- Ray Ratto
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Jeff Thomason is the project manager for a New Jersey construction firm, which brings to mind about 340 Sopranos jokes.
He is also going to be a back-up tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles on Super Bowl Sunday, which brings to mind another intrusive hour of Steve Sabol putting it all into perspective for us.
That is the only foreseeable down side to this delightful little tale of dumb luck run feral. Thomason, at age 35 and a retired 10-year veteran who had a satisfying but unprepossessing run, gets a job he didn't apply for with folks he hasn't seen in two years.
Plus, he gets a game check, plus he gets either $36,500 for being on the losing team or $68,000 for being on the winner, plus he gets two weeks off the job, plus he gets to be Everyman.
In all, a small price to pay for being subjected to NFL Films and intense media scrutiny for a fortnight.
There have been other similar tales of civilians getting the big promotion: Tim Mazzetti, the old Atlanta bartender-turned-placekicker. Vince Papale, the old Eagle special teamer. Trey Junkin, the last-minute long-snapper who helped crush the New York Giants several years ago. Hank Poteat, the Patriots cornerback who was taking classes at University of Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, and will be on the opposite sideline from Thomason in the Super Bowl.
And back in the really good old days when players worked without facemasks or discernible salaries, everyone moonlighted.
But Thomason is more qualified than most last-minute signings (he's been to the Super Bowl twice with the Packers), so it's really the fact that he has landed in Hog Heaven, football-ically speaking, that makes this so amusing.
It would be a better story if he hadn't played for that decade in Cincinnati, Green Bay and Philly. It would be wackier if he hadn't caught 67 passes, including 10 for touchdowns, in those 10 years. It would be downright hilarious if he weren't the most physically imposing New Jersey construction project manager anyone can remember.
This would be the time for those Sopranos jokes.
But as stories go, it's good enough.
For one, he wanted to stay retired, unlike most athletes who have to be dragged out while clawing at the doorjamb. He is only doing this as an extraordinarily well-paid favor for his pal Chad Lewis, the Eagle tight end who sprained his foot in the NFC Championship.
For two, he might actually catch a ball Sunday, because the Eagles use the tight end for more than a guide to help the tackles know when to stand.
And for three, how many more Terrell Owens stories can a person absorb between now and game day? I mean, any diversion at this point would be not only welcomed, but hailed as an advancement of Super Bowl Week arts.
Owens' health has been an ongoing nagging point for weeks now, and it has grown exponentially in the past few days, especially now that his doctor has said the wide receiver shouldn't play in the big game.
That's the kind of story that brings out the "Now, I'm no doctor, but ..." kind of media frenzy that makes most people gouge at their eyes in exasperation. Can he? Will he? Should we want him to? Can he hop his routes? How does this affect Todd Pinkston?
God, help defend us from ourselves.
Thus, the Jeff Thomason story is one of those feel-good tales that help break up the high-octane monotony. It isn't "Rudy," because he's twice as old, this isn't Notre Dame, and Thomason did have a pretty full career. But it isn't a bad movie in the making, no matter how hard the Sabol Family Singers try.
Still it isn't T.O. Redux either. It isn't Rush Limbaugh, Football Analyst. And it isn't Bill Belichick's Brain: An Eight-Part Story.
It is, frankly, a relief, with a natural sequel.
Namely, the story of how a New Jersey construction project manager took an unmerciful load of abuse from the fellas on the line for not making a huge impact in the game.
That is, unless he does, in which case all bets are off, NFL Films/bad movie-wise.
Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com
So the Eagles sign up a ringer for the Super Bowl, a "project manager" from a "New Jersey construction firm" no less.