It was Captain's Day Wednesday in Hempstead as New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini proudly announced his captains for the 2006 season.
Punter Ben Graham, who was awarded one of six captaincy roles, is beginning just his second year of American football. Last season, Graham entered the NFL after 12 incredible seasons in the Australian Football League (AFL) and became the oldest rookie in NFL history at age 31.
Fittingly, Graham was captain for three consecutive seasons while playing for Geelong in Australia before making the transition to American Footy. One interesting difference between captaincy in the AFL and the NFL is that his Jets nomination came from that of his peers, unlike what transpired Down Under.
"It wasn't a vote," Graham said of being named captain for Geelong in 2000. "It was a decision made by the coaching staff and committee which was then approved by the board of directors. You're a player's captain, a team captain and you're the face of sponsorship."
This year's captains - Jonathan Vilma and Shaun Ellis on defense, Chad Pennington and Pete Kendall on offense and Matt Chatham along with Graham on special teams, were all voted by their teammates. Receiving this type of recognition means a lot to Graham, who received incredible acknowledgment in Geelong, receiving both "Best and Fairest" (Team MVP) and "Best Clubman" in 1999.
"It is a real honor – being appointed by your peers is something quite special to me," said the 6'5" punter. "It's pretty important to have consistent captains all year to lead the team, and as I said it a fantastic opportunity for me.
"I couldn't believe it," he added. "I was very surprised when they actually announced the team captains for the year but to be named one it's a really big honor."
Graham's appointment to captain in a second professional sport may prove to be a first in the modern era of professional sports.
"I don't know if Ben is the first Australian captain of an American sports team," Mangini said. "And I couldn't find out if Ben is the only guy to be a captain of a professional team in two pro sports."
While sources are still being investigated, Graham remains sincerely humbled and content with the fact that he is even playing another sport.
"I'm in a category that not too many are in, to be playing in two sports," said Graham. "To be captain in both is amazing. It will be something I will look back on in my career and it will be very special."
Also familiar with his newly appointed captain's role is linebacker Jonathan Vilma. The third-year 'backer out of Miami, though in his first official season as Jets captain, is used to leading. Playing in the middle throughout his career, it's essential to take complete control over his fellow defenders.
"It's the position I play, it's similar to quarterback," said Vilma. "Everything as far as off the field and in the locker room is new to me, so it took me a year or two to get used to that and now I'm here."
Vilma's play alone over the past two seasons has gained the respect from both his teammates and the opposition. This year, Vilma's peers are putting their faith in him to lead them both on and off the field, a heavy role that some people would be hesitant to accept.
But Vilma, who led the league in total tackles last season after earning defensive Rookie of the Year honors a year earlier, isn't like most people.
"I'm used to it; I have been that way since high school," said Vilma. "It's not a new role, just a title."
The Jets PR Department released an unofficial depth chart today, with Derrick Blaylock slotted as the team's starting running back. Despite the release, Mangini said on Monday that he plans to use a committee in his backfield. "Some of that will be dependent upon the various packages," he said. "Whether it be third down, in the red area, short yardage - we will try to play to our strengths and attack their weaknesses." … Titans coach Jeff Fisher has not yet announced a starting quarterback for Sunday's opener against the Jets. Ironically, Mangini and his defense spent all summer long facing four different quarterbacks. "It helped us a lot because we couldn't zero in on Chad, or Brooks, or Patrick, or Kellen," Vilma said. "We had to just go with what we know."… The Jets waived WR Dante Ridgeway and DL Matt McChesney from their practice squad and signed DT Titus Adams and WR Wallace Wright to the practice squad.
Thursday Injury Report Jets Out:OL Trey Teague (lower leg)
Questionable: *CB David Barrett (hip) & *WR Tim Dwight (thigh)
Probable: *LB Matt Chatham (foot) & *OL Pete Kendall (foot)
Out: TE Erron Kinney (knee) & DE Antawn Odom (knee)
Questionable: *T Jacob Bell (back), WR David Givens (hamstring), G Benji Olson (upper leg), *S Lamont Thompson (ankle) & RB LenDale White (ankle)
* Denotes players who practiced