My favorite Nick Mangold memory occurred in the summer of 2008, when he botched an exchange with his new quarterback and was instructed by then-coach Eric Mangini to run a penalty lap around the perimeter of the New York Jets' practice field at training camp.
The new quarterback was, of course, Brett Favre. There were some glitches because this was only their second practice together -- Favre had just arrived in a trade -- but the hard-driving Mangini wasn't about to make an exception just because the guilty parties happened to be a future Hall of Famer and a Pro Bowl center.
So they ran, side by side, and the Favre-obsessed crowd -- thousands of spectators -- rose to its feet in applause as the old gunslinger jogged around the field, smiling. Within minutes, video of the lap appeared on YouTube, back in the day when YouTube moments were still considered cool. Mangold was an afterthought -- the other guy -- but he relished the oddity of the scene, later remarking it was the first time he had been cheered for making a mistake.
A decade later, it's time for Mangold to take another lap -- a victory lap.
This time, he will be alone in the spotlight, deserving of the praise and congratulations that will come his way in the coming days and months. On Tuesday morning, Mangold announced his retirement, surprising no one. He will be feted next Tuesday at a news conference at the Jets' headquarters in Florham Park, New Jersey, where he will sign a ceremonial one-day contract and walk away as a Jet.
Perfect endings don't come along too often in sports. This isn't perfect -- Mangold was stung by the team's decision to release him 14 months ago -- but it's pretty close.
Mangold and Hall-of-Fame finalist Kevin Mawae, whom he succeeded in 2006, are the best centers in franchise history. Mangold was named to seven Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams in 11 years, but it would be wrong to limit his legacy to one position. He was more than a premier center; he was one of the best offensive players to wear a Jets uniform. Period.
In fact, the only player on offense to receive more first-team, All-Pro honors than Mangold is former tackle Marvin Powell, who accomplished it in 1979, 1981 and 1982.
For 11 years, Mangold was the rock of stability on offense. The coaches changed, the coordinators changed and the quarterbacks changed, but Mangold was the pillar. He anchored an offensive line that ranked six times in the top 10 in rushing, including the No. 1 ranking in 2009. That year, their line was the best in football -- D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Alan Faneca, Mangold, Brandon Moore and Damien Woody.
With Mangold on the field, the Jets played with two quarterbacks. He was a cerebral player who astounded teammates with his knowledge of the entire offense, not just the line or his position. He was the traffic cop and, at times, a big brother to the young quarterbacks who were thrown into the fire as rookies, namely Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith.
"In my 11 years as a Jet, there were plenty of ups and downs but, through it all, I wanted to be the Steady Eddie," Mangold said in his retirement announcement. "I wanted to be the guy that other guys looked at to see how it was done."
Mangold, 34, is an absolute lock for the Jets' Ring of Honor. But the Pro Football Hall of Fame? That will be tough.
He was one of the top two or three centers in the league over the course of his career, but it's difficult for centers to break into Canton's elite fraternity. Look at Mawae. His credentials are stronger than those of Mangold, and he's still waiting for his Hall call. Mawae was an eight-time Pro Bowler, a three-time All Pro and a member of the NFL all-decade team for the 2000s, and yet he has come up short as a finalist the last two years.
Like Mawae, Mangold never reached a Super Bowl. Came close -- twice -- but no Lombardi Trophy. He called it the "biggest regret" of his career.
Otherwise, it was a wonderful career. Enjoy the victory lap.