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But it was a place on Parcells's team that Lucas had won, a fact that didn't carry much weight once the coach deserted his team. The project Parcells had made of Lucas, which included playing the role of upcoming opposing quarterback on the scout team when he wasn't chasing down kick returners on Sunday, was one that new Pats coach Pete Carroll brought to an end before the 1997 season began. "You can't even play," were the parting words that Carroll laid on Lucas before cutting him three games into the exhibition season.
One final attribute brought Lucas back to New Jerseyback to Parcellsand that is desire. After being so uncerimoniously dumped by Carroll, Lucas, still only a fringe player, might have packed it in. But as everyone who knows him says, Lucas has a heart that aches for football.
His second tour of duty with Parcells appeared at times to be a harrowing trip down memory lane. Combining punt coverage duties with occasional relief work at quarterback, Lucas followed Parcells's changing directives each week without question. As an injury-prone Neil O'Donnell gave way to an ineffective Glenn Foley, Lucas continued splitting his practice time between the kickoff units and the quarterbacks. After Rick Mirer was tabbed to step under center this year after Vinny Testaverde went down, Lucas verbally supported the wayward former Rookie of the Year. But as Mirer moved New York's offense with the efficiency of a DMV office combined with the excitement of a tollbooth operator, Lucas emerged as not only a player, but a symbol around which a faltering Super Bowl contender could rally.
"I think it's in his heart that he wanted to prove that he could play quarterback," says Jets center Kevin Mawae. "He's got a brashness about him that permeates through everybody on the offense. That kind of excitement carries through; guys don't get all bummed out about things."
The game plans for Lucas have been conservative, to be sure. But he has an understanding of the Jets that only comes from spending time with the club, from quietly learning about the team from the inside while waiting and watching.
"He knows his personnel and his field awareness," says Keyshawn Johnson, who has claimed a quarterback need only throw in his direction to be successful. "He understands on certain downs and distances, there's probably only a few people that he can probably count on." That trust emerges honestly, not merely from trying to placate an offense littered with expensive and effective talent.
"It's not about Ray Lucas at all," says the man now taking 90 percent of the snaps in practice each week. "I believe in my offensive line. I believe in [running back] Curtis Martin. I believe in all of my wideouts. If I just do my job, which is minor when you think about the whole squad hitting on the same cylinder, I don't really worry about it."
And after a career spent fighting to make people believe, the fact that Lucas can believe in something more than himself might finally make the latest version of Lucas's tale a hit.