A lesson to be learned from Sanchez

As the USC Trojans resume spring practice on Tuesday and the quarterback competition starts to heat up between incumbent junior Cody Kessler and redshirt freshman Max Browne, a rather cold dose of future reality was dumped on the back burner of both competitors.

On Friday, former Trojans quarterback Mark Sanchez was released by the New York Jets, and it should be a reminder to not only Kessler and Browne but all collegiate quarterbacks to enjoy life in college and don’t be in such a Manhattan rush to enter the NFL.

The last time I saw Mark Sanchez, who decided to forgo his final season of eligibility at USC to enter the NFL, was a few years ago, and by coincidence it was in New York City. It was vacation time in June and going to the Big Apple has always been a delightful pleasure, especially when I can have a Carnegie’s corned beef sandwich on a Kaiser roll, a side of potato salad and a large slice of strawberry shortcake.

Staying in Midtown, not far from Central Park, my girlfriend and I wanted to see a second Broadway play during our week’s stay. After some negotiating, we went to the box office of the Helen Hayes Theatre to see what was available for "Rock of Ages."

After some further “negotiations” with the box office attendant, we spent a little extra and were seated center section about 13 rows from the stage. As the loud and resounding commencement of electric guitars, theatrical prehistoric hippies, and high-energy entertainment began, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder from a patron seated directly behind me. As I turned backward I was startled to see it was Sanchez, the starting quarterback of the Jets.

Having watched Sanchez at Mission Viejo (Calif.) High and then covering him at the University of Southern California, he looked so happy and excited to see a familiar SoCal guy in his presence. When my sports-loving companion immediately recognized Sanchez, I had to immediately put my right index finger to my lips to non-verbally implore her not to scream out, “Mark Sanchez!” The last thing we all needed was two performances going on at the same time -- a prolific musical performance and a simultaneous mad dash to get an autograph from Sanchez.

Intermission finally came and Sanchez was as down to earth as ever. He was perfect for all that New York City has to offer, especially when the Jets were showing so much promise. Sanchez introduced us to some friends who had flown in from his hometown in the Orange County area, and he seemed so at peace in this frenzied environment.

He couldn't stop saying how much he loved playing in New York and that he was a real Broadway aficionado. He rambled off a number of plays and musicals he had seen and looked forward to seeing what new production was about to make its debut. Sanchez loved the culture of the whole area, and he hoped he could play in the toughest sports town forever.

Following the conclusion of the show, we all walked out together and Sanchez wanted to leave before autograph seekers and well-wishers besieged him. He wasn’t being arrogant or aloof; he just wanted to spend a normal night out with his friends before heading back to his New Jersey residence.

As his crew went one way and my girlfriend and I headed for Times Square, I couldn’t help but admire how much he hadn’t changed from his prep and collegiate days and only hoped he would not someday be engulfed with the negatives of playing professional football on the world’s largest stage.

When things were going good, Sanchez was affectionately known in New York City as the “Sanchize.” He had guided the Jets to back-to-back playoff appearances in his first two seasons after being drafted in the first round out of USC, where he started just one season before turning pro. Things were looking good until a series of front office decisions and a major right shoulder injury turned the Big Apple into the Big Downer.

According to reports, the Jets cut Sanchez on Friday because he had cap charge of $13.1 million and there were questions about his surgically repaired shoulder. The writing, however, was on the subway walls earlier when the Jets drafted West Virginia’s Geno Smith in the second round. Sanchez’s days were numbered.

The end for Sanchez in New York came when the Jets signed former Eagles quarterback Michael Vick on Friday and released Sanchez on the same day. Sanchez will likely not have to wait long for another job but, from being the Toast of Manhattan to just plain toast, this wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.

So, if there is a lesson to be learned by Kessler and Browne regarding the fate of not only Sanchez but fellow Trojans quarterbacks like Matt Leinart, it’s enjoy your college days on and off the field to its fullest. As Sanchez and Leinart can attest, the NFL is still a business and the acronym “NFL” really can translate into “Not For Long.”