- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Off go the fireworks. Out come the Washington Redskins. Jon Jansen takes it all in — the bouncing, the hollering, the pompoms and white smoke. He ought to be out there, sprinting from the tunnel, ready to smack someone in the face mask.

Instead, Washington’s starting right tackle leans back, reaching for another nacho.

“Normally, I’m fired up [during introductions],” Jansen says. “I run out as fast as I can.”

Not today. The sun dips behind the upper bowl at FedEx Field, where the Redskins are playing the Cincinnati Bengals. Out for the season with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, Jansen watches from an auxiliary press box along with wife Martha and parents Larry and Ellen.

Washington kicks off. Jansen taps his fingers against a desk, chin in hand. Restless.

“Some people may think it’s an easy year,” Ellen says. “But it’s hard for him to watch.”

“Hard for me, too,” Martha adds. “I’m not used to this.”

Neither is Jansen. Before this season, the 28-year-old had never missed time with an injury — not in college, not in high school, not in Pop Warner. Sitting is new. As the Redskins come to the line, Jansen checks the play clock, notes the formation. What is the defense doing? The tapping speeds up.

“I’m mentally playing the game,” he says. “Which stinks.”

Cincinnati’s Rudi Johnson breaks an outside run. They’re blitzing the A gap. The Redskins flounder on fourth down. Jansen slaps the desk, excusing himself.

“It’s like a big hole for him,” Larry says. “I’ve hardly watched pro football this year. You’re never done being a parent. When your kid is hurting, you’re hurting.”


Jansen knew before he hit the turf. He was pass blocking in an August exhibition game in Canton, Ohio, tangled up with Marco Coleman. Jansen planted his left foot and pushed off to turn upfield. Pop! Down he went, rolling in the grass, praying he had been kicked in the leg. Please let someone be behind me. Nothing. Team trainers approached.

“I tore my Achilles’,” Jansen said.

They helped him to his feet, carted him off the field. Jansen felt numb, incredulous, angry. Mostly, he felt embarrassed. Limping was for other guys. Golf carts were for golf. Thousands of eyes were on him. Wasn’t he Washington’s iron man, the toughest Dirtbag in football? He called his agent, Rick Smith.

Four to five months, Smith said. That’s the time frame. Jansen counted: one, two, three, four … back in late November. Perfect for a playoff push. Fine. Let’s do the operation now. Not so fast. That four-month window? Good for the average racquetball-playing executive. Not so good for an NFL lineman. At 306 pounds, Jansen would be out for six months.

He slouched in front of his locker, dazed. In came Joe Bugel. He pulled his player close. I’m sorry. Both men welled up.

“When I first saw him, he was devastated,” Bugel says. “Ready to head off into the sunset.” Jansen returned to Redskin Park on crutches. Two days later, he underwent surgery in Charlotte, N.C.

As Jansen awakened in his hospital bed, it hit him: He wouldn’t be playing football today. Or tomorrow. No matter how hard he worked. Grumbling through drills, locker room jokes, ice bags on Monday morning. Buh-bye. The leaves soon would turn, green to gold. Jansen would be stuck in a foot cast.

“That was probably the lowest point,” he says. “It had never really sunk in that I wouldn’t be out there.”

Martha tried to comfort him. Don’t worry. You’ll be OK. Jansen racked his brain. He couldn’t remember the last time he had missed a practice, never mind a game. How would he handle an entire season?

“We’re set in our ways,” Redskins center Cory Raymer explains. “There’s so many years of doing this during the fall, from Pop Warner all the way up. When it’s cold, you can walk outside and smell football.”

Two years ago, Raymer ruptured his left Achilles’ while playing for San Diego. He missed 13 games.

“Jon and everybody else would tell you they’d rather go through an 0-16 season, get tossed around, be called a laughingstock than be injured,” Raymer adds. “It’s just a year of hell.”


Redskin Park, just after Election Day. Clinton Portis meanders out of a meeting. Detroit Lions game film loops in an empty conference room. Jansen sits near a window, overlooking the practice fields.

A sign is taped to the glass: BALCONY CLOSED DURING PRACTICE. No matter. Sometimes Jansen stops to watch; mostly, it’s too frustrating. He’s a spectator, a tourist at the zoo. Look but don’t touch.

“It’s a special environment,” Jansen says wistfully. “Not a lot of people get to show up to work, take off any nice clothes they have and get into sweats, then hang out with a bunch of guys who are cussing and calling each other names, having a good time.”

Jansen fingers the scar above his left heel. Clad in shorts and a sleeveless shirt, he smells of soap and sweat, having spent the morning in rehab. Three months have passed since his injury; if he stands for more than 45 minutes, his leg swells like a kielbasa.

But at least Jansen can walk, move around, do something. He spent his first six weeks on crutches, hobbling around the house, knocking stuff over. Getting a glass of water became a Herculean chore; not getting up was nearly as bad.

“He’s not a TV person,” Ellen says.

“He hates sitting down,” Martha adds.

Jansen calls himself a control freak. He’s only half-kidding. In the locker room in Canton, he pestered team doctors: What could I have done to prevent this? Nothing. What can I do to make sure it never happens again? Nothing. How do I get better? By doing nothing.

