Cecil Shorts just finished watching his teammate Maurice Jones-Drew – a wrecking ball of a running back – take a shovel pass nearly the entire length of the field before being brought down by a chasing defensive back at the five-yard line. Down three points and within spitting distance of the end zone, the rookie wide receiver with one career reception split out wide to the right side of the field. The goal: capitalize on the work just put in by his Pro Bowl-bound counterpart.
From there, Shorts sprints off of the line, taking approximately eight lunges into the end zone stopping just short of the wide chalk line that marks the perimeter of the field of play. Marked by a man of equal height in Quentin Jammer, Shorts perfectly times his jump, twisting and contorting his body in mid-air as a ball being delivered by quarterback Blane Gabbert arrives. He is is being draped by Jammer who is apparently perplexed that a back-corner jump ball would be thrown to his man; typically, these routes are reserved for receiving options of larger stature, especially when compared to the defensive back in question. The result, on this night, would be Shorts somehow hauling in the pass despite wearing the pads of two men, configuring his body to face the rear of the end zone, planting both of his feet into the green grass before losing his balance and falling toward the corner.
The back judge reach into this back pocket, hurl his yellow piece of laundry towards Jammer’s feet and promptly raise both of his arms towards the sky, signaling touchdown. Approximately five seconds later, Shorts’ arms would do the same as this would be the first such a play of his young professional career.
It was just one week earlier when Shorts would make his first reception in the NFL. It was two weeks earlier when Shorts would be in street clothes on the sideline, watching his team lose on the road to his hometown Cleveland Browns as a slew of family looked on, likely feeling as helpless as he did. A shorter receiver who lacks top-end speed (vis-à-vis a 40-yard dash time of 4.50 seconds), Shorts will not remind anyone of AJ Green or Julio Jones. But what he lacks in size and by-eye measureables, he makes up in strength and want-to – the blue-collar, hard-working characteristics which we all claim to embrace. Sure, he went to Mount Union, a Division III school, but 4,700 yards is a a copious amount regardless of competition. Fast forward to today and Shorts has finally been given a chance to show what he can provide an otherwise woeful receiving corps.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are in a state of turmoil. Their head coach during the contest against the Browns, Jack Del Rio, is no longer calling the shots. The team’s interim head coach Mel Tucker not only has Browns ties as he was the team’s defensive backs coach in 2005-2007 and defensive coordinator in 2008, but he’s a Cleveland guy. Shorts has a fan in Jaguars general manager Gene Smith who has vocally disclaimed his concern for the lack of opportunity his fourth-round draft selection has been getting.
This is a natural response of a GM who is witnessing the rest of his employer crumble around him on a national stage. His head coach has been ousted, his team – playing in the third-smallest market in the nation and is frequently subject to blackout restrictions. forcing the team to shell out funds for the tickets – has just been sold to a Pakistan-born entrepreneur whom has been warmly received by fans donning fake, curled mustaches. After all, their teal-clad team is one of the long-rumored franchises to be packing up and heading to Los Angeles; this sale could only expedite this process as a new owner could potentially be willing to front the necessary relocation fee.
Amidst all of the chaos, there is a Clevelander. He will turn 24-years of age later this month. He was told that he didn’t block well enough, wasn’t fast enough and just didn’t have the size needed to compete at the next level; a poor showing at the East-West Shrine practice only continued to shove his draft stock into the third day. But in this world of sport, this inclusive Us versus Them mentality where we decide to cheer for and root on men based on colorway, foisting the remaining individuals as Them or the “bad guys,” Shorts deserves to be one of Us. He deserves to have the same applause given to him that would be provided to a post-collegiate athlete who calls Cleveland home by shear happenstance.
On a national stage in the brightest of regular season NFL lights, Shorts brought in a pass that put his team up on what was supposed to be one of their best opponents – surely one of the most-talented teams on paper – of the 2011 season. Though his team would not score again on this evening, being up 14-10 is certainly better than the alternative, supporting the emotional reactions of Shorts after the official signaled touchdown as well as those which occurred post-point after; Shorts, joining teammates on the bench with a cup full of Gatorade, diamond-studded ears which are catching the EverBank Field lights just right and an even brighter smile.
It was just a handful of years ago when he was walking the halls of Collinwood High School, even fewer when he was a part of a National Championship team with the Mount Union Purple Raiders. On this night, the most recent of all, when Cleveland was not taking the field or court, during a season that has provided us more to forget than to remember, Shorts provided a moment for which the entire city could be proud.