FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Mike White's phone was flooded the past two weeks with texts from his friends with silly internet memes featuring “doctors” who could clear the New York Jets quarterback to play.
Dr. Evil from “Austin Powers” was a popular pick. So was Dr. Nick from “The Simpsons.” A gif of a security guard lightly patting down visitors at an event made its way around Twitter. So did a doctored-up picture of mustachioed White in a lab coat.
“The amount of times my buddies would send me stuff," a smiling White said Wednesday while shaking his head. “Yeah, people are funny. People are very funny.”
He can laugh now, especially after team doctors on Monday cleared White for contact and gave him the OK to play Sunday at Seattle after fractured ribs sidelined him the past two games.
“It was nice,” White said of receiving the news earlier this week. “It was cool. It’s a long time coming. Just excited to finally be back out there.”
The clearance came just in time for the Jets (7-8), who still have playoff hopes with two games to go. If New York wins its final two games — at Seattle and at Miami — and New England loses one of its last two — home vs. Miami and at Buffalo — the Jets would snap an 11-year postseason drought, the longest active skid in the NFL.
And they've got their quarterback back with the season on the line.
“We all have a tremendous opportunity,” White said. "Listen, football is the ultimate team sport. It’s never going to fall on one person. It’s never going to fall on one side of the ball. It’s a collective effort. By no means do I think I need to go in there and do anything out of the ordinary.
“I need to just play my game and help get the playmakers the ball and help this team try to move the ball and win these last two.”
White was injured in New York’s 20-12 loss at Buffalo on Dec. 11, when he was twice knocked out of the game. X-rays at the stadium cleared him to return, but CT scans at the hospital after the game revealed the fractures.
So instead of preparing to play, White tried to find doctors who might clear him. But he couldn't find any as they all pointed out how he could be at risk for further injury if he were hit again.
“On game days, it’s especially hard when physically you feel like you can go out there, but I understand why the doctors couldn’t clear me," White said. “It was tough, but if you make the most out of it, you will be all right.”
White has said the past few weeks he has felt good physically other than some soreness, and he reiterated Wednesday he was satisfied with where he's at. He also acknowledged he'll likely have some extra protection on when he suits up Sunday.
“I’m sure the trainers and doctors and equipment staff are playing arts and crafts and putting something together for me,” he said.
When coach Robert Saleh announced White's return Monday, he also made it clear it was no longer just a week-to-week decision. White is the Jets' starting quarterback the rest of the way, barring injury, for as long as the season lasts.
“Any time you’re named the starter, you wear that badge with honor,” White said.
And it's not the first time White is stepping up for his team in such a critical situation.
White recalled being 10 years old in St. Augustine, Florida, when he was playing in a Little League game on his father's birthday. He came up with his squad trailing by one and runners on first and second with one out.
“It was my first ever home run in a game, in an actual game,” a smiling White recalled. "I hit it dead center. I’ll never forget, I hit it so pure that I didn’t even hear it hit the bat. ... My dad was our coach, he was the third base coach.
“As I’m rounding third base, I said, ‘Hey, Happy Birthday!’ or something like that. My dad still has the ball. Some good memories right there.”
White acknowledged that moment will always be tough to top. But he'll get the chance Sunday — and perhaps beyond.
“I might need to find some distant relative that it’s their birthday,” White said with a smile, “just to see if I can get some luck.”
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Dennis Waszak Jr., The Associated Press