The latter rankled. Patience and passivity are not Jansen’s forte. He keeps fit during the offseason, takes pride in his work ethic. He would rather bullrush than backpedal. But ruptured tendons aren’t Michael Strahan; they heal through rest, not effort. Push too hard, too soon and it only gets worse.

“You’re teaching yourself to be lazy,” Jansen says. “Until rehab started I had no control over anything. It was like getting kicked.”

Losses hurt. Wins, too. Jansen watched Washington’s season-opening victory over Tampa Bay from the box. Pure agony. “You’re not part of the problem or the solution,” Jansen says. “You’re just here, taking up air.”

After two years of Steve Spurrier, Jansen embraced Joe Gibbs’ smashmouth style. He hoped to start a new tradition, emulate the Hogs he grew up idolizing.

“Jon was the reason we called the [offensive line] the Dirtbags,” Bugel says. “If there’s mud on the field, he’ll find a way to roll in it. He’s a true Redskin, a rough, tough sucker.”

Toughness was Jansen’s ticket. It became his identity. He is from Clawson, Mich., a sleepy Detroit suburb known for producing former major league pitcher Marty Clary … and not much else. Even Jansen’s parents considered pro sports a long shot. Their son had other ideas. As a Clawson High freshman, Jansen had dad drop him off at school by 6:30a.m., the better to lift weights and shower before class. Mom remembers the 5-year-old Jansen being an “extremely serious” T-ball player.

“Jon was always driven,” Ellen says. “I hear parents talk about how hard it is to get their kids to bed. With Jon, he just knew. You had to give him a kiss quick because he was out.”

At Michigan, teammates nicknamed Jansen “rock.” It stuck. He made 50 straight starts for the Wolverines, a school record. In game No.48, Tom Brady fell on Jansen’s leg, badly twisting the tackle’s ankle. Limping, he remained in the game, hopped through practice and started the next week. Earlier that season against Indiana, Jansen caught his right hand in an opponent’s face mask, dislocating bones. He continued to double as a long snapper.

“A lot of those snaps didn’t look very good,” he concedes, grinning. “But they got there.”

Before his Achilles’ injury, Jansen had missed one play in his Redskins career, the final snap in a blowout win over New York. He was a rookie, just following orders. He still rues the day.

“It was weird seeing somebody else out there,” Jansen says. “Football is an ego trip. The guys that tell you it’s not are lying. Knowing the work you put in, the time you put in, to physically manhandle somebody is a special feeling. I miss that.”

Jansen smiles, gestures toward the practice field. Inside these walls, he says, you can’t break any laws. Punch someone in the mouth? Hey — it’s expected.

“Every time I go out there, I’m proving I’m the best right tackle in the game, the guy people want on their team, the guy who’s going to be out there the whole time,” Jansen says. “The toughest son of a [gun] on the field.”

Jansen pauses. He isn’t much for pity.

“It’s hard to have that taken away.”


Raymer stands in the Redskin Park lobby, a jacket slung over his forearm. In one hand he holds a boxed football, in the other, a FedEx envelope.

“I have a fine from the NFL,” he says. “That’s one good thing about being hurt. You don’t get any of these.”

Jansen won’t lie: Life without football isn’t all bad. He is young and wealthy ($25million contract) and happily married to his college sweetheart, a former swimmer at Michigan. The couple owns a lakeside summer home in the northern part of Michigan, a place to camp and fish; until this year, they had never been there after Labor Day.

“We have a boat,” Jansen says. “I’ve read a lot about the Great Lakes, planning trips we may take in the summer. Just to take myself mentally to a different spot.”

That isn’t easy. In September, the Jansens attended a Michigan-San Diego State game in Ann Arbor. Guilt set in. I should be at practice. The Redskins are 3-7. Jansen blames himself. He was a team captain. Now he’s a ghost — in for morning workouts, out before afternoon practice. A protective boot has left a hitch in Jansen’s gait, what Raymer jokingly calls a “pimp stroll.”

“Every step of every day,” Jansen sighs, “I’m thinking heel to toe.”

He tries to stay upbeat. Two weeks ago, Jansen performed toe lifts for the first time since his injury; soon he will be able to jog. His body feels rested, rejuvenated. The extended layoff may prolong his career. He’s grateful for his wife’s support, for Gibbs’ periodic pep talks, for every teammate who has razzed him.

Once he can stand on the sideline, Bugel wants Jansen to help out as a player-coach. Jansen dutifully watches film, sets his TiVo every Sunday. His conclusion? He isn’t ready.

“When you’re playing and things go wrong, all you have to do to make yourself feel better is hit somebody upside the head,” Jansen says, laughing. “When you’re coaching, you tell someone else to go out there and hit somebody upside the head. I still want to play.”

Back at FedEx, that much is obvious. As the Bengals take a 17-0 lead, Jansen tugs hard at his backward hunting cap. Darn it! A fan in the stands pipes up.

“Hey Jansen!” the man says, tilting his head toward the press box. “When are you coming back?”

Jansen waves glumly, his gaze fixed on the field.

“Next year,” he says. “Next year.”

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