You’ve seen the commercial. Willie McGinest, the sagacious outside linebacker for the Cleveland Browns, is speaking winsomely into a cell phone: “I know, I made a mistake.”
Electric strings from Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky whine behind him. The video jumps to McGinest facing the camera, as he explains “I listen to my mom but just not on the football field all the time.”
That mom is Joyce McGinest, the woman who, as the commercial says, signed up the second of her three children––her only boy––for Pop Warner Football when he was seven years old. She viewed football as a means to keeping her Long Beach son busy and productive. Lo and behold, it did just that….for thirty years.
“Willie always said that he wanted to be a professional football player,” says Joyce. “So what is the best time to start? When you’re small, to give you the fundamentals.”
You know the cliff-notes to the rest of the Willie McGinest story: Part of the 55 Club at USC, a pioneer at the now ubiquitous hybrid rush-linebacker position early on with the Patriots, later a staple in New England’s three Super Bowl titles and now, a revered veteran leader for the burgeoning Browns. A cut below Hall of Fame caliber, McGinest nevertheless epitomizes everything that is right about the game. And he’ll long be remembered because of that. Alas, he will go down as a rare rock-solid piece to a dynastic puzzle––much like a Robert Horry or a Jorge Posada.
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