"I love it. There's nothing better than Jets fans," Mickens said as he worked the crowd. "And this time of year is always big."
Ray could've been talking about the Super Bowl, with his pick, the Seahawks, wiping out he Broncos just two days away at the time. But he also could have been referring to the work he's been doing preparing draft-eligible players deep in the heart of Texas for what lies ahead.
"I've been staying close to the game, training college kids and getting them ready for the NFL," Mickens told me during his drop-in at Jets House in Manhattan last week. "I'm working with a Nike facility in Dallas, and some of the athletes they sign out of college, those athletes go there to prepare for the combine. So I do a six-week program with them to get them ready for the combine drills and for the team interviews."
He's working with the DBs on the drills they'll be going through at Indianapolis in a few weeks, but Nike recruits of all sizes and positions will benefit from his expertise in the interviewing process — not with the media, although Ray was expert at that, but the team interviews at the combine as they get ready for the draft.
The job seems like a natural for Mickens, who was a bridge between a couple of mean 24s in Jets uniforms in Freeman McNeil and Darrelle Revis and wore that number proudly himself. In fact, Ray's got a photo of himself and McNeil at Jets House on his Twitter page, handle: @raymickens24.
You'll remember Ray was our third-round pick of the '96 draft out of Texas A&M, survived that 1-15 season and then thrived in an eight-year Jets career in which he had 126 games played, 38 starts, 11 interceptions, even six sacks, and one memorable blocked field goal return for the go-ahead touchdown in the '97 win over the Raiders.
Ray may be a Texan all the way, but he always embraced his time with the Green & White and fans.
"I mean, I feel like I'm part of the witness protection program in Dallas because nobody really knows me for the NFL," he explained. "They know me for college — there's a lot of A&M Aggies out there. But if you're not a Cowboy, you really didn't play in the NFL out there.
"But when I came off the plane here, the very first person I saw, they were like, 'Hey, you're Ray Mickens.' It feels good to be back in New York."
As if on cue, one member of the Jets House faithful came by and did a double-take: "Heyyy, Ray Mickens, how's it goin', man?"
As Mickens said, it's going well. And perhaps his legacy will live on a little longer in the New York/New Jersey area if he can prep up a college player down his way, with his dedication to and love of the game, and send him up our way in a few months.