Shawn Nelson trying to find home with Jets
Shawn Nelson would have enjoyed playing against the Bills Sunday, lining up opposite a few former teammates he considers brothers.
It could have been therapeutic for the Jets' new tight end, who is looking for some normalcy after the painful loss of his mother.
"I know I've only been here a few days," said the former Bill, who signed with the Jets on Monday. "But one play. I just need one play. Whether I catch a ball or not, whether I score a touchdown or not -- just to be on the field with this group of guys and knowing how hard they work, and knowing that everybody wants to succeed and everybody helps each other to succeed."
Though one play might ease Nelson's pain -- he said he essentially had to will himself to put on a uniform again, pick up a football and attempt to get back into the game he adored -- he will be inactive Sunday.
"When I did come up here and worked out last week on the bye week, I pushed myself to do it," Nelson told Newsday.
Nelson's heart had been pierced. Lynette Marie Nelson Gibbs, the person he loved more than anyone, lost her battle with cancer at age 56 just weeks after Nelson was released by the Bills on Sept. 3.
It was one crushing emotional blow after another that still grips the 275-pound Louisiana native, who lost his father 18 years ago.
"I still get restless nights," said Nelson, 26, in his third year of pro football after a college career at Southern Mississippi. "I can't really sleep and my appetite is bad. But I push myself, though. And there are people here that are willing to help you, that are concerned about you and really want to help you be successful on and off the field. And I like that."
A leg injury sidelined Nelson for most of the Bills' training camp. He wasn't coming off a good second season, in which he sat out the first four games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy and played in five games, catching three passes for 25 yards.
Jets coach Rex Ryan said he previously had his eyes on Nelson, tantalized by his 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash and 6-5 frame with a lengthy wingspan. People knew he was a good receiver, but Ryan was looking more at his pass-blocking potential.
"I'm like, 'Shoot, if he'll pass-block . . . he can run- block.' So that was a guy that we definitely wanted,'' Ryan told Newsday. "That was a guy that I wanted, and when he became available, we jumped at that opportunity."
But it took longer than either expected. While he was off training and getting ready for his next move, Nelson's phone rang with a dreaded message.
"I got a phone call that I needed to go home and take care of my mom," he said. "She was real sick and I had been pushing the Jets back for 31/2 weeks. I was taking care of my mom. What in the world could be more important than that?"
She passed away on Oct. 6, six days after his return to Louisiana, leaving him too shaken to play football.
"I knew she had it, but I didn't know it was that bad," Nelson said. "She would always tell me she was OK, but I knew it was because she wanted me to focus on football and stuff. But she knew how I feel about her. I lost my dad at 8, and going through that and not having both parents -- I don't care what age you are -- that's tough."
"Whew. That's a hard thing," Ryan said, "especially a young man growing up that way. You definitely feel for him. The good thing about our place is we have professionals like Sara Hickman and we have other players that have been through similar things. Hopefully, we can mentor him."
"It's positive over here," he said. "I love the GM, I love Rex Ryan, I love my position coach . . . The food is also good here, too. It's real different at the cafeteria and the stadium. I'm a Louisiana guy, so food is a big thing."
It won't replace his mother's cooking or love, but it's a start.