For years, George Adams wondered why.
Why did a promising NFL career with the Giants begin to unravel after a seemingly harmless play in training camp, just when he seemed ready to flourish in his second season?
Why did his dreams have to die? Why did his life’s direction change after his body betrayed him, preventing him from pursuing the career path he aspired to as a child growing up in Lexington, Kentucky?
The answers were slow in coming but revealed over time. And now, at age 56 and living his football dreams through his 24-year-old son, Jets safety Jamal Adams, he understands.
This is why you need to know about George Adams to understand what Jamal Adams is about.
“I know that I should have been doing more when I played for the Giants,” said George Adams, a running back chosen in the first round of the 1985 draft out of the University of Kentucky. “It’s just that I got hurt and couldn’t do it. But the man upstairs, he wanted me to do something else in life, and I think that’s the reason it happened the way it did.”
A freak injury led to Adams’ departure from the NFL. In training camp at Pace University in upstate Pleasantville in 1986, the Giants were in a limited-contact scrimmage. No tackling. Just get to the ballcarrier and stand him up.
“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Adams said by phone from his home in suburban Dallas. “It’s my second training camp, and I broke through the line and one of the defensive linemen dove and tripped me up.”
Adams went to the ground and immediately knew something was wrong.
“My femur popped out,” he said. “My whole left side was numb.”
He remained sidelined with a hip problem until later in training camp, when he suited up for the team’s annual preseason game against the Jets.
“Phil Simms threw me a pass, a little over my head, I couldn’t get it and I limped off the field,” Adams said. “I went to Coach [Bill] Parcells and told him I couldn’t do it.”
Adams had shown promise the year before, rushing for 498 yards and two touchdowns as a backup to Joe Morris. The Giants went to the playoffs before losing to the Bears.
Adams returned the next season as a potential starter, especially with Morris having contract issues. But that one freak injury ended his season and eventually his career.
In the next five seasons, Adams rushed for only 388 yards, one rushing touchdown and two receiving TDs with the Giants and then the Patriots. The pain was excruciating.
“I hurt so bad that when I went home, I had to crawl up the stairs,” Adams said. “My wife had to help me into the tub to soothe my hip. But I didn’t tell anybody because I loved the game so much and I wanted to play.”
Adams has never been the same. He has gone through two hip replacements and might need another in a few years. His left leg is now two inches shorter than his right, and every step he takes is a reminder of that fateful day in 1986. He walks with a pronounced limp, often uses a cane and regularly takes anti-inflammatory and pain medication.
But at least he knows why.
After retiring from the NFL, Adams started the G.A. Giants in Dallas, a youth flag football team he organized with his wife, Michelle. It was then that he developed a passion for helping young people, watching them play the sport he loved and shepherding them into adulthood.
Coaching his son Jamal was perhaps the greatest joy of his life. The elder Adams watched Jamal grow into a star high school player and elite college safety at LSU, then saw him taken by the Jets with the sixth overall pick.
The New York area was home again for the Adams family, and the connection is an intense one for father and son.
This is why:
“I started working with kids, helping them to be successful and to move on to their dreams,” George said. “God gave me a son and put him in a position to carry on. [Jamal] knows he’s there for a reason. He’s there to keep it going. I never told him that he’s better than I was and he’s better than I would have been, but he is. The man upstairs wanted to make him great, and he is.”
There are no regrets.
“I loved the game so much,” he said. “If I had to do it again, I would do it again. I didn’t force my son to play football. He wanted to play football. I always tell him, ‘Football doesn’t need us. Football wants us.’ Anybody can play the game of football. But we play the game from our heart. That’s how I was and that’s how he is.”
George disputed the notion that Jamal was being selfish when he recently became angry after learning that the Jets took calls about him in trade talks.
“He’s not selfish, he just wants to win,” George said. “It’s not all about him. He’s all about team. He’s all about winning. It doesn’t matter if the camera comes to him. If he’s winning, he doesn’t care. He’s a winner. He’ll give you 110 percent to win. When he says he wants to bring a championship to the Jets, that’s what he means. He would do everything he could to help that team.”
The two men discussed the fallout from Jamal’s angry belief that he was shopped (general manager Joe Douglas explained that the team simply took calls about Adams and other players before declining to trade them). “This is business, and it’s hard going through it,” George said. “[Jamal] loves the game. He loves football and he’ll give anything to play football.”
Jamal mentioned the connection with his father this past week when he told reporters he had resolved his differences with the Jets. “I want to bring success to this organization. I want to bring a Super Bowl to this organization,” he said. “That’s why I feel like I was placed in New York, to pick up where my dad left off. His career was cut short. I feel that’s my calling.”
George Adams will wear his No. 33 Jets jersey in the stands on Sunday at MetLife Stadium when the Jets face Adams’ former team. And though he still cherishes his time with the Giants and swears his NFL allegiance to Big Blue, this day will be different.
“There will always be a connection with the Giants, but I’ll be pulling for the Jets,” Adams said. “When the game’s over, I’ll pull for the Giants again.”
Most of all, he’s pulling for No. 33 on the Jets, the son who wants to make his father proud and carry on the legacy he couldn’t fulfill a generation ago.