If there’s one thing career athletes have trouble turning off, it’s their competitive drive. Whatever else in the world they may want, they always want to win. Or at the very least, as former Mississippi State defensive lineman Chris Jones put it at the Mullen 36 Foundation’s golf classic at Old Waverly on Monday, they don’t want to lose. Especially not to each other.
“Everybody wants to be better than everybody,” the current Kansas City Chief said.
Appearing as celebrities for the golf tournament, dozens of former football Bulldogs made their way to Starkville over the weekend and to West Point on Monday to support their old coach, and several more from a variety of sports volunteered their time and fame for the day. Bulldog greats like Erick Dampier, Will Clark and Jonathan Papelbon spent their Monday golfing at Old Waverly, too.
Among the football players, however, the gathering turned quickly from reunion to friendly competition as the one-time teammates who have gone on to great achievements were left to argue about who’s done the most and who will be the best.
“It’s always about trash talking and catching up,” Jones explained. “We’re just talking trash, catching up and having good laughs.”
Moments later, 2012 first-round NFL Draft pick Fletcher Cox was being heckled mid-interview by 1982 first-round NFL Draft pick Johnie Cooks.
“We’ve got Johnie Cooks over here,” Cox told the camera by way of introduction. “He’s like the 10th best player here that went to State. I think he’s just hurt that I’m here.”
Of course, Cooks was likely the loudest talker of them all, calling Dak Prescott “rookie” any time he referred to the Pro Bowl Dallas Cowboys quarterback. Cooks, a former Super Bowl winner with the New York Giants, took great pleasure in reminding Prescott of the one divisional rival he didn’t beat in his first year.
“Oh yeah,” he would say at the end of a compliment to Prescott, “you never did beat the Giants though, did you?”
Such is the nature of athletes, and particularly so when the ones coming together have such strong relationships to begin with.
“It means a lot,” Cox said. “It’s kind of like a reunion. I haven’t seen Vick [Ballard], Cam [Lawrence], Gabe [Jackson] and all those guys in a while. It was great to catch up with these guys and talk a little football, talk about life and how everything is going.”
“It feels good to be back in Starkville, catching up with the guys, just going over things,” Jones added. “I feel old, you know? I feel old. I’m coming back for Coach Mullen’s charity event and all. But it’s great to catch up and I can see guys I’ve played with, guys that are legends in the program.”
For many, the foundation tournament provided an opportunity to come back to Starkville for the first time in a while. Guys like Prescott and Jones hadn’t returned since their rookie season began last August, and it had been closer to years, plural, since Cox had made it back.
And it certainly was nice timing with Super Bulldog Weekend taking place in the days leading up to the event.
“It’s been fun,” Prescott said. “Everything I had imagined. Just being away, it’s the first time I’ve come back since the season. Getting to throw the first pitch out, the spring game, it was a great weekend, as usual.”
“Man, I love it here,” former Thorpe Awar winner and current Chicago Bear Johnthan Banks said. “I was fortunate enough to be able to get a scholarship 15 minutes away and stay at home. The fans, the people – there’s nothing like it. It’s a great place. Awesome atmosphere.”
Noticeable in the crowd of former Bulldogs was the number of guys who played for Mullen since his arrival at Mississippi State in 2009, football stars who blossomed under his guidance and many of whom went to great lengths to be in town for the weekend. Without fail, each mentioned what it meant to them to be able to do something for their old coach.
“It’s great to come back and support Coach Mullen,” Cox said. “That’s his biggest thing is support the ones that support you. He supported us, so we return the favor and support him. I think that’s what’s really important about being here. I know it means a lot to he and Megan.”