Jeff Nixon: Fame is a Vapor

Posted on November 9, 2009 by Jeff Nixon

While the Bills’ players licked their wounds during the bye week, it was also time for them to do a little soul searching. This includes more than merely getting back to the fundamentals of football, it means taking a long look in the mirror and deciding what they can do to get better on and off the field.

I was fortunate to have a trainer during my tenure with Bills by the name of Ed Abramowski. His name hangs on the wall of fame at Ralph Wilson Stadium, not only because he was good trainer, but as a testament to his dedication to the organization.

“Abe“, as we called him, kept a poster on the wall in the training room that read “Fame is a vapor, riches take wings, the only thing that endures is character.” That saying has been forever etched into my brain because it’s both true and often prophetic.

Professional football is a short lived career for most players lucky enough to don the NFL uniform.  The average career for most players is around three years and during that time you must take advantage of the opportunities that are put in front of you. When the Bills drafted me, they were looking at the future and knew their current free safety, Tony Greene was nearing the end of his career. He was a two-time Pro Bowler, but injuries were taking their toll and the Bills needed to prepare for the day when he would hang up his cleats. Tony Greene was not just a great player, but also a class act.  His character was far and away the thing that impressed me the most.

Here I was, this rookie brought in to eventually take Tony’s job, but instead of giving me the cold shoulder, he embraced me, tutored me, coached me and made me feel like a true member of the team. I slowly worked my way into the starting lineup and replaced Tony, but I still lacked the experience and character he brought to the team.

I have to admit, I was a cocky, bigheaded and often arrogant young football player.  Fame came to me very quickly because I had a lot of immediate success on the football field. I tied Butch Byrd’s record of six interceptions in my rookie year.

In my second year in 1980, I had three interceptions and a fumble recovery in the home opener against Miami, which helped us end the longest losing streak (20) against one team in NFL history.

The following week I had an interception against the Jets and ran it back 50 yards for a touchdown.  The very next week I picked off another pass, bringing my total to five in just the first three games of the year.  By that time there were signs in the stadium that said “Nixon for President”.  Tell me that wouldn’t inflate a person’s ego the size of the Goodyear Blimp!

But as Abe’s poster in the locker room constantly served as a reminder, Fame is a vapor, and in the fifth game of the season I injured my knee.  Well, actually it was Ed White of the San Diego Chargers who injured my knee but the point is this; Every player needs to remember they are part of a team and need to check their egos at the door if they want to be triumphant.

I know some Bill’s fans will cringe when I say this, but this “team” concept is why the New England Patriots have had so much success over the past 10 years.  Bill Belichick has done a masterful job in getting his players to believe they need to sacrifice the “one” for the “many”.

I also believe that players themselves should develop a “team first” attitude. When Jim Kelly decided to build what amounted to a nightclub in his own home, a lot of the players would go there after games - instead of hitting the town on their own - and that did something to develop a camaraderie off the field that translated into wins on it.

The current Bills are a mostly young team still searching for its identity. With younger players, it’s harder to build the team concept because they’re more concerned about making the team, sticking there, becoming a starter and retaining their job.  Some of the veteran players need to rally these young guys and tell them that they can make a difference.

One youngster is already knocking it out of the park.  Jairus Byrd broke my team rookie record by nabbing his seventh interception last week. By all accounts it looks like he’s headed towards a special career.  You don’t luck into always being around the ball, it’s a skill you either have or you don’t, and Byrd has it.

I hope it doesn’t go to his head. If it does, all he needs to do to get back down to earth is take a stroll through the locker room and see those prophetic words Abe posted on the wall for each generation of players to read…….and heed.

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2 Comments on Jeff Nixon: Fame is a Vapor

  1. John Marshall

    Great article, Jeff! Your experience and Abe’s words are much needed lessons in the world of sports and the game of life. Your contributions in the Buffalo area are further testament to the quality of person you are. Well done!

  2. Web Rumblings: Buffalo Bills Links, 11/9 | Buffalo Bills Blog

    [...] Jeff Nixon: Fame is a Vapor : Buffalo Sports DailyFormer Bills DB Jeff Nixon discusses fleeting fame, team first attitude, and Jairus Byrd in hopes that all this instant fame and success doesn’t go to his head. [...]

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