Long before his six Pro Bowl appearances as a Jet on his journey to becoming an NFL Hall of Fame finalist, Kevin Mawae made up his mind that there was one team he would never play for and one city he would never live in.
"When I first came to the NFL, (Bill) Parcells was still with the New England Patriots. I told my wife that when I got drafted that I hope I never have to play for that guy," Mawae said this week. "I told her I never want to play for Bill Parcells and I never want to live in New York."
A second-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in the 1994 NFL Draft, Mawae got his career underway close to 3,000 miles from Parcells and New York. Playing multiple positions up front at Louisiana State, Mawae actually started his first couple of seasons in the Pacific Northwest at right guard.
"I played guard in college because I was always the guy capable of doing that. As a rookie, I got drafted as a center," Mawae said. "The goal was for me to back up Ray Donaldson, who at the time was a 12-year vet, and just learn the position from an older guy. Guys get hurt, injuries happen and the next thing I know I was the backup guard and the backup center. Three games into the season, the starting right guard goes down with a back injury and I'm starting at guard."
The Free Agency VisitMawae took over the starting duties at center in 1996, but then he became a free agent after the 1997 campaign. Parcells, who had been hired by the late Leon Hess to lead a Jets turnaround, wanted a talented young anchor for his line. But Kevin Mawae, now seated in Parcells' office, repeated a line he had told his wife a few years earlier.
*"Coach I always said I would never play for you."
*Stating that he wouldn't respond to the cussing and the screaming at players, Mawae said he could not be coached that way. But Parcells was persistent, telling Mawae not to believe everything he read in the newspaper or watched on television. He told him if Mawae was the player that he thought he was, then the lineman need not worry about being yelled at. Parcells also referred to Bart Oates, a key player on Parcells' Giants championship teams, who signed in 1985 after the latter had played three seasons in the USFL.
"That day during my free agent visit, he pulled out a binder and showed me the plan he had for building a championship team," Mawae said. "It was very concise and the very first thing on the list was a starting center and No. 2 was a quarterback. He said this was my plan and this is what I need to have a championship team and we think you're the guy to fill that role."
Put All the Pieces TogetherThe 6'4", 305-pound Mawae signed a five-year, $17 million contract that included a $5 million signing bonus, becoming the NFL's highest-paid center. Mawae also became the NFL's top center with the Jets, earning Pro Bowl invites from 1999-2004 and also first-team All Pro nods from 1999-2002 along with 2004. After an improbable run to the AFC Championship Game in '98, Mawae appeared in the postseason three more times under Herman Edwards following the 2001, '02 and '04 campaigns.
"Parcells saw something in me that allowed me to be the player that I was. Bill Muir, my old line coach, allowed me to do the things that I was capable of doing," Mawae said. "I became a big staple in our running game with what we were doing with the toss game. They took advantage of my ability to run the toss sweeps and get out on the edge and on the second level. Of course when you have a running back like Curtis Martin, a Hall of Famer himself, it makes your job easier. You kind of put all the pieces together, a coach who is willing to let you play your game, a coach who is willing to let you do things that other people don't do and a running back that makes your job easy, those things combined together let me develop my game."
Not long after signing Mawae, the Jets signed Martin, the former Pats RB, to an offer sheet. Over the next seven seasons, Martin averaged 1,367 yards on the ground and he became the oldest RB in NFL history to win a rushing title when he amassed 1,697 yards on the ground in 2004. Martin, who is the Jets' all-time leading rusher with 10,302 yards, was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
"I tell Curtis all the time that 10,000 out of those 14,000 yards are mine because I started every game up to that last season," Mawae said with a laugh. "I really felt like that was an award for all of us, all the guys — myself, Jason Fabini, Jumbo Elliott, Matt O'Dwyer… all the guys who played for Curtis or blocked for him during that time period, I think we all took ownership of that. When he went in, there was definitely a piece of us going in with him and that was special. I played with three other guys who got into the Hall — Warren Moon was one of them. I snapped to him for one season, but then I played with Walter Jones and Cortez Kennedy went in the same time Curtis did."
Best Images of the New York Jets Great
"You're In Awe"A semifinalist for the Hall the past couple of years, Mawae is one of 15 Modern Era Finalists in the 2017 Class. Mawae played 16 seasons in the NFL, becoming an eight-time Pro Bowler and seven-time All Pro performer. He played with three teams along the way, finishing his career with the Tennessee Titans from 2006-2009 after a triceps injury broke his streak of 177 consecutive starts in 2005.
"The word I used a couple of weeks ago when I found out was 'surreal.' That kind of explained how I felt at the time," he said. "Being a semifinalist the last two years, you kind of get excited about it and you know you're in that top 25 and that's a feat in itself. But then when you get to the 15 or 16, that's even a bigger privilege, honor, accomplishment, whatever word you want to use to describe it. To be a part of that when I got the phone call, it was exciting. I was happy about it. You're in awe a little bit. I definitely can't complain about it, that's for sure."