How can one not root for Johnny Jolly?


Johnny Jolly in 2009, at the height of his career with the Green Bay Packers.

Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Johnny Jolly is on the comeback trail as he makes an attempt to regain what he once had as a defensive lineman of the Green Bay Packers.

Out of football for the past three years because of personal mistakes he made against himself, Jolly was recently married, is serious about rehabbing his mind and body, and is determined to get his old job back with the Packers.

Jolly was never a bad man – except to himself. He didn’t rob, rape or pillage. He didn’t drive drunk and crash and kill others with his vehicle. What he did was become consumed by drugs – and was caught with those drugs in his possession – a lot of drugs – and more than once. The league and the Packers tried to help, but he was too buried in the culture and the habit to break it. He had to sink to the bottom in order to be resurrected.

Johnny Jolly works out during organized team activities at Clarke Hinkle Field in Green Bay. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports photograph

And he did. He ended up in prison – a place that was so shocking to him that he appealed to the court to release him under their terms so that it wouldn’t ruin his life. The court obliged and Jolly did, too. He has been on the road to recovery ever since and is now working on getting back into football shape to have a chance to play once again with the Packers.

On his situation with codeine, Jolly said this earlier this spring about how he got into the culture and how grateful he is to be away from it:

"“I was a bad man. I mean, it was crazy because I knew I needed to chill but it was like I was getting a thrill out of what I was doing so I was just doing it. In my heart, I was like, I need to chill. I’m a football player and I need to take care of myself the other way. But sometimes you lose focus. You can’t get yourself back on track so God sits you down and puts you back on track and that’s what happened to me. I hate that I had to go through that, but it was a lesson learned. The lowest point? When I caught that last case. It was like, oh my God. I know I didn’t do this again. It happened so I had to deal with it. I done everything I needed to do and I’m back here. I ain’t going to say I was perfect, but I’ve done everything I was supposed to do the best way I could and God blessed me to be back in this situation.”"

Turning himself around will be one of the best stories in the NFL if he’s able to get the monkey off his back, earn a spot on the roster and become a contributing member of society once again.

Here is a tweet of a picture that Jason Wilde sent to Jolly this morning. This pretty much says it all:

Johnny Jolly, September 2009.

Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Today, he talked about his wife, Voniecia, saying this: “Oh yeah, she stays on my ass.” But more importantly, he talked about his future – even beyond football. As a newlywed, it seems he’s getting his priorities straight, saying that if he is cut he would go back to college.

Jolly is more than just today’s feel-good story. He’s in it for the long haul and seems to understand that if he can’t make it in football, there’s a life waiting for him outside the stadium.

I, for one, can’t understand why anyone can’t be rooting for Johnny Jolly.

And I, for one, hope that he makes us all proud. But if he doesn’t make the team, I hope he makes himself and his family proud.

Because in the end, that’s all that matters.