Maurice Jones-Drew isn’t known for throwing the football.
The UCLA alumnus has gone on to have an illustrious career in the NFL as a running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars, making countless alumni and fantasy owners proud along the way.
But Jones-Drew got a chance to demonstrate his throwing abilities on Friday; not with a life-size football in a game, though.
Jones-Drew was busy throwing out giveaways to fans at UCLA’s North Athletic Field, where the NFL PLAYERS Rookie Premiere’s celebrity flag football game took place.
“There’s nothing bigger than the city of Los Angeles for football, except maybe New York,” Jones-Drew said while reflecting on his transition from UCLA to the NFL. “At the end of the day UCLA kind of set me up to do anything I wanted to.”
Already an established player as a professional, Jones-Drew was on scene to assist this year’s crop of incoming rookies on their transition to the NFL. But Jones-Drew’s main responsibility was as a coach in the Celebrity v. Legends flag football game, which also included former Bruins Steve Bono and Ryan Nece.
Despite the presence of several prominent NFL legends, including Hall of Famer Warren Moon, as well as 36 rookies, fan attendance for the event was relatively small, not even filling up the North Athletic Field bleachers.
Former Denver Broncos running back and flag-football game participant Terrell Davis, who is still in tremendous shape despite having retired from the NFL in 2002, said that fans might feel jaded by the league because of the current work-stopping lockout.
“To cancel games, nobody wins doing that. The NFL is going to lose big time, lose the fan base,” Davis said. “People are already fussing about the ticket prices being too high. … If you’re not catering to the fan base and you cancel games, that’s a selfish move by the players and the league.”
The flag football game seemed to not be the focus for most attendees, however. Rather, fans seized the opportunity to get autographs and take pictures with their favorite rookies as they came up one by one to the sidelines.
For example, take recently drafted 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. While taking part in an interview, Kaepernick withstood numerous chants by a small contingent of 49er fans armed with jerseys and mini-helmets ready to be signed. As soon as the interview ended, Kaepernick jogged over to the fans with a smile on his face and was greeted with huge applause.
Third-year economics student Al Calvanico said he enjoyed the event and didn’t expect to get close to as many of the players as he did.
“It was cool getting to see all of the rookies. I didn’t think they would all come up to the fans like that,” Calvanico said. “But I’m a Jets fan, and I wish some of the Jets players would have been here.”
In addition to the fans, members of the rookie class also seemed to enjoy the event as they could be seen joking around with one another throughout the course of the evening. Some teams even had multiple players at the event, such as the Cincinnati Bengals, who had quarterback Andy Dalton , as well as wide receiver A.J. Green, taking part in the festivities.
“It’s fun to be out here with all the guys, getting to know everybody,” Green said. “It’s always fun to have most of the rookie class here.”
When asked about the upcoming season, the majority of players said that they were excited and couldn’t wait to suit up for their respective teams. But Davis had some truly humbling words for those who have yet to prove themselves as professionals.
“You kind of rewind things. I remember when I was that age, not knowing what the future holds,” Davis said. “The fact of the matter is that most of those rookies aren’t going to pan out, that’s just the way it is. There’s going to be some guys who are studs, and some guys who, in two or three years, won’t be around.”
But don’t tell that to the fans who ran from sideline to sideline to get a glimpse of their favorite player. Because to the people who buy the jerseys and pay for tickets, any one of the players in attendance could be the next Maurice Jones-Drew.