Jeff Pearlman

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Jay Fiedler

#273
The finest Jewish quarterback since Sid Luckman can tell you all about emerging from Dartmouth, replacing Dan Marino and singing away at his Bar Mitzvah. Just no questions about the Miracle at the Meadowlands. Please. POSTED September 13, 2016

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If you’re a Jew, and you love sports, you can’t get enough of Jewish athletes.

I’m not entirely sure why this is, though it probably has much to do with that fact that, as a people, we sorta suck at things involving throwing and catching. Want your taxes done? We’re killer. Need an agent? We rock. Write a song, solve a puzzle, explain the meaning of life? We Jews have pretty much got it covered.

But sports? Eh … not quite.

That’s why today’s Quaz thrills me. Jay Fiedler—Dartmouth grad and my fellow Jew—spent nearly a decade in the NFL, bouncing around for a few years before landing the starting gig in Miami in 2000 (His task? Oh, nothing big … just replace Dan Marino). Jay wrapped his career with the Jets and Buccaneers, and his 69 career touchdown passes are 69 more career touchdown passes than you and I combined to throw.

Today, Jay is co-director of Sports Academy at Brookwood Camps, a New York-based summer camp program run by the Fiedler family. You can follow Jay on Twitter here.

Jay Fiedler, mazel tov. You’re the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Jay, while researching your career I was shocked—beyond shocked—to see that you’ve now been out of the NFL for more than a decade. This is actually something that happens to me quite often. I’ll look up a retired athlete, assume he’s been retired, oh, four or five years—then wind up surprised that it’s been so long. Or, put different, I feel like I was watching you a handful of seasons ago. What I wonder is, does it feel this way to you, too? Like, do you feel like a guy who hasn’t played in 10 years? Has it gone fast? Slow? Does it feel like another lifetime?

JAY FIEDLER: It’s funny you say that, because I feel the same way at times. Where did the years go? It still feels like it was yesterday when I was playing. The memories of the games and the locker room camaraderie are still so vivid so it doesn’t seem like that long ago, but when I get together with former teammates, I do realize that we are a lot older than we used to be.

J.P.: Kinda random, but since we’re both Jewish and I love Jewish jocks—how observant were/are you? Were you raised religiously? Bar Mitzvah? Did you parents drag you to synagogue? Do you feel like a cultural Jew? Religious Jew? Neither? Both? And how has been Jewish impacted your life?

J.F.: I was raised with a strong Jewish identity, but I won’t say we were very religious. Which is to say I did go to Hebrew school and I had my Bar Mitzvah in a reform temple, but did not go to synagogue after that. I do consider myself more of a cultural Jew with much pride in my identity. The sense of community and family that Judaism stresses has had a great impact on me.

J.P.: You had, by far, an above-average NFL career. You lasted more than a decade, you were a starting quarterback. But I wonder, what was the difference between you and superstar quarterbacks? I mean zero offense. But could you have been Marino/Elway/Steve Young/Brett Favre? Or are there physical or mental (or both) limitations? And what makes the greats great?

J.F.: As a competitor, I’d like to think that given the right opportunity and circumstances, I could be discussed in the company of the greats. The greats are great for a multitude of reasons. Each of the four you mentioned had different physical skill sets, but the commonality is incredible work ethic, instinct, dedication, grit, competitiveness and durability.

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J.P.: I’m guessing you saw “Concussion.” I’m also guessing you follow the CTE story. So I have to ask: A. How are you? B. Are you scared? C. How do you feel about football these days? D. Is the sport in any trouble? E. Are you OK with kids playing? I mean, I know you train players. So how can you/we make certain everything works out OK?

J.F.: I don’t need Hollywood drama to tell me what I already know. I have not seen the movie, but I am quite familiar with the story and the issues. (A): I have had a few concussions in my career, but I don’t currently have any after effects or post-concussion symptoms. (B): I wouldn’t say I’m scared, but I am aware of the potential issues I may face in the future. (C): I have always loved the sport of football and still do. Sports are all physical in a way, but football has become the face of the concussion issue because of its nature and its popularity. It’s the same popularity which makes the NFL, NCAA and High school associations great vehicles for educating the public about how to deal with concussions better than ever before. (D): There is a lot of talk about football being in trouble because of the lower participation numbers at the youth level. I don’t think the sport is losing many of the top level athletes though, so I don’t see the pipeline falling off too much. (E): Tackle football is not, and shouldn’t be a sport for everyone. Let flag football be the participation sport for youth, but tackle football should be only for those who are physically able to protect themselves on the field.

J.P.: What’s been your post-retirement path? I mean, you stop playing in 2006—and are you lost? Sad? Thrilled? I know you owned the East Kentucky Miners of the CBA—which is definitely quirky and interesting. And why did you ultimately join the family business and start running the Sports Academy at Brookwood Camps? And what does that entail?

J.F.: When I injured my shoulder in 2005 with the Jets, I thought that I would be able to return to the NFL after surgery. It ended up taking two surgeries and two years to finally realize that a return to play wasn’t going to happen. During that time rehabbing, I had the opportunity to get involved in a small way with a minor league basketball team in Florida. I grew up in a basketball family and always loved the sport, so when the opportunity to stay competitive in athletics after I officially retired from football presented itself by owning a CBA team, I jumped on it. It was certainly an interesting experience seeing professional sports from the other side of the paycheck.

I got involved with some other businesses as a consultant and business developer, but when my father’s health began to fade, it opened up the opportunity to join my brother in running our family’s summer camp business. We transitioned our traditional sleep-away camp into a combination of the best sports camps and traditional camps in one. With our connections in the sports world, we are able to attract world-class instructors at The Sports Academy at Brookwood Camps that no other traditional camp can match.  We give our campers amazing instruction in the activities they love, while also giving them a family atmosphere that allows them to have great summertime fun.

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J.P.: You’re famous for being the guy who replaced Dan Marino. At the time you played it very cool–but what sort of pressures did that come with? How did you handle it?

J.F.: I have always had a very even-keel personality with a practical outlook. I knew there was nothing I could do in Miami to match what Dan did with the Dolphins from a statistical standpoint, but I also knew that I could win games playing to my strengths. My focus was on earning the respect of my teammates by working hard and doing whatever it takes to win.

J.P.: Ryan Fitzpatrick is called “smart” 1,000 times per NFL broadcast because he attended Harvard, just as you were called “smart” 1,000 times per NFL broadcast because you attended Dartmouth. But does it matter? Like, is a quarterback from Harvard or Dartmouth at any sort of on-field intellectual advantage than a guy from Delaware or LSU or Washington State? And what did Dartmouth do for you, football-wise?

J.F.: I hated when they labeled me that way, not because I didn’t think I was smart, but because the way people said it implied that I wasn’t that athletic. To answer your question though, book smart and football smart are two very different things. It still takes a good deal of intelligence to be football smart, but you must be able to transfer intelligence from playbook and opponent study into instinct. The best thing Dartmouth did for me, football-wise, was put me in an environment where you knew that you needed to be exceptional at something to stand out and excel.

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J.P.: What’s the absolute worst pain you ever felt as a football player? And what’s the story behind it?

J.F.: The worst pain physically was when I tore my left shoulder in 2000, my first season in Miami. I got sacked against Tampa Bay and when the defender threw me down, I landed with my elbow in the ground. The force pushed my humerus bone right up through my rotator cuff. I had to play with a harness on my shoulder and couldn’t hand off with my left arm, but I played through it for the rest of the season and into the playoffs.

J.P.: Is it weird being remembered for something you can no longer do? Do you know what I mean? Like, I ran track in college—and nobody gives a shit. My wife was in a sorority at Bucknell—distant past. But if I say “Jay Fiedler” to people, they immediately think of you first and foremost as a quarterback. Is that OK? Does it get old? Do you mind telling stories from your career? Do you just wanna move on?

J.F.: That’s OK with me. It’s nice to be remembered for something, isn’t it? If it gives me the opportunity to meet new and interesting people, then I can always shift the conversation in the direction I want. I don’t mind telling stories from my career, just don’t bring up the Monday Night game against the Jets. That’s when I want to move on.

J.P.: Were I a professional athlete, I probably wouldn’t want to deal with me. What I mean is, I’d find the media annoying/irritating/intrusive. I’d probably wanna scream, “What the hell do you know?” So … what’d you think? How did you deal? What about after an awful loss, when you played like crap, and the questions come? How bad is that?

J.F.: I never minded answering the tough questions after a loss. I just didn’t like when journalists already wrote their stories before asking the questions. I also didn’t like the lack of originality at times. I must have answered the same questions a thousand times my first year in Miami after replacing Marino.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JAY FIEDLER:

• The world needs to know—what was it like playing with Dedric Ward?: Dedric caught two of my biggest completions in Miami during two-minute drills. One was a long gain to set up the game winning field goal against Denver and the other was a fourth down completion against Oakland on the game winning drive.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Gefilte fish, Olindo Mare, espresso, Dabney Coleman, Chris Childs, cranberry muffins, plastic silverware, Chick Fil A, public toilets, the Jaguars’ hemets: Olindo Mare, espresso, Chris Childs, cranberry muffins, Jaguars helmets, Gefilte fish (gotta have lots of horseradish with it, though), Dabney Coleman, Chick Fil A, plastic silverware, public toilets.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Never. I’m a good flyer.

• The five most physically talented teammates you ever played with: Randy Moss, Herschel Walker, Junior Seau, Ricky Williams, Jason Taylor.

• Five reasons one should attend Dartmouth over Yale, Harvard or Stanford: Amazing down-to-earth people, Sophomore Summer, the most Ivy League football titles, “Animal House”, the EBA’s chicken sandwich.

• Three memories from your Bar Mitzvah: Bad singing on the bimah, tons of food, first cigar.

• Do Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens belong in the Hall of Fame?: Yes

• What’s your secret quirky talent?: Wouldn’t be a secret if I tell you now, would it?

• I’d rather eat my Aunt Mary’s mucus than live for a prolonged time in Jacksonville. What am I missing?: The great golf in the area.

• Three interesting things you can tell me about your mother: She is a breast cancer survivor, she became a Browns fan as a kid when my grandfather took her to a football game against the Giants, she collects frog figures and artwork.

  • Paul C

    Oh, how very true. I know very few Jewish sports fans who do not “kvell” on learning that a prominent athlete is Jewish. After all, the old joke about “world’s thinnest books” still kind of stands (you know, “Book of Great Jewish Athletes,” “Book of German Humor,” and so on).

    Jay Fiedler may not have been the greatest QB, or even the greatest Jewish QB (I assume Sid Luckman is still in the convo). But he is without doubt the greatest Jewish QB of the “modern era.” And he (well, he and Dave Wannstedt, who will never be confused with Don Shula or even with Jimmy Johnson) even got his teams into the playoffs twice! 3 10-win seasons out of 4 with the Dolphins, including 2 at 11-5, an AFC East title, 2 playoff appearances and 1 playoff win. I’m sure current Dolphins fans would kill for a performance like that.

    But did he refuse to play on Erev Yom Kippur in 2000?

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

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