Hank Poteat distracts Eagles WR Hank Baskett.
Never underestimate the power of the ring.
Hank Poteat happened to have it — his Super Bowl XXXIX ring, that is — with him when he opened the doors to his first football camp for 50 kids at a sizzling hot high school football field in northwest Philadelphia on Monday and Tuesday.
"First of all, anytime you have a Super Bowl ring, a lot of people want to see it," the Jets cornerback told newyorkjets.com Thursday. "I showed the kids the ring and told them the significance of it to me. I wanted these kids to know we all have plans and dreams in our lives, but your first plan, your first try is not always going to go as expected, but if you have that desire in your heart, keep going after it and don't quit."
Poteat is a perfect NFL player to get that message across. It's possible to lose track of how many times he's been cut since 2003: once each by Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Carolina and the Jets (after one day on the roster late last preseason), three times by New England. Seven times in all.
Yet there is something admirable about Poteat, the softspoken guy in the hard-edged life of an NFL cornerback. He didn't play at all in the 2004 regular season after an injury settlement with the Panthers, but latched on with the Patriots and Eric Mangini, then the Pats' secondary coach, for the playoffs. He made contributions right up through the win over the Eagles in Jacksonville to earn that diamond-crusted bauble.
And of course he returned to the Jets last October and again made his mark, becoming the fourth different starter at the unsettled right corner position in Game 11 vs. Houston and holding that job the longest, starting the last six regular-season games there.
But his first Green & White contribution came in the dime in Game 9, the celebrated 17-14 road upset of the Patriots. You may remember that Tom Brady tried to catch the Jets napping by whistling a TD pass to Jabar Gaffney off a late-first-half fake spike. But the pass sailed wide because Poteat, who played 10 more games with the Pats in '05, was covering Gaffney.
"At New England, they practiced that play all the time," Poteat told me back then. "Over there, on defense they tell you to be alert for a play like that, never take a play off. I saw them all getting ready [to spike the ball]. From the corner of my eye, I was watching them. Then I was like, let me get my head back to Jabar."
Maybe Poteat's found a little job security, since he re-signed with the Jets in February. After going through his first off-season practices under Mangini as his head coach, he returned to his home in Bear, Del., and also to his hometown of Philly, just up I-95 a piece, where he staged his camp.
"It's pretty much something I always wanted to do," he said. "My best friend and I put it together. And one of my teammates, Adrien Clarke, who lives in South Jersey, came over and helped out. Hopefully we can do this every year and help more kids."
But how much longer will Poteat be a pro? It's irony — all right, you ironic maidens out there, not irony but an interesting coincidence — that he played his college ball at Pittsburgh before joining the NFL (as a Steelers third-round pick in 2000), and now in Jets training camp he'll be fighting for his latest gig with, among others, Darrelle Revis, the first-round pick from Pitt.
Yet Poteat shrugs off this challenge just has he has all the others in his career.
"It's not like this is something new for me," he said. "One thing is to have fun. But I have a purpose. God has blessed me with the opportunity to be on this stage. You've got to go in with a great mindset and continue to work hard. Last year alone, I was cut three times. There is no quit in me. And that's why I wanted to reach out to the kids."
You have to say the advice Poteat gave out to those inner-city kids earlier this week has a ring of truth to it.