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Keith Fitzhugh Chooses Trains Over Jets

The Jets will have to look elsewhere for a replacement at safety

By Josh Alper
|  Thursday, Dec 9, 2010  |  Updated 1:52 PM EDT
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A young man gives up his dream of playing football for the Jets for something he believes is more important.

A young man gives up his dream of playing football for the Jets for something he believes is more important.

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That was quite a loss the Jets suffered on Monday night.

They were blown out 45-3 by a team that clearly took an extra dose of pleasure in humiliating Rex Ryan and company. That rout dropped them from the top of the AFC playoff picture to the bottom, making it highly likely that they will have to win three road games to get to the Super Bowl.

And now their offers of a spot on the team are being turned down by guys working on the railroad.

Safety Keith Fitzhugh, who spent time on the team's practice squad last year and in training camp with them this year, got a call from the Jets about filling a spot on the roster opened up by the injuries to Jim Leonhard and James Ihedigbo.

Fitzhugh told them thanks but no thanks so that he could remain an employee of the Norfolk Southern railroad in Georgia.

We were just kidding about his reasons, by the way. The decision had nothing to do with the Jets loss and everything to do with the nature of his current job versus life on the fringes of the NFL.

Jenny Vrentas of the Newark Star-Ledger, who wrote a killer story about the decision, spoke with Fitzhugh and found out that he wasn't willing to risk a full-time job with health benefits against the prospect of a few weeks in the spotlight followed by unemployment once again.

"I know I haven’t won a Super Bowl; it would be a once-in-a-lifetime chance," Fitzhugh said. "But you only get one mom and one dad. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I’d rather be there for my mom and dad than go for a Super Bowl chance. ... Life is short, and you never know what will happen. When I went through the period of time being unemployed, my family was there for me. I didn’t want to take a risk and lose everything again, especially when I have a great job like I do now."

In a year that's featured Darrelle Revis's holdout, Albert Haynesworth's refusal to work and, switching sports for a moment, Derek Jeter complaining about being only wildly overpaid instead of obscenely overpaid, Fitzhugh's tale is particuarly interesting. We forget sometimes how short professional sports careers tend to be on average because all of the focus goes to the guys who make big money over long careers. Life is very different in the margins and the concerns -- health insurance, financial security and the like -- are exactly the same as they are for most of the rest of us.

Fitzhugh's story will recede as quickly as it came once the Jets get on with their on-field business against the Dolphins. Hopefully it won't go totally away when the labor wars begin this offseason. When people are railing against greedy players while holding up Haynesworth or Randy Moss as the poster children, think about guys like Fitzhugh for a moment and recall that things are rarely as simple as they seem on the surface.  

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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