Nick Mangold was never much of a football history nerd.
On the first big day of his NFL career, the 2006 draft, Mangold recalled that while he knew he could be a late-first-round pick, he was playing golf early in the day and missed a bunch of the early picks, including the Jets' fourth selection of tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.
He said he didn't know until months later, at his first Jets training camp, that "Nick and Brick" were the first pair of offensive linemen taken in Round 1 by the same team since 1975. He didn't hear the Jets were involved in a three-team trade for that 29th overall pick until "at least, like, two years after that.
"There was a lot of naïveté, I would say."
But this center has always been, well, centered. Mangold had a firm belief in his skills and himself. And he knew early on that with his small-town Ohio roots, trademark beard and hair, backward baseball cap and blue-collar grittiness, he had found a new home among the followers of the Green & White.
"That's who I am, and that's what I found endearing for me and the Jets fans," he told Eric Allen and me Monday at the Atlantic Health Training Center. "The long wait for a championship, the wanting just to grind it out and being there every week — that's why I know I'll be a Jets fan for the rest of my life, why my kids are Jets fans. It's now part of our family."
To underscore that knowledge, Mangold formally declared his retirement as a New York Jet in a letter he tweeted out this morning. This was a no-brainer for him, even after missing virtually all of the last half of 2016 due to injury, then being released in February 2017 and sitting out last season. He said he wrote the letter on his plane flight to Cleveland for a wedding last week and "there were times it got a little tough. ... Playing for the Jets and being a Jet has been an amazing experience."
Long Line of Top-Flight CentersMangold arrived in Jets Nation packing some indispensable knowledge imparted to him during his four bowl seasons and one national championship campaign at Ohio State: Never get too high or too low, and never compare yourself to others, just to yourself, "and if you keep getting better, that's all we can ask."
He also credits Kevin Mawae, inducted into the Ring of Honor last year and a recent Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist, as helping him transition to the pro game. Mawae, his predecessor in the almost unbroken line of the franchise's outstanding pivotmen, had gone to six consecutive Pro Bowls before departing the green scene after 2005.
"A lot of times on the offensive line, everyone's all the same," Nick said, "but I think because of Kevin, that added, not scrutiny but more knowledge, of what I do."
What Mangold did with his knowledge, his superb technique and his wrestler's I'm-going-to-beat-you-that's-my-job mentality was to get selected to seven Pro Bowls in an eight-year span, the second-most all-star honors in franchise history behind only tackle Winston Hill's eight AFL/NFL nods.
Mangold also was named All-Pro after the 2009 and '10 seasons. He started the first 89 games of his Jets career, including playoffs, before missing two games to injury in '11, then promptly went on a 59-game starting roll. He finished with 171 games played, all starts. He anchored six top-10 NFL run-blocking units, including the Nos. 1 and 4 units in 2009 and 2010.
Playing for ChampionshipsThose two seasons provided Mangold with some of his fondest memories in his 11 Jets years. Of the '09 AFC Championship Game at Indianapolis, he said, "If I was just watching from afar, I think it would've been amazing to watch Peyton [Manning] be Peyton and do what he did. It just sucked that I happened to be on the team that Peyton was being Peyton against."
A year later, playing for another conference title at Pittsburgh "was tough because we started out so slow, but once we woke up and started grooving and making things happen, if we had three more minutes ... but that's the unfortunate part of football. You only get 60."
But before Pittsburgh came the divisional round victory over the Patriots. "All the talk was New England just has to show up and they're the AFC champs," he recalled. "To go up there and be able to get the win was definitely one of the best moments of the career."
His legacy? "I came in and worked my hardest to do my best," he summed up. "My biggest regret is not winning a championship, bringing the Lombardi home to New York ... I did everything I could to try and do that."
Nick's Lucky NumberNick has never come across as superstitious or nostalgic, but he has succumbed lately to some numerology. It all began with that first phone call from the Jets, when he learned his favored uniform number, 55, from nine seasons of peewee, high school and college football, wasn't available. "Four is my wife's lucky number," he told the equipment team, "so I'll go 74, whatever."
Eleven years later, he typed on Apple Notes that he was getting released, took a screen shot from the app and sent the news out to the Twitterverse. He soon found, to his surprise, that his phone's battery strength at the top of the screen shot read 74%. "Did you mean to do that?" former teammate Brandon Marshall texted him. "That was pretty funny," Nick reflected.
Mangold wasn't going to wait until 7/04 to make his next announcement, and the date was taken anyway. So he did the next best thing — today's retirement letter went live at 7:40 a.m.
"You never know what you're getting yourself into coming out of college," he said. "But I ended up landing in a great spot and I hopefully took full advantage of it."
The multitude of center-savvy, 74-wearing Jets fans can only agree: It's never easy saying goodbye, Nick, but thanks for a decade-plus of memories.