Oh, the wait became excruciating.
On Saturday, Greg Olsen became the first tight end in NFL history to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in three consecutive seasons, with a 17-yard catch in the second quarter.
He is 31 years old, he has had solid seasons each year in his NFL career, but these three have been special because these three were a feat that will set the Everyman’s Tight End, Ol’ Reliable, Mr. Head-Down-and-Do-the-Work aside in history.
Not flashy, feisty, headline-splashing Rob Gronkowski.
Not legendary Tony Gonzalez.
No, it was Olsen – not the biggest or the strongest or the champion of the largest-grossing jersey, but the guy who looks a little goofy running in warmups and grunts the same every day while he’s stretching and could maybe be mistaken for a Dilworth Dad if you ran into him in the grocery store and squinted.
“I think it encompasses a lot of the things that I kind of pride myself on,” Olsen said after the game. “Never the flashiest guy or anything like that. Just, be productive. Be productive consistently. Be reliable. Be durable.”
Ah, you’ll excuse Olsen for the wait. As he told reporters during training camp before the 2016 season, “a lot of things go into having three years like that.”
It’s true, a lot does go into it, quarterback Cam Newton said last week, just before getting a little sentimental about Olsen’s contribution to the team.
Well, first he was surprised.
“In Panther history?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.
No, in NFL history.
“One thousand yards? That’s pretty impressive. Three back-to-back. … Not Kellen Winslow? Not Gronk? Tony Gonzalez?!” The eyebrows wiggled higher, all but disappearing into his beanie.
“Well, he’s special, man,” Newton said. “I think one thing about Greg that people don’t realize is his knack for understanding football. His IQ is up there.
“My family is in town for Christmas. … I was here late watching film (with my younger brother). … I’m always challenging him to recite a play that I give to him or write something down on the board, just give him something to do while I’m doing my stuff as well. And I gave him the play how it was supposed to be on paper.
“But Greg, you know he puts his pizazz on it and (my brother) was like, ‘Well, I thought he was supposed to run this route?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, listen. When you got an All-Pro tight end like that you just give him the ball as much as you can and you know that you guys are on the same WiFi.”
It’s his preparation and attitude when doing the small things that are key, Newton said.
“I think he’s a professional,” Newton said. “There are a lot of guys that are football players, and minimal guys that are professionals. And Greg is a professional.
“It’s the standard that he sets. You know, just seeing him practice. Every practice, I don’t know if he wants me to tell you, but he even stretches the same way. Looks kinda unorthodox. He’s over there in his own little zone. … You guys (media) don’t see him on the jugs. He does (them).”
He has his own team of assistants throwing him the ball constantly, including after practice is over, said Newton.
“He’s just trying to stay one step ahead. And when you look at him, he’s not the biggest. He’s not the strongest. And he’s not the fastest. But he’s just a guys who brings that mentality every single day.”
So, the wait. It becomes a little more excruciating when you consider the work behind it, right?
Only two of Olsen’s games this season were of the flashy, 100-plus yard variety. Instead he chipped at it, 32 yards here, 45 there. A couple of drops against Kansas City – one for a would-be two-point conversion in a narrow Panthers loss – had him in tears after the game. Entering the 2016 season, he had never had a drop in the red zone in his career, per ESPN’s Bill Barnwell.
Olsen plugged away to make up for them, and by the time Carolina got to Washington last week he was just 93 yards shy of the record.
When he caught a 14-yard pass that brought him within 8 of that 1,000-yard mark, those familiar with what was on the line tensed and prepared their rough drafts.
Then Olsen got tangled up and hurt his elbow, left the game, back came the suspense. He disappeared to the training room right after the 26-15 victory and was a staple there all week during locker room availability, and while coach Ron Rivera said he was sure Olsen would play, some worried he wouldn’t be healthy.
“Yeah, the elbow made it a little tougher than it needed to be,” he said.
Needing 8 yards to make history, imagine that feeling.
“Don’t tell him that,” said Rivera last week.
“Let’s just say, we have plays that get the ball to 88,” Newton deadpanned that same day.
The wait dragged on, with a collective gasp when, early in Carolina’s game against Atlanta on Christmas Eve, a ball meant for Olsen sailed into triple coverage and he might have gotten a pinky finger and just enough Christmas whisker on it to stop it from getting picked, but still it dribbled to the ground.
In the second quarter, though, on a simple catch-and-run, as Olsen stretched past the 8-yard mark for another extra 9, you found yourself counting the hash marks twice – “Did he make it? Did he get it?” – and he did.
“It was nice, an easy one,” he laughed. “Some catches you gotta earn, and that one was easy.”
The relieved exhale of a crowd in suspense turned into a roar, then a standing roar, then some were jumping up and down as Olsen embraced Newton near the 30 and slapped his healthy arm against teammates hands. A graphic of him flashed on the big screen. He said he thanked Newton for what the quarterback has done for his career.
Then he went back into the game and started laboring away again, setting his blocks and catching a reliable route here, offering a word or two of advice there, adjusting his elbow brace from time to time.
You will have to forgive Olsen for the wait – it’s been almost 10 years coming, after all.
Quick and easy just isn’t really his style.
(3) Grand achievement
Tight ends who challenged 1,000-plus yards for three consecutive seasons: