The differences between New York and Minnesota are much greater than those Big Apple/MinneApple slogans of yesteryear let on. Just ask new Vikings linebacker Cowart.
The changes are immense, yet his new setting is familiar … in a Buffalo sort of way.
Cowart was drafted by the Buffalo Bills with the 39th selection in the 1998 draft. He played there for four years before signing with the New York Jets in 2002. He spent three years in Buffalo and two in New York playing for defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, and Cowart's reputation went from rookie to one of the best middle linebackers in the league to being a guy the Jets thought was worth trading for a seventh-round draft choice. The Vikings – especially Cottrell – were only too happy to take advantage and see that trade happen.
Injuries played a part in the Jets' decisions to accept little in return for Cowart, and the defensive leader admits that his sprained knee still might not be 100 percent.
It was his injury that led to a whole lot of consternation and frustration in New York. The Jets wanted him to play before it was healed, and Cowart, growing weary of New York, didn't want to jeopardize the rest of his career by trying to come back too soon.
"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?'"
He and defensive end John Abraham both had second-degree knee sprains, Cowart on the outside, Abraham on the inside. "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."
He had already had surgery on that knee in college, so rushing back from a medial collateral ligament sprain wasn't something Cowart wanted to do. He felt that could put his career on the line.
"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, 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. New York got mad with me," he said.
The reason for their anger, according to Cowart, was that the Jets wanted him come back from his injury and he got a second opinion from his doctor in Florida. When that 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 job.
Eventually the Jets and Cowart came to terms – not with how his injury was handled, rather that it was time for a change for both player and organization.
Once players are in New York for a period of time, they tend to get defensive and try to cover for themselves, he indicated. Eventually, that can lead to an adversarial relationship between the players and the major media in the market or even the players and the front office or coaching staff.
"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 seems to be put off with how the Jets let go of their long-term veterans like Vinny Testeverde, Marvin Jones and Mo Lewis without any fanfare for those recent franchise icons.
"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. It's a team atmosphere. You take care of your players, they take care of their veterans."
When Cowart came to Buffalo, he was playing alongside guys like Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, Phil Hansen, Ted Washington, Henry Jones, John Fina, Rueben Brown and Doug Flutie.
Now Cowart is one of those veterans that the young linebackers of today look up to. This time Cowart is in purple and mentoring the younger players while still trying to prove to others that he is the elite linebacker he says he is.
If he's fully recovered from his injury, the Vikings expect him to prove that while leading a defense looking for great things.
Injury Contributed To Cowart Trade
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