The other night, I was watching the Travel Channel--I'm a big fan of the Anthony Bourdain vehicle, "No Reservations"--and what came on, but the new Dhani Jones show, "Dhani Jones Tackles the World". The concept is that former Michigan linebacker, NFL journeyman, NFLN personality, and noted fashion plate Dhani Jones travels the world, engaging in a variety of indigenous sports, games, and feats of strength. Along the way he interfaces with the local culture, exploring their food, music, customs, and nightlife.
This is intriguing to me for several reasons: first, Dhani Jones is an interesting fellow. A rare scholarship athlete who strove to live life as just another student, Jones made a bit of a name for himself as an intellectual. Well spoken in interviews, Jones definitely comes across as more than just a jock. However, a couple years back, PFT ran a small article (haven't found it yet), saying that Jones was a disappointment to the Eagles because he had trouble understanding the playbook. This touched off a mini-firestorm, as some folks pointed out his reputation as a scholar, and others said the bowtie-and-glasses 'warrior poet' image was basically an act to get girls. Ever since that day, I've always wanted to see more of Dhani, to settle the matter once and for all. Second, I have always been curious to see exactly how NFL athletes stack up to other athletes. It seems to me that there's no other sport that both allows and requires such a wide variety of body types to succeed. Barry Sanders at a (generous) 5'-8", 180# is one of the greatest football players who've ever lived. So is Johnathan Odgen, at 6'-9", 345#. All American football players benefit from American nutrition, American gyms, American doctors, etc.. . . essentially, all NFL players are absolute freaks of nature, combinations of size, speed, and strength that seemingly cannot exist. Other countries around the world often pooh-pooh football because of the massive amounts of protective gear they wear--but if they let Jonathan Odgen play rugby, that sport would adopt pads and helmets in very short order.
I really enjoyed the show. Dhani trekked to Thailand to try his hand at Muy Thai, a Thai martial art that involves a lot of elbows, shins, and cracked ribs. If you've watched any of that MMA stuff all the kids are into these days, you've seen some of it. Dhani is only a middling NFL linebacker, but he looks like an incredible physical specimen--and believe me, we got to see plenty of him with his shirt off. Note to my fellow married men: your wife will definitely not mind you watching this show. Even while training alongside some of Thailand's best fighters, Dhani was a giant; a physical freak from what might as well be a different planet. Yet, the training regimen they put him on completely changed him in just a week. He dropped "five kilos" (about eleven pounds), and it was definitely noticable. He didn't have much body fat before, but he looked really really lean and mean. I don't know how he can film all these show and bulk back up in time for training camp. Anyway, at the end of the week, he squared off against a large (frankly fat) Muy Thai fighter and defeated him in the second round. It was clear: had Dhani spent six months or a year grinding away at this training, he might become a champion--as it was, he merely took his bows and moved on to the next challenge.
He strove to learn not just the kicks and punches, but the customs, the clothes, the prefight dance that fighters do to honor family, ancestors, teachers, etc. He picked up the moves very very quickly; even though the footage was edited, it was obvious that he was getting most stuff on the first try, and executing it very well, with lots of attention to detail. Even more fascinating, the language 'barrier' barely existed. Most of the guys who interfaced with Dhani spoke a modicum of English, but in all the training montages, there was little talking. Dhani was staring intently and mimicking: stance, pose, motion, technique. I got the distinct feeling that the Dhani and the fighter who was primarily training him had gone past "English" and "Thai", and were communicating entirely physically. It reminded me of an interview with Larry Fitzgerald, when he was still a draft prospect. He'd been a ball boy for the Vikings, and he talked about thow the Vikes wideouts would coach him. Cris Carter would coach like a coach, talking to him, explaining, correcting his technique. Randy Moss, however, would simply say "watch me" and then demonstrate. It's here where we start to see different forms of intelligence, different forms of communication take over. Like the famous case of Vince Young getting a 6 on the Wonderlic after leading Texas to a national championship, and looking Jordanesque while doing it. There IS, I'm convinced, such a thing as physical intelligence. An ability to understand how the body works. An instinctual knowledge of kinesthetics that applies to everything you do. Full command over every part of your body at once, without the restriction of concious thought. Dhani Jones has this gift. His counterpart remarked to the other fighters at the gym that he was amazed at how quickly, how instinctually he grasped the techniques--as well as how large and powerful he is.
Add thirty pounds and a whole lot of speed, and you get Aaron Curry.