JACKSONVILLE – He knew the moment was coming, but that didn’t make it easy.
Through all of the goodbyes, and all of the “lasts” Brad Meester lived much of the last two weeks, the 14-year veteran center knew there would come a time to leave EverBank Field one last time.
That moment came this past Monday.
Meester, who played the last of his 209 NFL and Jaguars games in a loss to the Colts in Indianapolis in Sunday’s regular-season finale, rode away from EverBank on his motorcycle early the following afternoon. He left knowing he would return, but never in quite the same way.
“When I left, I kept looking at the stadium and I was like, ‘Golly, this is actually the last time …’’’ said Meester, who announced his retirement four days before the Jaguars’ home finale December 22 against Tennessee. “Not that I won’t be back, but I’m thinking, ‘This is the last time I’m going to see the stadium as a player. It won’t be the same. I won’t have a locker. I won’t just walk into the locker room whenever I want. It’s different now.’’’
As he passed over the Hart Bridge, he glanced back.
“I kept looking at the stadium thinking, ‘Wow, this has finally come – as many times as I’ve been here, this is the last time for me as a player,’’’ Meester said.
Meester, who played more games overall and more games consecutively than any player in franchise history, took time this week to reflect on his 14 Jaguars seasons:
Question: Did you take much time to reflect the past few weeks? You’re the only player on last year’s team to have played for (former Jaguars Head Coach) Tom Coughlin and the only player to see as much of the history of this team as you did...
Answer: I never really looked at that until the last couple of weeks. I’ve been going back in my head over some of the things that happened throughout my career. I still remember being drafted and going there as a rookie. I remember the day Tom knew he was going. He shook our hands on the way out. I remember the day Del Rio got fired during the season – that crazy moment. I started going back through all of those and thinking about the crazy things I had been through throughout my career. It was hard to believe. To me, it was amazing how fast that time went by. It’s been 14 years, but it went by so fast. It’s hard to believe this time has come. It’s amazing how fast time goes.
Q: What did Coughlin mean to your career?
A: His type of mentality was a lot of what I grew up with. That’s what my high school coach was like, and even in college. It was great to have him when I first got here – that work ethic. He was very punctual. Everything was on time. That was awesome. That was something I was accustomed to anyway and having that kind of set the foundation for me. I wanted to come early. Throughout my career, I was always worried about being on time. I don’t know if it came from that or the upbringing, but it was very important to me. I never wanted to be late. I wanted to do things the right way. A lot of that came from him. He had great character. He was tough in the locker room and on the field, but he was a great man of character. I definitely learned a lot from him.
Q: You played the bulk of your career under Jack Del Rio, and had some good, good years during that era …
A:We had quite a few good years. We were in the playoff race quite a few of those years and obviously there was 2007, where we made the playoffs and beat Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh (in an AFC Wild Card playoff game). There were a lot of great years there. Del Rio did a great job; he was a great motivator and got us ready.
Q: It meant a lot to you to play this season with this new staff under Gus Bradley in his first season here. Why?
A: I was very thankful they gave me the opportunity to come back. When I met Coach Gus at the beginning of the year, I was trying to figure out, ‘Do I want to come back or not come back?’ When I met him, I could tell right away he was a great guy and meant everything he said. It was something I wanted to be a part of. I wanted to be able to come back and have a chance to help get this team turned around and get this thing going. I’m very thankful they gave me the opportunity to be a part of this group and get the organization going. We were able to start turning some things around at the end of the season. It means a lot to be able to be a part of that. This group is headed in the right direction. I believe next season is going to be a great season for them.
Q: We all know about your nine-yard reception in your final home game. What’s one play, one memory that stands out – aside from The Catch?
A: (Laughing) Well, aside from my catch … there are so many … but one of them obviously was at Pittsburgh in the playoff game (following the 2007 season). When David (Garrard) runs that ball (for a fourth-quarter first down). It was such a huge, huge play that sealed that one. That’s one I’ll always remember. There was something about going into Pittsburgh, playing them and being in that type of environment ... And I’ll always remember a few years back when (Josh) Scobee kicked that field goal to beat the Colts (in 2010) … I remember being on that field-goal team. I got knocked down and I could barely see through a crowd of people as the ball went through. It was absolutely an exciting moment.
Q: Anything else?
A: I do remember when we ran, what was it, 300-some yard against the Colts at home? That was unbelievable. Right out of the gate we hit a 90-yard run. What a game that was. We were sitting on the sideline saying, ‘This is unreal.’ We were running at will. That’s a game I’ll definitely remember for a long time.
Q: What player had the most influence on you early?
A:When I first got here, there several guys who had an impact on me. Obviously, (offensive tackle) Tony (Boselli) and (quarterback) Mark (Brunell) were phenomenal on and off the field. They made me feel at home. They invited me to their houses and bible studies. They made me feel at home here in Jacksonville. That was awesome, because that was a huge jump for us. They made it feel like home, which was great. Another guy who really helped me out was a guy people may not remember, but (former Jaguars center) Quentin Neujhar … he was a center here when I got here, and he was great. He was such a down-to-earth guy. I always think of the Monday Night game against the Colts my first season. I gave up three sacks and was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I didn’t know what to do. I thought I was done or they were going to take me out. He sat beside me at my locker after the game and was calming me down. He said, ‘Hey, you’re going to be all right. You’re doing great things out here.’ After practice as a rookie, you always have to get the older guys’ shoulder pads to the locker room.’ Every day after practice, he would say, ‘Brad, give me your helmet. I’ll take it in for you so you can get the shoulder pads.’ It was a small thing, but meant a lot to me. He was a guy I could always talk to about little things. He was a down-to-earth guy who always helped me out.
Q:Who was the best player you ever played with?
A:That’s a tough question because there were so many. Obviously when you look at the offensive line, playing beside Tony Boselli for a couple of years … you can’t beat that. Then getting to block for Fred (Taylor) all those years was great. He was such a great guy both on and off the field.
Q: Is it strange to think you played 14 years? That’s a long time.
I could never have imagined that. I remember being in college talking to my offensive line coach and asking, ‘What’s going to happen after the season? Am I going to get drafted? Where am I at?’ He told me they were projecting me as a late-round guy. Things just snowballed and all of a sudden I’m in Jacksonville as a second-round pick and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh … everything was happening so fast.’ I was just trying to get through that season. Before you know it, I was making it through my first contract and signing another one … I never imagined it would be 14 years. I was just trying to get to 10. I really was. I was thinking, ‘If I got to 10, what an amazing career that would be.’ It kind of kept going from there.
Q: It was striking the last couple of weeks how much the team and the teammates wanted to send you out the right way. That must have meant a lot . ..
A: It was awesome the last couple of weeks, guys constantly coming up to me and shaking my hand and saying, ‘Thank you. It was a privilege to be able to play with you this year.’ These were guys I had played with for one season. (Linebacker) Nate Stupar told me several times, ‘It was a real privilege to play beside you.’ He was here maybe the second half of the season if that, so that meant a lot. It was unbelievable to hear the kind words from my teammates and the coaches. I don’t usually read the paper or listen to what they’re saying on television, but I did read some of them and it meant a lot. There were so many kind words said in the paper and the news. That meant a lot. The one thing I tried to do when I was here was do things the right way. That’s what meant most, was to do things the right way on and off the field. I hoped by doing that it would have an impact on people and the guys I played with, so hearing that meant a lot.