he showed in his postgame press conference on Friday night. It is refreshing to see a player who is genuinely thankful for his opportunity. Which made the contrast between Abernathy’s interviews on Friday, and Deshaun Watson’s interviews on Thursday so jarring. Watson came across as spoiled. Entitled. Lacking in remorse or empathy. Hell, lacking in accountability of any kind. Someone who had lost sight of how lucky he was to be in the position he is. Watson is the wound of on the NFL’s eternally burnished body of work. People like Abernathy are the salve. This Friday may be the last time you hear Micah Abernathy’s name (I highly doubt that). But, even if it is, I want to thank him for reminding football fans what this game is truly all about. And, sure, I might be a NFL sicko, but that is why I love the preseason.

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Timothy Preece has been a Packers fan since 1991 and currently lives in Utah because he makes bad decisions. You can follow him on twitter at @LegitimateTimP.

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