Pro Bowl Selection An Experience To Remember For Saints’ Jermon Bushrod
HONOLULU – It was sometime late in Jermon Bushrod’s senior season at Towson University that Jerry Bushrod started to really believe his son was special.
There had been whispers for some time that Bushrod, from King George, might have the size, toughness and ability to one day make it to the NFL. The Towson coaches always thought that. If opposing coaches didn’t, they quickly found out.
But with one phone call to the Bushrod household late that year, reality caught up with Jerry and his wife, Brenda. On the other end of the line was an NFL scout, one of many who would place a call to the Bushrod residence over the next several weeks as each began to do his homework.
“I mean, when he was born, I thought he was special,” Jerry Bushrod said. “The coach [Gordy Combs, now retired] was saying he had the potential to take it to the next level. Then the scouts started calling and I thought, ‘Wow, he does have the potential to take it to the next level.’”
Potential, at some point, becomes ability. Ability becomes achievement. And the day before the Pro Bowl, the NFL’s annual all-star game, Bushrod, representing the Saints as part of the 43-man NFC team, is able realize something.
He’s now achieved everything.
OPPORTUNITY PRESENTS ITSELF
Success didn’t come quickly for Bushrod, and it sure didn’t come easy. Inactive for all but six games in his first two years with the Saints – and asked to play in only three of them, all on special teams – Bushrod was still immature and inexperienced when he took over as the Saints’ starting left tackle for the first game of the 2009 season.
A fourth-round pick out of Towson in 2007, Bushrod was buried on the depth chart behind Jammal Brown, who had just come off his own Pro Bowl appearance, and Zach Strief, entering his fourth year.
But before the season, Brown injured his hip – an injury that would sideline him for the year – and Bushrod earned his way into a starting role.
He played all but one game that season and, though he allowed 7.5 sacks, the offensive line played well enough for the Saints to earn a trip to Super Bowl XLIV, where they defeated Indianapolis 31-17.
“That year was a huge learning experience,” Bushrod said. “I got the opportunity to start and to play in numerous games. I had the opportunity to learn how the offense clicks, and just for me, it was a way to get better day in and day out.”
Brown was traded to the Washington Redskins the following June, and Bushrod took over as the team’s full-time starting left tackle. In July, with the owners’ lockout finally over, Bushrod decided to remain in New Orleans, agreeing to a two-year, $9.8 million contract that included a $3.5 million signing bonus.
And as the Saints continued to smash records on offense – quarterback Drew Brees set the single-season passing record, throwing for 5,476 yards – the team continued to roll. It finished 13-3, winning the NFC South title for the second time in three years, before being upended by San Francisco 36-32 in the divisional round of the playoffs on Jan. 14.
That was crushing to Bushrod and the rest of his Saints teammates, many of whom believed the team had an honest shot to win the Super Bowl yet again. But the loss did free up Bushrod, Brees and three others from New Orleans for one previously scheduled commitment – a trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.
“It was never a goal of mine to play in the Pro Bowl because I never thought about it, truthfully, at all,” Bushrod said. “It’s a great accolade, I guess, that just tops off a good season. But when I write my goals down at the beginning of the year, I never write ‘Make the Pro Bowl’ down on it. That’s never what it’s about.”
There were many nights when Brees, himself among a handful of NFL players with a larger-than-life work ethic, would notice a light on in New Orleans’ offensive line meeting room.
Often, he’d peek his head in and see Bushrod sitting there, reviewing film of recent games or of the Saints’ next opponent.
“I’m so proud of him, you know?” said Brees, talking about Bushrod’s selection to the Pro Bowl. “He’s one of those guys, a lower-round draft pick, and to work the way he has to bide time and wait for his opportunity … you know what you’re going to get out of him every day.
“He’s a student of the game, a guy who wants to be a great player, and I’m just honored that I have him on my left side, protecting my back side, because that guy’s [a quarterback’s] best friend.”
Pro Bowl voters – a combination of players, coaches and fans – not only recognized Brees and Bushrod for their accomplishments, but they also selected New Orleans left guard Carl Nicks, right guard Jahri Evans and tight end Jimmy Graham to play in the game.
“I think all along, we played extremely well,” said Evans, who is in his sixth season and will make his third Pro Bowl appearance. “He came in, a small school guy like myself, and he got better and better each day. Now he’s a Pro Bowl player. I mean, it’s definitely great to have him out here, and it’s always good to have your teammates out here because it makes it even better.”
And, for Bushrod, family helps, too. Jerry and Brenda made the trip, as well as Bushrod’s paternal grandparents, his sister Ashley, and Bushrod’s fiancée, Jessica Mendez.
That meant the conclusion of Saturday’s practice was a perfect time for Bushrod to stop and take pictures in one end zone with his family. The week-long schedule arranged by the NFL, which should have allowed for plenty of rest, was often taxing and the demands were constricting. Bushrod, in what should have been one of his happiest moments, looked as though he struggled to force a smile for all the cameras.
Deep down, though, Jerry knew, his son was having fun.
“Oh, he’s enjoying it,” said Jerry, a smile on his face. “You may not be able to tell it from his expressions all the time, but he’s enjoying it.”