- Posted: 12:29 PM, December 8, 2010
The most remarkable story behind this minor transaction, however, is about the player the Jets didn’t sign — safety Keith Fitzhugh, who also spent training camp with the Jets before being cut before the season.
The Jets actually called Fitzhugh Tuesday before they called Cook and he politely turned them down because he didn’t want to give up his full-time job as a train conductor for Norfolk Southern railroad outside Atlanta because he needed the steady work to help support his parents.
With starting safety Jim Leonhard out for the season with a broken leg and backup James Ihedigbo expected to miss Sunday’s game against the Dolphins with a knee and ankle injury, the Jets wanted to bring in a player who knows their system. Fitzhugh, who was at the last two Jets training camps, fit that bill.
Unfortunately for the Jets, Fitzhugh’s NFL dream wasn’t strong enough to wrest him from the security of his day job.
“I’ve got something now where I know every two weeks I’m getting a paycheck,” Fitzhugh told The Associated Press. “That’s what helps out the most right now. I don’t knock the Jets at all. I highly appreciate them.”
Fitzhugh’s father is disabled and cannot work and his mother has had trouble making ends meet. So he’s living at home helping to support them. His family is close, particularly after his younger sister, Brittany, died at age 14 from West Nile Virus some five years ago.
“I know I haven’t won a Super Bowl; it would be a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” Fitzhugh told NJ.com. “But you only get one mom and one dad. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I’d rather be there for my mom and dad than go for a Super Bowl chance.
“That’s why I’m so strong about being around family now. Life is short, and you never know what will happen. When I went through the period of time being unemployed, my family was there for me. I didn’t want to take a risk and lose everything again, especially when I have a great job like I do now.”
Fitzhugh, knowing the reality of being at the bottom of an NFL team’s roster, a place that’s in constant flux with no stability, was concerned about giving up his full-time job for a roster spot on the Jets that might last a week or two.
He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Jets in May 2009, was waived in August and added to the practice squad in September. In December of 2009, he was signed to the Ravens’ active roster and spent the playoffs with them. The Ravens, however, didn’t bring him back so he spent some of training camp with the Jets last summer, but didn’t stick.
That’s when he landed the job at Norfolk Southern, where he’s worked for about three months.
“I don’t want to let them down or run from them because I got a shot for a couple of weeks,” he said of the rail company. “I just feel that that’s not right at the moment. I’m looking more long-term in life right now than the short-term.
“I was released three times; that’s a lot. I just don’t want to give up what I have now and say that I’m there for a couple of weeks and then I’m released again. Then, what am I going to do? It’s really tough. It’s the nature of the business.
“I know the Jets have a great opportunity of making the Super Bowl, and that’s one dream that every child has is to play sports and make it to the Super Bowl or get to the World Series. But, there’s a time when you have to think, ‘Hey, you’ve only got one Mom and Dad.’ They won’t be here forever, and while they’re here, you’ve got to cherish that time.”