By Cecil Shorts III
In 2013 I was a witness to something so very special, but at the same time it was something that, put in context,was so sad. It was my third year in the League with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and I was coming off my best season. Our wide receiver room was tight. We did everything together – watched games, hooped, went to church together, ate, or just hung out. We did it all together. I knew we were going to be very special together, but one of our main receivers was suspended for the first four games of the season. This dude was the most talented player I played with in my career. He was just a natural athlete and there was literally nothing he could not do. I remember when we drafted him in 2012 and he first practiced with us in OTAs.He looked awful. In training camp he looked good, but not “Top 5,” where he was drafted, good. The first preseason game came, and we all were like “Ohhhhhhhhh,” this is why he was top 5. He made things look so effortless out there playing the game.
We went 0-4 those four games he was suspended. We were not a very good football team. We had talent everywhere, however we just couldn’t put things together for whatever reason. Even though we struggled as a team, we were still pretty tight. We honestly gave it our all, and it just wasn’t good enough that particular year. So week 5 of the season was here and our guy was back in action. He started practicing with us and we were all excited about this, thinking he would help our offense and team in general. But on Wednesday he was nowhere to be found. Wednesday is the first day of the NFL week that the game plan is presented to players. The first meeting was at 7:30; he wasn’t there. We were thinking he would show up for the team meeting at 8am. After the special teams meeting we were all calling and texting him with no response. This was not just one or two guys calling and texting – this waslike 30 people. We all knew he had personal battles so we started to get nervous, wondering if he’s okay.
Marcus Pollard former NFL tight end and over our player development, decided to go to his house and check on him. He arrived to his house and banged on the door. Noanswer. He knocked for 10 minutes and finally somebody answered the door, but it wasn’t Blackmon. It was a friend of his who answered and he had an attitude like Marcus was bothering him. So MP just walked right by him and started looking for Blackmon. He found him in the bed passed out surrounded by alcohol. MP woke him up and Black goes into panic mode, denying he was drinking and crying that he was going to get cut. MP and Alonzo calm him down and bring him to the stadium for practice.
By the time he got dressed and arrived, we were just about done with practice and were heading down to the redzone. Black walks on the field puts his pads on and is crying to me, “C they’re going to cut me. I didn’t do anything last night. I just overslept. I didn’t drink or anything.” He says these things over and over but he reeked of alcohol. He was pleading to us (wide receiver group) that he wasn’t drinking and just overslept, but we all could smell the drinks. It was such an emotional moment. I cried with him a little bit. I’ve never seen him like this and it was sad to see. I loved him as a brother and friend and just wanted the best for him. Crazy thing is, the coaches threw him in at practice. The first play they threw him a screen. He dropped it and then started yelling and crying. Second play, he dropped another pass— same result yelling and crying.
Now I’m not sure if you’ve ever been to an NFL regular season practice, but it was the GM, Scouts, Media (from a distance) and all the coaches out there watching this unfold. We were on the 8-yard line going into the end zone at practice and Blackmon is on the right side lined up outside. He ran a route called a backline in route, which is just an in-cutting route three yards from the back of the endzone to give himself space to come down after the catch if it’s thrown to him. On this particular play, I can’t remember who the quarterback was either Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne, either way the QB threw it to Blackmon, but he threw it high, I mean real high. As a matter of fact he threw it over the goalpost. The goalpost the last time I checked was 10 feet high, which is the same height of a NBA basketball rim. It was about a foot over the goalpost. Well Blackmon jumps up, like he’s catching an alley oop dunk and caught the pass one-handed!!! And not just a regular one-hand catch, he caught the ball on the side. Not the point of the ball, but plucked it from the air on the side and came down with two feet in bounds. EVERYONE WAS IN SHOCK, LIKE WHAT THE HELL DID HE JUST DO!!!
I couldn’t believe what I just saw, if I tried that 25 times I maybe could do that once, and I’m sober! Coach blew his whistle and ended practice on that catch. We all jumped on him and celebrated while still in shock at the same time. JB played four more games for us that season and did amazing. He was so fun to watch and even more fun to play with. At week 9 we were coming back from a game in London when we learned he was suspended indefinitely. That was the last time he played in the NFL.
It was amazing what he was able to do on the field, but even more amazing he did this under the influence. He was a special player, but even more, he was a special human being. Everyone in the locker room loved him as a player, and when he was around us he was perfectly fine. But alone at home he would battle his demons. No matter how good we are at football or how people view us as professionals, we are still human. We are just like you– we just happen to be really good at a particular sport. So the next time you see a professional athlete in the news for something that you might feel is dumb, careless or a poor decision. Look in the mirror and remember he or she is human just like you.
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