SAN JOSE, Calif. — When the Jets’ locker room began to change, Jerricho Cotchery knew he had to leave. And he’s proven that decision was the smartest of all.
Sporting a “Super Bowl 50” patch on his black Carolina Panthers jersey, the veteran receiver sat beaming on a riser inside the San Jose Convention Center Tuesday. Twelve NFL seasons, and stints with the Jets and Steelers, have brought the 33-year-old to the brink of the biggest game of his career: Super Bowl 50.
After years of disappointment with the Jets — including back-to-back losses in the AFC championship game — Cotchery began to wonder if he’d ever get a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
“I won’t say I doubted it, but I just know how extremely hard it is to be in this position. And as you get closer to the end of it,” he said, with a chuckle, “you just dream of moments like this to contend. . . . And to be on this stage at this point in time in my career, it’s definitely a blessing.”
Following the 2010 season, when he was buried behind Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards on the Jets’ depth chart, Cotchery asked to be traded or released. The organization granted him his wish on Aug. 4, releasing him just three days before they signed Derrick Mason.
Cotchery wouldn’t get into specifics about why he wanted to leave Rex Ryan’s team, but he acknowledged that a culture change at 1 Jets Drive signaled “my time had run its course there.”
“It wasn’t about being disrespected, it wasn’t about them signing other guys or anything like that,” he said, adding that his time in Pittsburgh was “a breath of fresh air.”
“When I laced up the cleats at 7 years old in organized football, I was taught this game was about the team . . . and you enjoy lining up with the guys. It wasn’t about individuals, it was truly about the team and guys being selfless and happy for the next individual.
“ . . . Things started to change a little bit and I didn’t think that was what I signed up for when I was younger. I thought that, hey, this is a game that’s all about the team. So it was time to move on.”
After three seasons in Pittsburgh, Cotchery signed a two-year deal with the Panthers in March 2014.
“My time with the Jets, I will always cherish,” he said. “Seven years there and I’ve just decided to move away from New Jersey because I fell so in love with everything that the New York-New Jersey area offers. And especially the New York Jets. My time there was just a wonderful time.”
But now, he has unfinished business to take care — against, none other than Peyton Manning, the same quarterback who helped the Colts defeat the Jets, 30-17, in the 2009 conference title game.
Cotchery said those missed opportunities with the Jets weighed on him heavily, especially their 2010 AFC championship loss to the Steelers. “That one definitely took a toll on me,” he said.
But now, he has a chance to accomplish something he’s always dreamed of.
“A lot of guys on the team keep thinking that I was with Pittsburgh the years that they were going [to the Super Bowl],” Cotchery said, smiling. “But I was with the Jets for those years . . . This is my first one and I’m excited to be here.”