According to Wikipedia the single most defining and important fact that distinguishes Jason Blake and his career is that he “holds the record for most games played (199 as of the end of the 2011 season) without accruing a single Brownlow Medal vote.” Alas, this is true. This is Jason Blake.
And mind you, this is after being reminded that Jason Blake is actually a footballer by profession (no, seriously he is) by his official Wikipedia page. He’s not just out on the field; he gets paid for this stuff.
Even the name Jason Blake, on face value, is so nondescript. Which is so apt. But that is what makes the whole package that is Neil (as he is affectionately known), somewhat loveable or at least admirable – he never really mastered a position or role in his career, but has become part of the fabric of St Kilda by just doing whatever the team needed him to do at any given time. In fact I’m sure if there is a football jargon dictionary that is created in years to come, if you look under versatile it will just say “see Jason Blake”. And tomorrow, versus Port Adelaide, he will again be doing all those nondescript, versatile and frustratingly ordinary Jason Blake things for the 200th time in the red, white and black.
He is like the bizarro Matthew Pavlich having spent time in defence, in the midfield (albeit as a tagger), and to a lesser extent up forward. Oh, and he also became a pinch-hitting ruckman under Grant Thomas – take that, Pav!
I am sure all Saints fans have been a Jason Blake hater at one point or another during his 199 game career to this point. He has never been the most gifted player in terms of skill, nor one to be included in flashy highlights packages or in glossy football editorials. In fact, I’m sure if a highlights package were to be put together of his career, it would be choc full of smothers, spoils and shepherds rather than goals, marks and ridiculous goal celebrations. In fact, Jason Blake is probably the king of the selfless act – a stat/measurement that previous Saints coach Grant Thomas was besotted with and thought was a key KPI by which to measure a team’s performance.
Granted, I am sure Neil will still provide a lot of face-palm moments this year and not even the most bullish Jason Blake fan, could say that the club is really progressing in terms of creating a new era if he is still a mainstay.
That said, Blakey really is the archetypal Coaches Award type player; a fantastic, selfless locker room presence, a standup club man. Coach Scott Watters summed it up perfectly when he said: “a player that always puts the team and the Club first, and because of that he’s loved by his teammates. He’s just a terrific person to have at the Club.”
St Kilda through its history has regularly been blessed with brilliant individual players, so it is great to acknowledge such a (seemingly) mundane player for at least one day. Especially, in this age of high-profile, salary demands and mega sponsorship deals, it is great to pause and salute such a genuine, loyal player.
Since the National Draft back in November the media has been awash with prices, bargains, and tips to pick up in your fantasy AFL competition of choice. But such competitions will never be able to value a guy like Neil, no matter how intelligent the technology is or people behind it, he is priceless.