So here was Chiefs megastar Jamaal Charles, he wants you to know, zooming toward training camp when his car sputtered out of gas at some vague location along Interstate 29.
Stranded with a dead cell phone, he started the long trudge onward and couldn’t even get a lift from a passing fan.
“Nah, I had a hoodie on,” he said, smiling. “Nobody knew it was me.”
This was all a joke, of course, hatched from Charles’ playful post Wednesday on Twitter saying he never intended to hold out. It was just that circumstances left him a little behind.
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But here’s the part that wasn’t a joke, the part that illuminates why Charles is the rare athlete whose side of a contract dispute seemed to be favored in the court of public opinion, the part that reminds you that Charles radiates heart as much as his indomitable play suggests.
Charles, in fact, had no intention of holding out for what became a boost from the absurdly undervalued 11th-highest paid NFL running back to a more befitting second-highest at $8.3 million this season.
Now, that probably doesn’t mean he couldn’t have been coerced into it by his agents.
And it also doesn’t mean he would have been wrong to do it … even with two years left on his contract: He is the Chiefs’ best player, after all, enjoying the fickle glory of playing a volatile position in a dangerous game. He only has so long to wring what he can from it.
Still, even with clear leverage, Charles had no stomach for holding out. The gesture would have grated against his belief and value systems and, really, seized him in its own clutches as much as it would have put the Chiefs in a bind.
“That’s not my personality,” he said. “I couldn’t do it.”
From Charles’ perspective, it would have felt like grandstanding and, worse, a trespass against the trust of his team.
Yes, he knows he’s a special player and makes it known he expects to have a Hall of Fame career.
But he also appreciates being part of something bigger than him.
So much so that after he made a flickering suggestion that he thought he could have gotten more if he’d mustered a holdout, he quickly added, “I’m just happy with what I have for right now. I’m just wanting to build something here and build a championship. I want to win a Super Bowl.
“It’s more than just trying to hold out. I didn’t want to be selfish like that.”
A cynic might doubt his sincerity.
If he wouldn’t quite have spent his days in a fetal position, he no doubt would have been in the throes of an awkward sense of faithlessness that he couldn’t embrace, or even bear, the idea of.
Instead, he believed the Chiefs would do right by him for doing everything and more that he could be asked on the field and for staying out of trouble and trying to inspire kids.
And, well …
“I think I’m a great person,” he said, as innocently as someone could say such a thing. “I’m a good guy.”
No wonder coach Andy Reid “figured it would all work out.”
“I knew he wanted to be here and do his thing,” Reid said.
No wonder linebacker Derrick Johnson didn’t doubt he’d be here despite the wrangling that came to light in the last few days.
As it happens, though, the negotiations evidently had been going on for some time despite the fact Charles participated in organized team activities and never publicly squawked, let alone let it be known.
And good for the Chiefs in all this that they apparently took the initiative to try to amend this after Charles, 27, earned his third Pro Bowl berth after last season.
“We’ve been talking about it. … They came to them,” said Charles, meaning the Chiefs went to his agents and added that the Chiefs “knew at some time that I knew I wasn’t going to play for what I was making next year.”
Even if he wasn’t really prepared to hold out for a new fortune.
“I wanted to do it, but it’s just not me,” he said. “I’m not a cocky player; I’m not one of those players (to do) that to my team. I’ve always been a team player my whole time here.”
And that’s no joke.
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.