The accessible linebacker: Bart Scott is built for unimpeded contact with hurtling blockers, the media
Each time the Jets or Giants play a football game, Capital will write about a home-team member who took part in it. This post is about Bart Scott, who played linebacker in the Jets’ 37-16 loss to the New England Patriots.
The interview was destined for YouTube sensation-dom before it even began. With ESPN reporter Sal Paolantonio waiting and with the camera trained on him, Jets linebacker Bart Scott stuck his arms straight out to the sides and jogged toward the stands, fixing his body in the Jets' airplane-like celebration pose. He then circled back to Paolantonio, but then dropped to a knee as if landing the plane, holding the pose with his arms still extended.
Then he commenced the interview, which by my rough count, including all the remixes, has been seen on YouTube around 2 million times.
“To all the non-believers! To all the non-believers!” Scott shouted, before Paolantonio, now stifling a laugh, could even get his first question off.
What followed was the completion of a sports rant for the ages, one that basically carried the same message—The media and the Patriots showed us no respect, so screw you both—from beginning to end. It was infectiously passionate. And it was funny, the culmination of Scott’s lifetime obsession with pro wrestling and belief that shit-talking is performance art.
Later, Scott would “blame” the rant on the Jets P.R. guy, who interrupted an argument he was having with the Patriots’ mascot for the Paolantonio interview.
“He shoulda known I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to talk rationally,” Scott said.
“I was talking about his chin and calling him the Samuel Adams guy," Scott said. "I told him to drink a Samuel Adams.”
The rant bespoke the Jets credo under Rex Ryan, a kindred spirit to Scott who coached him as defensive coordinator in Baltimore before they both came to New York in 2009: that the football media hype machine should be treated as something fun, and not with the life-or-death gravity that New York's stolid—or just stodgy?—N.F.C. franchise treats it as. (This approach sometimes gets out of hand, of course.)
It’s not just the Giants. Most players and coaches stick to the heckuva football team over there script when talking about their opponents.
Not the Jets. They write checks with their mouths and then relish the challenge of cashing them on the field. It’s all fun, it’s all exciting, and it all deviates so much from the standard platitudes. So when Paolantonio wrapped up the interview by telling Scott he’d see him in Pittsburgh for the A.F.C. Championship game, Scott’s response was perfectly, delightfully, hilariously unexpected.
“Can’t wait!” he screamed, uttering a phrase for which he has since received trademark protection, and around which he has launched a charity. Then he stormed off.
"CAN'T WAIT" PERFECTLY SUMMED UP THE SENTIMENT of Jets fans, and the players themselves, heading into last night’s game with the Patriots. The Jets were on the ascent, having won two straight games against quality opposition. The first win was of the plucky, galvanizing variety; the second was awe-inspiring. The Patriots, meanwhile, came into New Jersey as vulnerable as they’ve been in recent memory, after two straight losses.
The two teams had played before, when the Patriots won in Week 4, but for the Jets at least, the requisite buildup and intensity for that game had been missing. It was one of those early-season, still-feeling-things-out games. The Jets defense and running game hadn’t yet rounded into form. Scott’s media persona hadn't, either.
“Sometimes, it is better to be seen and not heard,” he told the Star-Ledger the week before that game. “Overexposure, don’t need it. If you talk all the time, nobody listens anyway.”
But as of last Sunday, the Jets were officially back to being the Jets. Stifling defense had returned. So had “ground and pound.” And so had Scott.
“Hopefully, we can beat the Patriots, and then flush that turd and move on to a short week into a tough environment,” he said after last Sunday’s game.
But for all the all the hype, for all Scott’s rediscovered boldness, last night was a dud for both him and the Jets.
You know the story: Tom Brady looked like Tom Brady again, the Patriots defense looked like a Bill Bellichick defense again, and the Jets looked like a second-place team again.
Scott himself was on the field less than one-third of the time: With the Jets defense geared toward stopping the Patriots’ pass-heavy offense, they replaced Scott with a defensive back for long stretches of the game. Scott might have been on center stage last January, but last night he was a bit player.
On one drive, he was a foil for Tom Brady’s brilliance. With the Jets having cut the Patriots’ lead to a touchdown heading into a fourth quarter, Brady orchestrated a drive that showed the futility of mixing and matching defensive personnel groupings when the Patriots’ offense is clicking. With Scott off the field, Brady, working in a no-huddle offense, called four running plays out of six plays, advancing the Patriots into Jets territory. Scott came back onto the field, and Brady promptly responded by completing two passes in the next three plays. Scott came back off, then back on. He was on the field when Brady completed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Deion Branch that put the Patriots up by 14 with eight minutes remaining.
Two plays later, when Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich intercepted a Mark Sanchez pass and returned it for a short touchdown, the game was over.
SCOTT DIDN'T PLAY AS MUCH AS HE NORMALLY does, but even when when he plays the usual number of snaps, there’s a disconnect between his persona and his contributions on the field. With the media, he’s out front and visible. As a player, what he does is more subtle—if equally uninhibited and fearless.
Scott and David Harris are the team’s two inside linebackers, but the way the defensive scheme is drawn up, Harris gets more chances to make tackles because Scott has to contend more with blockers.
“The scheme is that I’m generally always to the bubble," Scott said in an illuminating interview with the Pro Football Focus website in July. "Meaning that I’m always the guy that has the uncovered lineman looking me square in the face with no resistance in front of him."
“A lot of times, in certain fronts, they have guys you need to go through to get to them," he said. "I’m easy access. I don’t mind that because I don’t mind contact.”
Scott’s eleven-year career is nothing if not his testament to his eagerness to smash through obstacles. The first of these obstacles was the 15-block walk through gangs and drug dealers in inner-city Detroit that Scott made every day from home to high school. (Scott’s upbringing under the watchful eyes of his mother and older sisters is the subject of a Gay Talese story that will be made into a Warner Brothers film.)
He starred as a high school football player, but his low SAT scores rendered him ineligible for college ball until midway through his senior year. Because of this, he received just one scholarship offer, from Division I-AA Southern Illinois. He wasn’t drafted after a college career played in relative obscurity. The Baltimore Ravens were the only NFL team to send a scout to campus to work him out.
But they liked what they saw, and he quickly gained attention on special teams for his lust for contact and lack of regard for his body. In 2005, his fourth year in the league, Rex Ryan was promoted to the Ravens’ defensive coordinator position, and Scott became a starter at linebacker. He has started under a Ryan-coached defense ever since.
Along the way, his reputation as a maniacal player has only grown. His nickname, The Mad Backer, speaks to this pro wrestling-infused persona. In a segment on HBO’s "Hard Knocks," the documentary about the 2010 Jets training camp, Scott is seen engaging Washington lineman Artis Hicks in a fight. Hicks outweighs Scott by 75 pounds, but Scott doesn’t back down. The camera catches Mike Pettine, the Jets defensive coordinator, in a moment of exasperation over Scott’s incessant antics.
“This fucking Bart guy,” he says into his headset to the coaching staff.
Then Ryan’s voice is heard in Pettine’s headset.
“Guys, I told him to play this way. But—” He pauses. “Not reckless, but I told him to play with passion.”