When he’s not ducking 300-pound men trying to rip his head off, Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles tries to be a good husband and live a normal life.
That means listening to his wife, Whitney, who helps take care of their two children. Which means going to the grocery store when she asks him to.
“I try to help her out,” Charles said.
While this might seem like a standard task, going out in public is complicated for an NFL star like Charles, who can’t go anywhere without people approaching him.
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“I mean, I tried disguises,” Charles said with a grin. “But you know what I’m saying, sometimes it doesn’t work too good. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s crazy. The dreads definitely give me away. … And if I cut them off, people will probably still recognize me.”
Chiefs announcer Mitch Hothus can attest to this. He caught a glimpse of what life is like for Charles last year during a weekly radio show. A crowd of hundreds descended upon a South Kansas City restaurant to catch a glimpse of the player who has become the Face of the Franchise, like Tony Gonzalez and Derrick Thomas before him.
“He’s hit superstar status,” Holthus said. “We had it in too small a venue and people just flocked to him. … he now is more like when Gonzalez or D.T. would go out.”
That’s life as The Man.
According to the team, Charles sells 40 percent more jerseys than the rest of the team combined, and this year, he’s sold three times as many jerseys as the next-best seller.
So when the Chiefs recently created an oversized jersey to place on a statue outside of Union Station, they didn’t pick the No. 11 of quarterback Alex Smith — who just agreed to a four-year, $68 million contract extension. They picked Charles’ No. 25.
“Clearly at this point, he is the most well-known Chief, regarded as one of the best players in the National Football League,” owner Clark Hunt said. “And when you have one of those players, it’s very, very exciting.”
But life as The Man, even in a laid-back town like Kansas City, isn’t always easy.
Sometimes Charles wants family time. Maybe a meal at a restaurant. A visit to Chuck E. Cheese with the kids. Or a shopping trip.
But going out incognito is not an option.
“It’s all the time, not just one time,” Charles said. “Every time I go somewhere, there’s always a situation where somebody comes up to me and asks for an autograph or wants to have a conversation or shake my hand.”
Charles said he does his best to accommodate these requests in public, though things get complicated when he’s trying to hang out with his family.
“Sometimes when I’m with my kids, it’s hard,” Charles said with a laugh. “(Fans) want to take pictures and they’re running all over the place and I’m like ‘Man, I’m with my kids … next thing you know, (my kids) will be out of my sight, so I can’t take pictures right now.’”
But Charles said he is not complaining. He said when he goes out in public and sees people wearing his jersey, it never gets old.
“You perform, you get the love,” Charles said. “You don’t perform, you don’t get the love.
“So I understand that. I know that. I think I’m very blessed to be in the position I am, and I’m very blessed to play a role in this community.”
It wasn’t always this way, though. Interestingly enough, Charles attributes his rise in popularity to fantasy football.
He said people started noticing him in public in 2009, which marked the first time he rushed for more than 1,000 yards. The attention reached a crescendo last year, when he posted career highs of 1,980 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns.
Charles, 27, was so brilliant last season that he got a new contract this year even though he had two years remaining on a very team-friendly deal. The Chiefs willingly restructured his terms before training camp to give him an additional $5.1 million over the next two seasons.
Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said the club felt it was important to reward a player who not only excelled on the field, but did all the right things off it, too.
“It’s staying true to your word,” Dorsey said. “All along, we’ve said that if you do perform, we’ll try to work on things. And we did that.”
Hunt agreed, stressing the long-term importance of taking care of the Chiefs’ best and most popular player.
“It’s interesting,” Hunt said. “Probably a year or two years ago, Jamaal was an incredible player and had produced several great seasons, but I don’t think people were talking about him as a potential Hall of Famer. And I think really, that dialogue has shifted now.
“And if he can go on and be successful and healthy for the next several years, that’s certainly something that he could potentially achieve.”
During the first month of the season, Charles likely will surpass one significant milestone that will help his Hall of Fame cause.
Charles is only 247 yards shy of Priest Holmes’ franchise career rushing mark of 6,070, and Holthus is still tweaking what he plans to say when the big moment comes.
But he’s not giving any hints.
“No, no, no, that stays in here — it’s locked in the soul,” Holthus said with a laugh. “It’s going to be something, though. Because this cat deserves it.
“He deserves something that will be played 20 years from now, on whatever form of media we’re using, where his kids are gonna go, ‘Yeah, OK. That’s my dad.’”
Charles’ 5,823 career rushing yards ranks 91st all-time in the NFL. Thirteen of the top 18 backs who have cracked the 11,000-yard barrier have made the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and LaDanian Tomlinson will eventually make it 14.
That barrier could be difficult for Charles to reach, given his age and the multipurpose way in which Chiefs coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson use running backs. But with two or three more seasons like last year, when Charles led the AFC in rushing, he’d be a candidate.
His teammates aren’t betting against him — even this season, behind a largely unproven offensive line.
“I think the package on the offense that Coach Reid and Doug put together speaks for itself,” Smith said. “It’s comprehensive enough, especially with his role, that it’s tough to defend. You can’t defend all of it.
“If they want to give Jamaal a bunch of attention, then other guys are going to have opportunities, and we need to capitalize.”
And while a running back’s production tends to tail off at age 29, Holthus is optimistic Charles can maintain his level of play beyond that, for two reasons.
“One, Andy Reid’s offense and the way he schemes,” Holthus said. “And two, (because of backup running backs) Knile Davis, De’Anthony Thomas and Cyrus Gray, because they’ve shown the acumen to take some of the carries and touches away from him.”
But there’s no doubt who is the star of the bunch, the man who will pack the Chiefs’ radio show when it’s Charles’ turn to appear this season.
This time, Holthus said, they’ll be ready for all the additional attention that will come with his appearance.
“We’ll do it in a very different way,” Holthus said with a laugh. “We’ve got to bring him in a secret entrance.”