The Jets owned the first overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft. And even though James Farrior was a first-team All-ACC linebacker as a senior at the University of Virginia, there wasn't much speculation he'd be New York's top choice.
And frankly, Farrior didn't sense any interest from the Jets either.
But then their first-year GM/head coach Bill Parcells traded the top pick to the Rams for their first-round choice, sixth-overall, along with their third-, fourth-, and seventh-round selections. Parcells then sent that No. 6 pick to Tampa Bay for the Buccaneers' first-round choice, eighth-overall, and a fourth-round pick.
The Jets then gave NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue something to announce to the Green & White faithful who were in Radio City Music Hall for the Draft, when they used the No. 8 selection on Farrior.
"I was totally surprised. Going into the Draft, they had the No. 1 pick and I didn't really think I was going to go No. 1," Farrior said. "So I didn't really pay too much attention to what they were doing. But I guess they were paying attention to me.
"I remember (that Jets assistant coach) Bill Belichick came to the (Virginia campus for Pro Day), but he was off in a corner, quiet, away from everyone else. Nobody really knew what he was doing. So it was totally unexpected."
Farrior may have been surprised, but he was also excited for the opportunity to play for Parcells and Belichick.
"Just growing up watching the Giants back in the '80s, and knowing they were the coaches, was a really good feeling," Farrior said. "I knew they had a good staff and they knew what they were doing. I knew that they would get us on the right track as an organization, so I felt I was in good hands."
The guys with good hands had had great success, winning two Super Bowls with the Giants and reaching a third with the New England Patriots.
They pictured Farrior playing the same position Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor did for them with the Giants – outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. However, because Farrior was more suited for, and had some experience playing in a 4-3 defense, it was sort of a square peg, meet round hole-type situation.
"I was a first-round draft pick, so the expectations were already so high," Farrior said. "So I kind of knew what they wanted me to do. I just had to be positive and go out and try to do my best."
Was the rookie perhaps miscast by being told to playing there?
"In my mind, I'd say yes. But I think overall, it taught me the ins and outs of the outside linebacker position, which helped me out later on in my career," Farrior said.
In 2001, five years into his career, Farrior had a new coach, Herm Edwards, and a new start. With a team-leading, and what would prove to be a career-high 145 combined tackles, 109 solo, he helped the Jets reach the playoffs for the first time in three years.
"We changed our defense to the 4-3, and it was a Tampa 2 defense," Farrior said. "Herm told me that he envisioned me playing the role that Derrick Brooks played in Tampa. And knowing Derrick Brooks and the type of player he was, I was thrilled to try to be in that role and try to take on that position. So when they changed the defense and I was a Will [weakside] linebacker, I think it fit more of my skillset."
Following five years with the Jets, 1997-01, Farrior took his skillset to Pittsburgh after signing as a free agent with the Steelers.
There, over the next 10 seasons, he became one of the best linebackers in the league. An All-Pro in 2004, and a two-time Pro Bowler, in 2004 and '08, Farrior helped lead the Steelers to two Super Bowl titles.
Equally as impressive is that with the average length of an NFL player's career less than four seasons, Farrior was able to play 15! What was the key to his longevity?
"I think it was the man up above, first of all," Farrior said. "And not having too many major injuries, and being able to adjust to any type of environment that I've been put in. I think all of those things coupled together. Along with just a lot of good luck."
As modest as he was talented, what makes Farrior most proud of his playing days?
"I'm looking back at my career now," he said, "and I think playing for a few head coaches, and a couple of them already in the Hall of Fame, is something that I look upon as being special."
A special player, Farrior more than proved he was up for the challenge on the field. And now making his home in Southern California, he's doing likewise in his post-playing days.
"Right now, I'm really more of a stay-at-home dad," Farrior said with a laugh. "Me and my wife, Iman, we have four little kids, and she works fulltime. She's an author (Fore-play: A Woman's Golf Guide to Finding Love in the Rough), she's a lawyer, she's a real estate broker, and she's working for CAA [Creative Artists Agency].
"So that leaves me with a lot to do with the kids. I'm a car pool dad, afterschool programs, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, are some of the things that I do every day."