"The type of injury that I had was something they were saying, 'You can play with, you can play with, you can play with.' My whole thing was, you got a guy [Jonathan Vilma] who can play the Will [weakside linebacker], so why bring me back?" Cowart said. "I know how the New York media is. If I get out there, and wasn't playing up to the par I was in the first two games, [they'd say], 'If Sam's not healthy, why put him out there?'
"I told Donnie [Henderson, the defensive coordinator], 'I'm not trying to come back until I'm at least 90, 95 percent. I don't want to get out there and jeopardize the team and jeopardize myself.' It took a while before I was confident and able to cut, run and do stuff without thinking about it."
Cowart returned after missing six games. The reason he didn't want to rush back was that he had surgery on the same knee in college. He didn't want to suffer a potential career-ending injury.
"It was more than just the New York Jets 2004-2005. It was about Sam Cowart down the line," he said. "I always consider myself a team guy. I work hard and do what the coaches ask me to do no matter what the situation is. But I felt at that point in time I had to do what was best for Sam Cowart."
"Everybody in that [New York] locker room knew what the situation was," said Cowart. "[The Jets] got mad with me."
The reason for their anger, according to Cowart, was the amount of time it took to come back from the injury. He also thinks they weren't thrilled he got a second opinion from his doctor in Florida.
When Cowart's trip to the Florida doctor was reported in the media, he says the Jets became upset with him and made it look like he was frustrated because he lost his starting job.
After the season, Jets management and Cowart agreed it was time for a change for both the player and organization.
The New York market clearly wasn't a good location for Cowart, a soft-spoken Southerner.
"To understand New York, you've got to be in New York. A lot of people say, 'Why did Keyshawn [Johnson] act like he acted? Why did Mo Lewis not talk to the media? Why doesn't Curtis Martin really talk?' You've got to be there to understand," Cowart said. "The thing about New York, they paint their own picture. Everybody tried to paint a picture, like Sam is being pushed for his job. If you ask anybody that was in New York Jets training camp last year, it wasn't even close [between Cowart and Vilma's playing ability]. If you saw the first two games, it wasn't even close. I was playing on a Pro Bowl level."
Cowart clearly harbors some lingering bitterness towards the Jets organization. He doesn't like how they handle the departure of veteran players, pointing to fellow linebackers Marvin Jones and Mo Lewis as examples.
"How they did me this year, they may do that to Vilma in four or five years," Cowart said. "I guess I got a little spoiled in Buffalo. Buffalo kind of reminds me of here [Minnesota]. It's a team atmosphere. They take care of their players, they take care of their veterans."
Cowart will be able to let out some of his hostilities against Gang Green this Friday.
(Tim Yotter contributed to this story)
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