A thrilled Lions fan gets an autograph from Jahvid Best. Also pictured: some little kid
As part of the Pepsi Rookie of the Week/Rookie of the Year award, Jahvid Best, along with thirteen other top NFL rookies, has been honored with his very own Pepsi Max can. The can design got a grand introduction at Meijer the other night, and Jahvid was on hand to meet, greet, take pictures, and sign autographs. Thanks to the Pepsi Max folks, I got a few minutes alongside Jahvid to talk with him, and watch him interact with fans.
As a proud and dedicated Lions fan, I’ve been to my fair share of these events. You bring (or buy) something to be signed, you file in with the rest of the crowd, you wait your turn, the anticipation builds . . . and in a few moments of smiling and signing, you try to say something cool, reference something obscure about the player, pass along a message from another fan—something, anything to make a connection. You try and establish a bond, a kinship, a little moment of commonality with them that you can treasure forever. This time, though, I sat on the other side of the table; instead of one brief moment of connection, I got to witness dozens.
Men, women, boys, girls, people of all sizes, shapes, colors, ages all approached the table with a story, a message, or a tidbit. “Dude. I just want you to know, I scored a 92-yard touchdown with you in Madden yesterday. I just—I just had to tell you.” “I just wanted to say, we know you can do it!” Well-wishes for his health, the season, the Lions, his future. People taking pictures left and right, people who’d been through the line coming back up. The Meijer folks wanting a group picture. Through it all, Jahvid was smiling, calm, friendly, seeming not only willing, but excited to hear everyone out—even with me buzzing in his ear.
I mentioned I love the way Jahvid uses Twitter interactively; he talks about what he’s into, how he’s feeling, and he listens and responds. “I like to use Twitter to talk to fans,” he said. “I mean, I would have loved the chance to talk my favorite players growing up.” Indeed, Twitter helps us have these little connections with our favorite players all the time. I mean, when Jahvid tweets:
This jimmyjohns is hittin right now... Shoulda got two
I nod sagely, having said the same thing to myself many times. Following him on Twitter throughout the season, something that’s jumped out at me is his consistently positive outlook on life—even though he’s had to take some lumps along with the good this year. I asked him about it: “That is something my parents taught me, growing up: that you should always keep a positive attitude, no matter what happens.”
Whenever NFL talk turns to breakout rookies, an old chestnut always comes up: the “rookie wall.” When college football’s regular season ends, there’s still more than a month left to go in the pro schedule. Rookies’ bodies, we’re told, often aren’t conditioned for the long haul. “Oh, I definitely hit a wall,” Jahvid told me, “but it was much more of a mental wall than a physical wall. In college, it’s half school, half football—but in the NFL, you wake up, and it’s football. And then, football. And then, more football. Film, meetings . . . it’s a much harder grind than in college.”
In the last two games, it’s obvious that some of the burst, some of the explosion we saw in Jahvid’s running has returned. Is that, I asked, because of getting over the mental wall—or because his injury is healing? “Oh, it’s much more mental than physical,” he said, which surprised me. “I wasn’t one hundred percent—I’m still not one hundred percent—but settling into it mentally, I just feel much more like myself.”
I asked him about the turf toe; I knew someone who had it and it seemed really, really painful. “Well, the first one happened in Week 1, and the second in Week 3. Everything I kept hearing was, ‘rest, the only thing that’ll help it is rest,’ but there isn’t any rest in the middle of the season.” I asked him if maybe, looking back on it, it would have been better to shut it down for a few weeks earlier in the season, and try and come back strong. “Well . . . I don’t know. I could have done that, or I could have done what I did—either way, it’s in the past now. All I can do is focus on getting healthy going forward.”
Something I’ve always wanted to ask an NFL running back is the importance of “getting into a rhythm,” the idea of feeding your starting back a steady diet of carries early in the game, to try to get going—and know that if he’s stuffed a couple times early, his number will still be called often. Scott Linehan has been diversifying the run game, profoundly, over the past few weeks, and I asked Jahvid if he’d prefer “getting into a rhythm,” or if the rotation was helping keep him fresh, and defenses off-balance. “It doesn’t necessarily matter,” he said. “You just need to find what works for your offense, and we’re definitely finding that.” With 453 rushing yards in the last three games, it’s hard to disagree.
Given the inital results of my offensive line research, I felt it my journalistic (bloggalistic?) duty to ask Jahvid about Dominic Raiola. Full disclosure, for those who don’t know: I’ve long been a fan of Raiola. I concede his lack of road-grader-ness, but I’ve always thought his tenacity, his excellent calling of pass protections, and agile second-level blocking more than made up for his lack of pure power. I referenced Jahvid’s experience at Cal behind All-American center Alex Mack (now of the Browns), and asked him if he’d prefer to have a more beastly center opening up seams in front of him. “Oh, Raiola’s a great player,” he said. “He’s been in the league—honestly, I’m not sure how many years—but a long time. No, he makes great plays for us, and he puts us in a position to win.”
Does he have any personal goals for the remainder of the season? “A hundred-yard game,” he said. “I’ve got to get that one taken care of. Also, just getting healthy.” By this point, the swirl and buzz of the event started to reach fever pitch, and I didn’t want to take up too much more of his time. “How awesome,” I said, “is it, getting to be on your own Pepsi Max can?” He immediately flashed a bright smile. “Oh, it’s ridiculous,” he said, “a great honor for me—and the product is great, too!” I thanked Jahvid for his time, shook his hand, and shook my head in wonder as another round of flashes popped.
I do thank Jahvid, and the Pepsi Max people, for the opportunity; it was an awesome event. I also want to thank my boy, the man you know as “commenter Matt,” who served as my wingman and photographer for the event. I got some great pictures . . .
. . . Matt got himself a stunner for the Detroit Lions Jersey Menagerie . . .
. . . and I got a new perspective on being a fan—and being a player—in today’s NFL. Now, I underscore the modern, hyperconnected, multi-dimensional fan experience with calls to action: please, vote for Jahvid for Pepsi Rookie of the Week/Year! And also, if you’re a Facebook-type-person, Like Pepsi Max on Facebook! Finally, if you aren’t doing so already, follow me, Jahvid Best, and Pepsi Max on Twitter! Double-finally, feel free to discuss in the comments below.