The role comes naturally to Troy Vincent.
The strong safety made his first start for the Washington Redskins on Sunday in a critical game against the Dallas Cowboys. And with the outcome in doubt in the final seconds, Vincent’s voice was strongest in the defensive huddle.
“I just kept looking every guy in the eye and saying you gotta believe,” Vincent said. “Attitude starts in your mind, and then it’s going out and executing the play call. We were 2-5. We were looking to find a way to get in that win column. We’re all human. Doubt sometimes creeps in. … The season isn’t over. We stayed alive for one more week.”
Alive, thanks to Vincent’s block of what would have been a game-winning field goal by Cowboys kicker Mike Vanderjagt with six seconds left.
That block touched off a wild sequence that resulted in a 22-19 victory for the Redskins: Sean Taylor scooped up the loose ball and ran 30 yards into Dallas territory. He also drew a 15-yard face mask penalty that put kicker Nick Novak in field goal range and set up a final play. With no time left on the clock, Novak made a 47-yard kick for the win.
It was a thrilling finish, made all the more dramatic because Novak had missed a potential game-winner from 49 yards a half-minute earlier. After that miss, Novak received encouragement from Vincent as he walked off the field.
“When you respect your peers and approach a man a certain way, he understands where you’re coming from,” said Vincent, who switched to safety this year in Buffalo after playing cornerback his first 12 seasons in the league. “He knows you’re not trying to sugarcoat anything. He listens to you.”
Brian Dawkins, a five-time Pro Bowl safety for the Philadelphia Eagles, has been listening to Vincent’s advice since 1996. He was a rookie then, and Vincent was a free agent newly arrived from Miami. They still talk every day but mostly about more than football.
“Troy helped me with football and with life,” said Dawkins, who calls Vincent his big brother. “He’s definitely been a blessing to me. Troy generally cares about people’s well-being. He has a love for people. Troy wants them to do well in every aspect of their lives. That’s why he will say unpopular things at times.”
That can happen on the field, in the locker room or in meetings of the NFL Players Association, the organization Vincent has served as president the last three seasons.
“The first thing you have to do as a leader is be a good listener to the people who work for you, and Troy does that,” said Gene Upshaw, the NFLPA’s executive director.
“The NFLPA is about a trust factor first,” said defensive end Renaldo Wynn, the Redskins’ player representative. “Before Troy was president, you heard that he was the guy who stood his ground in Philadelphia and didn’t compromise. Troy looks at being president as service. He believes that every guy is important. That’s the type of leadership he brings.”
Redskins receiver James Thrash saw that leadership up close when they were teammates on the Eagles.
“Troy knows the offense he’s going against as well as the coaches, better in fact, in some cases,” Thrash said. “He’s always teaching the other DBs. Troy’s also one of the most athletic guys I’ve been around. And I saw him come up and hit after he moved to safety in Buffalo. I couldn’t tell he was 35 if I didn’t know.”
Vincent already is an integral part of the Redskins even though he has been in Washington less than a month. The Redskins signed him after he was cut by new Bills coach Dick Jauron.