It's Time for Kevin Mawae to Enter the Ring

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The ascendancy for Kevin Mawae has been building for a while now.

During his playing career, Mawae raked in eight Pro Bowl selections, six in a row as the pivotal member of the Jets' offensive line. His reputation continued to grow as he made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's final 10 finalists before missing the cutdown to the final five.

Concurrent with his Hall of Fame bid, Mawae found out at this year's Kickoff Luncheon on Aug. 29 hat the Jets organization would be honoring him as the 18th member to be inducted into the Ring of Honor.

Sunday is the next big day on the Mawae awards calendar. That's when No. 68 will be inducted into the Ring of Honor at halftime ceremonies during the Jets-Jaguars game at MetLife Stadium.

"I'm just excited about being up there and seeing some old teammates," he told reporters on a conference call early this week. "When it was announced a couple of weeks back, it was really an emotional deal for me.

"You never play the game hoping or expecting to be a Ring of Honor member or a Hall of Fame member. You just play the game because you love it. But at the ceremony on Sunday, in front of all the fans, I'm sure a wave of emotions are going to hit me."

Mawae helped create some of those emotions for fans of the Green & White during his heyday. He didn't really want to rank his Jets memories but he checked off several of his most memorable games and seasons from the time Bill Parcells signed him as an unrestricted free agent in 1998 until he departed after the 2005 season:

■ The 12-4 regular season in '98 that ended with the bitter defeat in the winds of Denver in the AFC Championship Game.
■ The 2000 Monday Night Miracle win, when the Jets overcame that 30-7 deficit early in the fourth quarter to defeat the Dolphins 40-37 in overtime on MNF.
■ Coach Herm Edwards' first playoff victory, the 41-0 crushing of the Colts at home in the 2002 AFC Wild Card Round.

"To pick out one or two moments is a difficult thing to do," he said, "but if you look collectively at the time I was there, it was a special time for a number of different reasons and a number of different teammates that were a part of those."

RB Curtis Martin is one of those teammates — "to have him there to celebrate with me is going to be special." WR Wayne Chrebet is another — "He was one of my all-time favorite teammates and players to be around, to watch him how he played the game, with the underdog mentality the whole time." Linemates over the years, such as T Jason Fabini and G/C Jonathan Goodwin.

They'll all be in attendance at the game, as a part of the Jets' Legends Homecoming weekend and as part of Mawae's ROH entourage.

Someone else from his past will be at the stadium as well Sunday — Doug Marrone, now the Jaguars head coach but from 2002-05 a first-time NFL assistant and thus Mawae's OL coach.

"I'm excited for Kevin," Marrone said. "I think it's well deserved, obviously, and I was there with a couple of other people that are in the Ring of Honor. I think he was an outstanding player."

Besides his impact as a center on his teammates and his coaches, Mawae has been influencing young players as an up-and-coming coach himself. One who can attest to that first-hand is current Jets center Wes Johnson, who ran into him at Vanderbilt after Mawae retired as a player from the Tennessee Titans.

"Kevin coached at Vandy my redshirt freshman year. He was a strength intern but he was helping out the offensive linemen, too," Johnson recalled. "And he actually coached my little brother, William, in high school. He was awesome and William loves him. As I'm sure he's been for a lot of people, he's been a great role model for both of us, just someone who's good to look up to."

Johnson has seen the videos and knows the career highlights, but he recalled one other thing that amazed him about Mawae's career after the center broke his right hand during the 2004 season.

"That season, he learned to snap with his left hand and play with a club on his right," Johnson said. "People don't appreciate that. That's insane. He exemplified what it meant to be a professional."

There have been many glowing comments already and many more yet to be made this weekend. And then Mawae will "enter the ring," along with the previous 17 inductees:

2010 — Weeb Ewbank, Winston Hill, Joe Klecko, Curtis Martin, Don Maynard, Joe Namath
2011 — Larry Grantham, Freeman McNeil, Gerry Philbin, Al Toon
2012 — Mark Gastineau, Wesley Walker
2013 — Marty Lyons
2014 — Wayne Chrebet, Leon Hess
2015 — Emerson Boozer, Matt Snell

Mawae will feel right at home with this group. Even though he began his career as a Seahawk and ended it as a Titan, he has said, "The New York Jets mean a lot to me. People asked me when I retired where do I associate myself with more and there's no doubt after eight years in New York. The highlight and apex of my career was spent here. I'm a New York Jet now and I always will be."

But as he has also said, Sunday's ceremonies will mean so much more to him because of the company he'll be with at MetLife Stadium, not just other ROH members but his contemporaries.

"From the time I signed with the jets, all the good times and bad times and all the teammates I shared them with, I'm just very excited about it," he said, "and I'm thankful for the privilege."

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