Putting Johnny Jolly's Talents Back to Work

Collapsing into the worn hotel furniture, the shades had been drawn for days with only slits of light illuminating Johnny Jolly’s 320-pound figure slumping into his created confines.

Blanketed in the dull blue flickering of the television screen, Jolly watched as the 2010 Green Bay Packers won the grandest prize in sport – the Super Bowl. Lost in spiraling numbness from a combination of depression and excessive consumption of codeine, Jolly could only watch in agony as the team he had been identified with, vaulted to the elite status.

In recent memory, these cautionary tales have sprouted like thick weeds (cough* Tyrann Mathieu cough*). A routine of sorts has emerged with the apology tour commemorated with tears and remorse.

As if the game these men played was taken from them.

Look at JaMarcus Russell’s recent ESPN infomercial for Jeff Garcia‘s training camp. Gushing waterworks and destructive backstories seem to go hand-in-hand.

Johnny Jolly in better times.
Raymond T. Rivard photograph

However in Jolly’s case, he was not a first-rounder or a touted prospect, but a child from a broken home looking for guidance in the wrong places.

Incredibly athletic for his size, Jolly was an immediate contributor to the team transitioning to the 3-4 Dom Capers scheme. Devouring blocks, and notably making a one-handed interception of Bears’ QB Jay Cutler in 2009, showed the outstanding potential of the Texas A&M product.

The play embodied the Jolly that Green Bay came to love. Sucked into a block on a screen play, Jolly struggled against the grain of the lineman and reached with every inch to gobble the ball with his enormous hand.

Lowering his shoulders, Jolly plowed through the Bears’ lucky first responders and defiantly went to the ground.

Now 30, Jolly’s life has moved further away from the play and has been replaced by a caravan of arrests, eventually leading to his 2010 suspension.

“Me losing football is like losing a loved one,” Jolly admitted to ESPN, tears streaming down his face.

Living in the poisonous prison of crack addicted parents, Jolly’s formative years were watching his father and mother crippled by their own addictions.

Jolly’s weapon of choice was not any safer.

Prescription cough syrup, or referred to as, “lean” in his Houston home, has sprang from relative obscurity to the fare of tabloids everywhere in recent years, and has attracted the kind of release from everyday worries that plagued Jolly.

Johnny Jolly (left) and Ryan Pickett.
Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Known to produce euphoric highs similar to heroin, the habit can turn deadly, by lowering motor functions and can lead to fatal impairment of breathing.

Destructive tendencies associated with the drug can be seen outside of the gridiron with Famed rapper Lil Wayne (ironically a Packers fan) having experienced life-threatening seizures connected to his blatant abuse of “syrup.”

In broader context, 33 people in Pakistan last December died from intoxication of the same drug, and numerous high schools and colleges around the United States are trying to suppress the expanding culture.

Genetically predisposed to addiction, and growing popularity only speed Jolly’s collision toward repercussions.

Thus, the cycle continues.

Reinstated and back on the Packers’ roster, Jolly has the ability to contribute immediately. With an aging line and unknown outcomes of defensive ends like Mike Neal and Jerel Worthy, Jolly can bring experience and talent lacking at the position.

Does Jolly’s story seem different from the rash of other problem players, or does Jolly have a unique case in leading to his downfall?

Johnny Jolly in 2009.
Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Second chances come seldom, but fate and life lessons could bring Jolly back to the forefront of a defensive resurgence for Green Bay.

Now it is up to Jolly to push against the wave of resistance, and reach out like his trademark play, grasping opportunity and pushing through his obstacles to the glory that awaits.

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