“I certainly wasn’t happy about doing it,” Gibbs recalled. “I mean, we’re probably talking about one of my favorite guys. Jimmy made the absolute most out of everything he had — totally dedicated as a worker, totally dedicated as a team guy. He was always willing to sacrifice his own individual goals for the goals of the team.”
Farris hoped that some of the same attributes that earned him a pro football career might punch his ticket to Capitol Hill. Although Congress is filled predominantly with lawyers and business owners, four pro football players have won election, including current lawmakers Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and Jon Runyan (R-N.J.). Former congressmen Jack Kemp and Steve Largent, both Republicans, had distinguished playing careers.
When Farris called his mom and sisters from the hotel, they assured him there was no shame in abandoning his plan, but they all knew he wasn’t about to turn around. The next morning, Farris loaded Caesar into the car and continued on the road. Four days later he crossed the Idaho border.
Farris stayed at his brother’s house, sleeping in his niece’s tiny bed and plotting the first steps of a congressional campaign. When he finally found a house to rent outside of Boise, he spent a month with just an air mattress, a coffeemaker and a laptop before his furniture arrived from Atlanta. He’d pass hours inside the empty home scouring news Web sites, studying issues and trying to articulate his beliefs. Ideologically, Farris says he “plays between the 40s” — football parlance, meaning he’s near midfield — though he endorses most of the Democratic platform.
Last October, Farris announced his unlikely candidacy for Idaho’s 1st District congressional seat, challenging a Republican incumbent in one of the reddest states in the union. He launched a campaign that aimed to answer big-picture questions — Have people tired of the tea party’s way of doing business? Could President Obama’s quest for reelection help the Democrats regain House seats lost two years earlier? Is there any place on the electoral stage for an idealist with no political experience and even less cash? — but also smaller questions, more intimate ones.
If Farris was no longer a football player, then who exactly was he? In addition to formulating a vision for Idaho and for the country, Farris had to remake his own concept of self — and sell it all to voters in real-time.
“Nothing with Jimmy will ever surprise me,” said his high school coach, Nick Menegas. “How many 10-year-olds say they’ll be the best wide receiver on their high school team? How many 10-year-olds say they’ll play in college? In the NFL? So when he called me and said he wants to get in politics, well, I just assume he’ll be president one day.”