A Topless Footrace: Why Real Leader Jake Long Wouldn't Have Allowed the Incognito-Martin Scandal
So Richie Incognito bullied Jonathan Martin. Enough already. It never would have happened had Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland not let Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long walk in the offseason. The void in leadership that Long's absence created became the monster of Incognito's bullying. Long was the unquestioned captain of that unit.
Photo by Nathaniel Sandler
I know Jake Long is a leader because I experienced it firsthand one lowly weekend night on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. Some friends and I were drinking a decent amount at Hofbrau, a German restaurant known for its gigantic boot-shaped wheat ale beers. I was there with my rec-league softball team, and there was a heated discussion about who was the slowest. My name was at the top of the list.
Long and a group of his friends were seated across from us, and multiple times we yelled to him to let him know we supported his work. At one point, I asked him who he thought could drink a boot of German beer faster, Chad Henne or Pat White, the two quarterbacks at the time. He seemed to like the question.
As the conversation at my table about speed on the softball diamond deteriorated, it was haphazardly decided there would be a race between my softball teammate (who, till this day, is still embarrassed by this story) and me right there on Lincoln Road. Mind you, this was January, the height of season, and the street was packed with tourists and locals alike for a night out on the town.
And I am slow. Very, very slow.
But against my better judgment, we began agreeing upon the rules. There were also insignificant amounts of money being wagered on the outcome.
"I got 20 on red," a thunderous voice bellowed from behind, the largest bet offered at that point. As I looked down at my red long-sleeve T-shirt, I realized Long had backed his horse. I couldn't let him down.
Especially because my best friend of 25 years took Long's bet. Long and another friend pulled me over to a corner. They began asking me questions about how I was feeling, and before long it was decided that my leather loafers would only slow me down. So I agreed to run barefoot. Then it was determined that my red long-sleeve T-shirt would pose a wind-resistance problem. The decision to take my shirt off on Lincoln Road is one I've often looked back on with some self-aware curiosity. When we lined up, tourists aimed cameras to take photos.
There I was, shoeless and shirtless on a major tourist thoroughfare at the behest of a 320-pound man who was the number one overall pick in the NFL by my favorite sports team. It might sound absurd, but I did it because Jake Long looked me in the eye and smiled.
The first race was a dead heat, and the second was called off because my friend and softball teammate (who, till this day, is still embarrassed by this story) false-started. The third was neck-and-neck the entire way. A moment of clarity hit me when I looked over at my opponent and saw I needed to push through.
Or maybe not. I can't really say, because the referee clotheslined me square in the neck as I crossed the finish line. There I was, shirtless, flat on my back, in the middle of Lincoln Road in front of hundreds of people. And Jake Long ran over and yelled, "YOOOUUUU WON!" as he hoisted me into the air. Cheers from even the most disinterested onlookers rang out. Frustrations from those who had lost beer money were drowned in the utter ridiculousness that was happening in public.
It was one of the funniest and greatest moments of my life, and I will remember it forever. Jake Long was in my corner and was one of the nicest guys I've ever met.
This is not meant to be a story about how Jeff Ireland shouldn't have cut a guy I had a fun drunken night with. It's about team cohesion. A more unified offensive line wouldn't have given up those two crucial fourth-quarter sacks against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, nor would it have allowed Ryan Tannehill to be the most-sacked quarterback in the NFL.
I ran into Jake Long one night in the off-season before he was let go in 2012. He remembered me and told me that he tells his friends all the time about the night there was an epic race on Lincoln Road. I do too, Jake.