“The guy (Edgar) is barely taller than this podium, and this guy beat BJ Penn in a UFC Championship bout,” said Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. “Everybody counted him out."
After 13 mixed martial arts wins and 10 rounds with BJ Penn, you would guess that UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar has gotten nerves out of his system for good. But the pride of Toms River admits to a few butterflies after a Saturday night chat with the NFL’s New York Jets.
“Just like anything, I want to be successful at it and after the speech I kept asking (manager) Shari (Spencer) and my buddy who was there, ‘How did I do? How did I do?’ I wanted to make sure I did a good job. I didn’t want to speak just to say I did it; I wanted to actually get through to these guys.”
While many instances that see high-profile athletes or celebrities talking to sports teams before games are nothing more than photo ops, Edgar delivered a story that not only resonated with the AFC Eastern division leaders, it pushed them to a come from behind 30-27 over the Houston Texans Sunday that came with only 10 ticks left on the clock.
“The guy (Edgar) is barely taller than this podium, and this guy beat BJ Penn in a UFC Championship bout,” said Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, whose six yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes sealed the victory. “Everybody counted him out. They wanted a rematch and he went back and beat him even worse. Talk about a guy who is mentally tough and physically tough. He came in and spoke to the team last night. It was a perfect time. He talked about never giving up, being counted out, playing until the end; fighting and believing in yourself and your team and the people around you. Those were the only ones telling him he could win the fight. Everyone else was counting him out. I think there's a lot of people who counted us out tonight and last week and the week before that. We just look at each other look at the guys wearing the Jets decals and we know we have a chance until the thing is over. It was perfect for Rex to bring in a guy like that and give us a little extra inspiration so it was great for Frankie to come in.”
“It was so appropriate,” added offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson in comments to the New York Times. “That’s what this game was all about. Mental toughness.”
So what was the magic formula?
“Honestly, I was myself,” said Edgar, who defends his 155-pound crown against Gray Maynard at UFC 125 on January 1st. “I was thinking about writing stuff down, but I thought that me being real was the best thing I could do. We’re all pretty much the same age, we’re in the same boat in the public eye, and we’re athletes, so I thought that by being myself I would get through to them. I just told them my story, how I came up through wrestling, the ups and downs I went through, and that things didn’t come naturally. You gotta be tough and stay mentally strong and be willing to work hard.”
And after talking to and meeting with the members of “Gang Green” and making his way to the New Meadowlands Stadium on game day (where he sat next to Sopranos star James Gandolfini), Edgar felt an added kinship with the gridiron gladiators. That being said, he did have his heart in his mouth a bit when the Jets blew a 23-7 fourth quarter lead.
“When they had that lead, I was like ‘all right, cool,’” he laughs. “I definitely wanted to get that W. It’s the competitiveness in me. I didn’t want them losing after the talk I had with them.”
The Texans roared back, with two field goals by Neil Rackers and touchdowns from Joel Dreessen and Arian Foster giving Houston a 27-23 lead with 55 seconds left. Then Sanchez rallied his troops and finished things off with his touchdown strike to Holmes.
“When they were down by one, I said they gotta pull this out, and it was the perfect scenario after the speech,” said Edgar. “I brought up the (UFC 67) fight with Tyson (Griffin) where I felt like I was up on the scorecards and I got caught in that kneebar, and I had to tough it out, and that’s what they had to do yesterday.”
Photo credit – The Spencer Firm