The story of Jets rookie Jamal Adams: A father's pain, a son's gain

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- If his father hadn't injured his hip 31 years ago, Jamal Adams might not be where he is today -- the highest-drafted safety since Eric Berry in 2010, a soon-to-be-millionaire and a potential star for the New York Jets.

That may sound crazy, but follow along.

In the summer of 1986, at Pace University in Pleasantville, New York -- only 60 miles from the Jets' facility -- George Adams chipped his pelvis in a training camp practice with the New York Giants. He was a 225-pound running back, a big dude in those days. And talented, too, as a first-round pick in 1985. He was expected to be the lead horse for Bill Parcells, but the hip injury was serious and he missed the entire season, which ended with a Super Bowl title. He was never the same player after that.

It was a life-altering injury for Adams, who needed two hip replacements and still walks with a pronounced limp. It turned out to be life-altering for Jamal too.

When Jamal started excelling in football at a young age, his father -- coach of Jamal's pee wee team in the Dallas area -- switched him from running back to safety. He still played a little running back at Hebron High School, but that wasn't his primary position.

"I didn't want him to play on that side of the ball ... because of me," George Adams said. "I had two hip replacements and I'm still in pain every day. You can see one of my legs is shorter than the other. I didn't want him to take licks, I wanted him to give the licks."

Father knew best.

The move to safety was as natural as a sunrise -- or maybe, in this case, a son rise. Adams has dominated at every level -- pee wee to college -- paying homage to his pops by wearing his old number (33) at every stop along the way, including the Jets.

At Hebron, he lived up to the school motto ("Bring the wood") and became one of the nation's top recruits.

At LSU, he enhanced the school's reputation as "DBU," drawing comparisons to Tyrann Mathieu -- aka the Honey Badger.

On draft day, Adams somehow fell a few spots to the Jets, a mini-tumble during which people in the draft room were trying to will him to the sixth spot: Come on, come on. The next day at the facility, office staffers stopped what they were doing and clapped as Adams walked the hallways during a tour of the building.

"A freaking gift from the football gods," an opposing scout said of Adams' fall to the Jets.

After 48 years without a Super Bowl, the Jets probably deserved a break from the often mean-spirited gods. It might be a stretch to say the drafting of Adams could be a turning point for the franchise -- that's usually reserved for a quarterback -- but his talent and winning attitude will help change the culture.

"I feel like it's meant to be," he said of the fit with the Jets. "It's a lot of guys [on defense] who don't have a lot of experience. There aren't too many vets on the back end. We're young, but I think we'll be fine."

Scouts who observed LSU's practices say Adams was the leader of the defense, the organizer, the player who raised the intensity level on the field. He has always been that way, always a fierce competitor. Well, there was that one time ...

"At the age of 3, he was chasing butterflies and looking at airplanes in the sky," his father said. "He came back at the age of 4 and he was just a totally different kid. We started running a few plays and I was like, 'Wow, I guess he must have been paying attention.'"

By 8, Adams was a human missile crisis, launching his tiny body into jittery ball carriers. He hit so hard that some opponents raised the white flag, cutting short games because they were worried about the safety of their players. He wasn't dirty. He was just fast and tenacious, and his tackling technique was flawless.

"A lot of guys didn't want to play against him," George Adams said. "In the league we played in, he made a couple of those kids never want to play football again. I'm serious. It's just the way he was. He was a different kid. He was just different."

Jamal's former high school coach, Brian Brazil, first noticed him in a pee wee scrimmage, long before he coached him. His own son was playing Jamal's team, and he was blown away by what he saw.

"I never saw a kid that age come up and tackle like he did," Brazil said in a phone interview. "I was like, 'Wow, that's impressive.'"

One time, George took Jamal to Michael Irvin's youth football camp, where Jamal made a tackle that caught the attention of the host.

"Michael looked at me and said, 'George, you got you one,'" the proud dad said.

Meaning a player with a bright future.

A generation ago, George Adams was that player. He still ranks fifth on the all-time rushing list at the University of Kentucky. He was the 19th pick in the '85 draft, ahead of future Hall of Famers Andre Reed and Kevin Greene, now the Jets' outside linebackers coach. He showed promise as a rookie, but then came the hip injury.

He sued the Giants in 1996 for damages related to his second hip replacement, but he harbors no bitterness toward football. It's the family business; the Adamses became the eighth father-son tandem to be drafted in the first round. George said he had no reservations about letting his son play.

"He started loving the game of football," George said. "This is the game I loved and still love. Even though I'm in pain every day, I still love the game of football."

Jamal said his dad never talks much about his physical condition, but it provides unspoken motivation. It's a daily reminder that one play can alter a career. Accordingly, he plays with relentless passion, never taking the game for granted. He was the same way in high school, pushing it to the extreme.

"He always had a swagger about him," Brazil said. "He was very confident. Some people might call it cocky, but he always wanted to win. It's never about Jamal."

Soon, Adams will sign a fully guaranteed contract for more than $22 million, a crazy amount of money that can get into an athlete's head and mess with his drive and sense of reality. Will that happen to Adams?

On the Monday after the draft, Brazil looked out on the practice field and saw two figures in the distance, working on defensive back techniques. One of them was a kid from the area, an Ohio State-bound cornerback. He was doing the listening.

The one doing the teaching was Adams.