By now, Maurice Jones-Drew's refusal to take a fourth-quarter touchdown against the New York Jets has been widely witnessed, argued about, and gushed over.
For those who managed to miss its coverage in the sports media, Jacksonville's vertically-challenged star running back skidded to a halt one yard from the end zone on the Jaguars' game-winning drive in New York last weekend.
A score would have given his team the lead, but Jones-Drew's play (dialed up, for the record, by much-maligned head coach Jack Del Rio) allowed Jacksonville to retain possession for a decisive last-second field goal.
In the aftermath of the Jaguars' 24-22 win, "unselfish" has been the adjective most often used to describe Jones-Drew's kneel-down—an odd word choice, considering his stated ambitions for Jacksonville's 2009 season.
Throughout the year, ESPN.com blogger Paul Kuharsky, among others, has noted Jones-Drew's insistence that the Jaguars are the NFL's best team and that they have their sights on the Super Bowl. Through spirit-dampening losses to the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans, Jones-Drew has remained optimistic about his team.
Even when speaking out to demand the ball after Jacksonville's blowout loss in Seattle, Jones-Drew's concern was for the offense as a whole.
"[Opponents need] to respect the run game," he said in his postgame press conference. "That's going to open up the pass game and open up the run game later on."
With his own interests tied up with the Jaguars' success, the truly unselfish play for Jones-Drew this past Sunday, really, would have been to give New York the ball. Jets defenders Jim Leonhard and Darrelle Revis were close by, and either would surely have accepted such a self-denigrating sacrifice.
(In fact, the replay shows Revis trying to "accept" it after the whistle had blown.)
For a player so concerned about winning, taking a knee to keep the Jets' offense off the field was practically selfish—and that's a good thing.
The popular conception of a "selfish" football player is that of a black hole who demands attention and revels in statistics, personal accolades, and big-money contracts.
Notorious personalities like Buffalo Bills receiver Terrell Owens ("I love me some me!") and former Jets receiver Keyshawn Johnson—author of Just Give Me the Damn Ball! —strike fans as self-interest personified as they bounce, dissatisfied, from team to team.
Recent examples include former Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson, who "tweeted" about breaking franchise rushing records amidst his team's struggles, and Dallas Cowboys receiver Roy Williams' outspoken dissatisfaction with his targets from quarterback Tony Romo.
But as Johnson has fallen to injury fill-in status and Williams' Cowboys have struggled with their passing game chemistry, ironically, Jones-Drew's team-first play has brought him the national media attention and Pro Bowl votes—191,123 as of Tuesday, second in the AFC—that such malcontents crave.
Beyond following Del Rio's orders to forgo a sure touchdown, Jones-Drew has used every bit of energy and grit in his 5'7", 208-pound frame to fight for Jacksonville in his four years with the Jaguars.
Whether throwing vicious blocks in pass protection (as Shawne Merriman of the San Diego Chargers can attest ) or shoving quarterback David Garrard forward on sneaks, his high level of effort without the ball in his hands is the mark of a player who takes pride in bearing subtle burdens in pursuit of team triumphs.
In short, Jones-Drew's the kind of player whose selfish desire for the joy of winning is a blessing for his team—even as his agent determines how best to account for the missed score in his next contract extension.