Commentary

Ex-Jet Farrior eyes third Super Bowl ring

Gang gave up on its first-round pick in '97 draft -- and Steeler has never looked back

Updated: February 2, 2011, 9:39 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- James Farrior is a Same Old Ex-Jet. He's back in the Super Bowl.

While his former team continues to chase that elusive Super Bowl berth -- 42 years and counting -- Farrior has a chance to finish his career as one of the winningest players in Pittsburgh Steelers history. And that's saying a lot.

[+] EnlargeJames Farrior
Al Pereira/Getty ImagesThe Jets took James Farrior with the eighth pick in the 1997 draft, then let him go to Pittsburgh as a free agent in 2002.

Farrior arrived in North Texas on Monday, looking for his third Super Bowl ring in six years. He's the emotional leader of the Steelers' defense, a smart, tough, productive linebacker -- everything the New York Jets thought he'd be when they selected him eighth overall in 1997.

Back then, Farrior was a quiet, unassuming player that struggled at times under the weight of enormous expectations. To him, it seems like a lifetime ago.

"I felt like I was born to be an inside linebacker in Pittsburgh," he said. "I really don't think about anything else."

Farrior played five seasons with the Jets, leaving in 2002 as an unrestricted free agent. He started to blossom in 2001, leading the team in tackles, but the Jets let him walk and signed former Buffalo Bill Sam Cowart as his replacement. Cowart was a gamble, coming off a ruptured Achilles' tendon, and never returned to his previous Pro Bowl level.

In retrospect, it was a huge mistake by the Jets. At time, though, it didn't create much of a stink. Nobody knew what they were losing. Miscast as an outside linebacker in two different systems -- Bill Parcells' 3-4 and Herm Edwards' 4-3 -- Farrior failed to live up to his lofty draft status.

"We had him in the wrong position, but guys like that find a way to make it in this league -- a tough, reliable, smart, talented player with no personal problems," Parcells told ESPNNewYork.com. "The cream always rises. He's a special kid."

Farrior harbors no bitterness toward the Jets. Why would he? He's enjoying a storybook career in Pittsburgh, where he has flourished as an inside linebacker in the Steelers' traditional 3-4 scheme. Check out his resume: Two Pro Bowls, one All-Pro selection and runner-up for NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2004.

"Now I'm the old guy in the locker room," Farrior, 36, said with a laugh.

Parcells figured Farrior would grow old as a Jet. In 1997, Parcells owned the No. 1 pick in the draft, but after Peyton Manning decided to stay in school for another year, he traded down twice and selected Farrior out of Virginia. He passed on a pair of tackles, Orlando Pace and Walter Jones, who probably will wind up in the Hall of Fame.

Farrior was a part-time player from 1998 to 2000, feeling the wrath of the fans and New York media.

"Being in New York, it definitely taught me how to deal with the media," said Farrior, the only player from the '98 Jets (AFC finalists) still active. "It can be pretty brutal up in New York. I had to learn fast that when things are going good, it's fine and OK. But when it's going bad, you have to be prepared for the worst."

Farrior fondly recalled some of his old coaches in New York -- Parcells, Bill Belichick, Romeo Crennel, Al Groh, Todd Haley and Eric Mangini, all of whom became head coaches. He said they taught him the game and how to be a professional. Interestingly, he didn't mention Edwards or Ted Cottrell, Edwards' first defensive coordinator.

When Farrior's contract expired in 2002, he didn't create a free-agent frenzy. The Steelers, normally reluctant free-agent spenders, were the only team that showed a sincere interest. They had it right. Now here he is, nine years later, trying to make his career a three-ring circus.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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