Nate Jackson: Ex-Bronco's memoir, like its author, beats the NFL odds

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An undrafted free agent from a Division III school (Menlo College), Jackson arrived in Denver after a brief training-camp brush with the 49ers. Between many, many injuries, a stint on the practice squad, and some penance served in the limbo of NFL Europe, he managed to play a little wide receiver and tight end for the Broncos, as well as special teams. He arrived in the throes of the post-Elway, pre-Tebow doldrums and picked up some receiver wisdom from the venerable Rod Smith shortly before the latter's retirement. He weathered the Jake Plummer-Jay Cutler quarterback controversy and the shock of Mike Shanahan's dismissal before getting the ax himself from new coach Josh McDaniels, whom Jackson describes as "a bro wearing a baseball cap and sucking on a red lollipop...a little kid sitting in the cockpit of an airplane."

Jackson's years with the Broncos amount to an eye-opening exercise in tenuousness, filled with the enormous hurdles that even deeply talented and determined athletes face in trying to hang onto a career that can often be measured in weeks. (Some of Jackson's early reflections on all this can be found in his 2007 blog posts for Westword.) There's the constant threat of injury -- which in Jackson's case, amounts to a catastrophic series of dislocations, sprains, torn hamstrings, groin pulls and worse. But there's also the temptations of too much cash too fast, the distractions of partying and winsome "jersey chasers," the complexities of contemporary coaching schemes and training regimens -- and, of course, the sycophantic but voracious media hacks, who must be humored but are generally fed bullshit. ("Do say: We're taking this thing one game at a time and we'll see what happens. Don't say: Man, I really would like to go home and eat a heroin sandwich.")

Slow Getting Up is less about superstars than the journeymen who, like Jackson, exult over every precious opportunity to get on the field, whether in preseason or the real thing. Some of the best passages deal with off-field excesses during all that down time -- like four rookies (including Jackson) getting stuck with a $26,000 tab at Del Frisco's for an annual veterans dinner, or a cash-sucking trip to Vegas that ends with huge bar bills and an entanglement with a cocktail waitress who turns out to be married. The dark side of all this indulgence is brought home to Jackson by the 2007 murder of Darrent Williams, after some New Year's Eve skirmishes with the wrong people.

Continue for more about Nate Jackson's Slow Getting Up.
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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast