Keith Fitzhugh on Declining Jets' Offer: 'I Have No Regrets'
"Can you call me back on my home line, please?" Fitzhugh said. "I gotta get this."
ESPN was calling. The New York Times and Washington Post had already checked in.
A few minutes later, his mother answered.
"Maybe you should call back," she suggested. "He may be a while."
Right about that time, ABC and CNN were rolling up in front of the house to tell Fitzhugh's story, too. That's because it's a tale everyone in America can relate to these days.
"It's real," Fitzhugh's agent, Daniel Rose, said. "And it's remarkable."
After losing starting safety Jim Leonhard for the season to a broken leg during practice last week, then a second defensive back, James Ihedigbo, to a high ankle sprain in Monday night's 45-3 loss at New England, the Jets called Fitzhugh Tuesday and offered to sign him to their active roster for the season's home stretch. Fitzhugh spent time on the club's practice squad in 2009, and lasted through the second preseason game in 2010 before being cut, so he was familiar with Rex Ryan's system.
But Fitzhugh also was familiar with the way the NFL works -- not to mention how fortunate he was to have landed a job after being cut in September, as an Atlanta-based conductor for Norfolk Southern Railroad.
So with an NFL front-office exec on the line, Fitzhugh had quite a choice to make. He could resume chasing his goal to play in a Super Bowl or opt for the stability of his current job in these uncertain economic times.
The decision Fitzhugh made made him quite the newsmaker Wednesday.
"I have no regrets at all, I'm just thankful to have a job," Fitzhugh, who played four years at Mississippi State and earned a degree there in sports communication, told FanHouse. "It's no fun being unemployed. Everybody knows that. And I love football. It always been my No. 1 draft. But this was a decision I had to make."
Fitzhugh's father, Keith Sr., is disabled and can't work. His mother, Meltonia, was supporting the couple with her job as a supervisor for a freight distribution company before their son began pitching in three months ago.
"We're just so proud of him. What parent wouldn't appreciate that from their child?" she said. "He came to us and said, 'Mom and Dad, you've done so much for me. You've supported me and taken care of me. You got me to (football) practice and stayed on top of me with my grades, and now I'm going to help you.' He's showing us now how much he appreciates us."
Meltonia Fitzhugh recalls her 8-year-old son loving two things: football and trains. He had his shot at the one -- and may again, who knows? -- and but life's path has led him to the other.
"To leave this job, I'd have been giving up a sure thing; a great job, with great benefits," Fitzhugh said. "There was no [reassurance] that I would have a stable job in the NFL. I felt like it was the right thing to do, rather than going for a little money and a shot at maybe a little, quick fame."
There was a click on the other line.
"I gotta get this," he said.
This time, the Patriots were calling.
But even Bill Belichick would have been turned down.