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View from the O-Zone: Mathis dignified, classy – and really good


JACKSONVILLE – This moment was appropriate. Absolutely and positively.

Actually, it was more than that. It was fitting, perfect, cool and any other word to describe something that feels right.

Rashean Mathis was back at EverBank Field Wednesday.

The occasion: the retirement of the best defensive back in franchise history who also may have been the best defensive player, period, in franchise history – and who certainly should be remembered that way.

"I'm not an emotional guy," Mathis said Wednesday afternoon. "But it's touching. This means a lot. It means a little more than I thought it would. When I was getting dressed today, I didn't know I was going to feel the feelings I feel today."

Mathis smiled as he spoke to the media in the team meeting room at EverBank Field. That smile surprised no one who knew him.

This was a nice guy, a classy guy, a graceful guy, a guy with perspective. He was a kid who played at Englewood High School in Jacksonville when the Jaguars were starting in the 1990s. After playing for Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, he got a chance to play for his hometown NFL team for a decade, from 2003-2012. He was fortunate, living a dream. He never seemed to forget that.

He talked to the media after victories – and after losses. He made time for fans in both situations, too. To hear stories from fans this week his grace and class extended to them, too.

Former Jaguars defensive back returned to Jacksonville to celebrate his memorable career as a Jaguar.

"To be a part of my hometown history is breathtaking," Mathis said, adding, "I don't know if I can put it in words. The city of Jacksonville means more to me than I'm sure I mean to it."

Yes, that's one way Mathis should be remembered: as class – pretty much all class. He brought that again Wednesday as he discussed a Jaguars career that spanned a decade, and a career that spanned three more years as a starter with the Detroit Lions.

That shouldn't be forgotten about Mathis. Beyond being a hometown kid made good – beyond being classy and a really good story – he was good. Really, really good.

He was an All-Pro selection in 2006. He started 10 years for the Jaguars. When the team opted not to re-sign him during the transition to the David Caldwell/Gus Bradley era in the 2013 offseason, he was a little more than a year removed from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

He signed with the Detroit Lions. Ten-year, post-ACL cornerbacks often sign with a team for a year and play as a reserve before deciding that's it. Mathis played three more seasons. He started 13 games in 2013, 16 in 2014 and started the first seven this past season at age 35 before sustaining a concussion that eventually ended his season.

That's 13 seasons – *thirteen *– as an NFL starter. That level of long-term effectiveness … well, it's not fair to say it never happens, but it's fair to say it ain't common.

Yes, Mathis said, he was proud of the career, proud of the longevity – and specifically, proud of finishing his career healthy.

"I always said it – and I think we all say it – that I wanted to leave the game and not let the game leave me," Mathis said. "I was able to do that. That's special to me. I'm not better than anybody else because I'm able to do that. I'm just blessed to be able to do it."

Yes, this was a man at peace Wednesday, a man who knew the time – while difficult – was right.

Will Mathis be in the Pride of the Jaguars? The guess here is yes, because the thought here is he may be the best defensive player in franchise history.

A franchise-record thirty career interceptions …

Memory moments, especially all those game-clinching, game-turning, era-defining interceptions against the Steelers …

Class, dignity …

All of the above count when defining a career, and Mathis had it all.

"I'm humbled just to be in the neighborhood of the guys who have done it before," he said.

Mathis spoke for about a half hour Wednesday. He talked about the golf career he hopes to pursue now that he can focus on the game full time. But before that, he thanked his hometown, and Bethune-Cookman. He thanked the Jaguars – former Owner Wayne Weaver, former General Manager Gene Smith, former General Manager James Harris, former Head Coach Jack Del Rio – for taking a chance on him. He even thanked the media – not just for praise, but for the negative things written and said that helped him grow, too.

"Through adversity proves a man," he said. "We go through things that aren't favorable to us. It's how you respond to those things."

Yes, Mathis did things right Wednesday, with class. As expected. As always.

His career had ended, as all NFL careers do. But it won't be forgotten. Nor should it. It was absolutely a career worth remembering, and honoring.

And that made this day really fitting, perfect and cool.

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