When Playing Big Isn't Enough

When I was playing up in Buffalo, I would sometimes take the quick one-hour flight to New York City on my off days, and spend the day there. On one of those trips, I was walking down the street in NYC and a couple fans came up to me.

“Shawne! Shawne! What’s up, man? We’re big fans … Lights Out!!!”

We talked about football for a minute. You know, their favorite memories of games they’d seen me play back in San Diego — the usual stuff I talk about with fans.

Then one of the dudes looks at me and says, “So what are you up to now? Are you still playing?”

I was thinking, Damn … yeah I’m still playing! But I was cool about it and just told them I was up in Buffalo doing my thing and trying to get back healthy after all the injuries I suffered in my last couple years in San Diego.

That’s life when you’re playing in a small market. Sometimes people forget you’re even playing the game.

Tyrod Taylor broke the Bills’ franchise record for consecutive pass attempts without an interception on Sunday. He’s thrown six touchdowns in his last two games (along with one rushing TD), and on Sunday, he threw three TDs against the Texans, who have the league’s third-ranked pass defense. He’s only thrown four picks all season.

And you probably didn’t hear about it, because he plays in small-market Buffalo.

Look, I’m a part of the national media, so I get it. We gotta talk about the teams with the largest fan bases and the biggest names. We gotta make sure we’re talking about what people are talking about on social media. And in that cycle, there are some guys playing some great football who get lost in the shuffle. Even Cam Newton didn’t start getting the recognition he deserved for what he’s doing in Carolina until Week 9 or 10, because he plays in small-market Charlotte. People were talking more about his touchdown celebrations than his being an MVP candidate. Meanwhile, Tom Brady was getting all the attention for being undefeated up in New England. And now that that Patriots have lost two in a row, the Pats are still getting a lot of attention — because they’re still the Pats.

Let me tell you what it’s really like for a player playing in a small market.

In my last season in Buffalo, we had a Thursday night game against the Dolphins. National television. Our only primetime game of the season. I was used to having four or five nationally televised games a year back in San Diego, because it was in that Southern California market and we were winning a lot of games. That wasn’t the case in Buffalo, where win or lose, you’re lucky to get more than one national game on your schedule. So when that Thursday night game came on the schedule, I was thinking, National TV … I gotta show out.

Early in the game, I put a spin move on Jake Long on a pass rush and pulled my groin. I pulled it hard, too. It was bad. But I was so amped up for a nationally televised game that there was no way I was coming out of the game. I played the rest of the game on that pulled groin. Late in the fourth quarter, I broke through and sacked Ryan Tannehill. Then I got up and did the Lights Out sack dance.

It felt like forever since I’d gotten a sack on national television. I remember thinking, Yessss! People finally get to see me do this dance one more time!

We won the game, and when I got to the locker room, I had 50 text messages and a ton of emails. People back in San Diego. Family in the D.C. area. Friends from overseas. Everybody was hitting me up — because they all saw the game.

That was the only time I experienced that during that season. My phone didn’t blow up after any other games, even if I had a great game. Only after the one on Thursday Night Football.

Even today, people still ask me about my Chargers days. Most people forget I even played in Buffalo. (Okay, I wasn’t the same player in Buffalo as I was in San Diego, but still …)

I guess what I’m saying is, I feel for some of these guys who are out there playing well in small markets and not getting the attention they deserve. I look at a guy like Tyrod Taylor, and while I don’t think he cares that he’s not getting the attention — he’s probably too focused on winning games and establishing himself as a franchise QB to even let it concern him — I do think what he’s doing up in Buffalo is worth noticing. He’s been a fun guy to watch, and as a first-year starter, he has that offense playing pretty well.

It’s just crazy how in the NFL, sometimes you’re at the pinnacle of your sport, and you have fans stopping you on the street just to say “what’s up” or take a selfie — especially when you’re the quarterback. You’re basically a celebrity. But other times, you could be at the top of your game and playing well at the highest possible level in America’s most popular sport, and people hardly even notice.

So just keep doing your thing, Tyrod. If you do, people will have no choice but to take notice, no matter what city you play in.