So this was it. Finally. This was the season I had been waiting for all my short life.
But now I had a new problem. I couldn’t now just simply live with the old expectations of losing all the time. Here is the fanatic’s true psychological quandary: Once they start winning, do you keep a distance from your team so as to not feel anything when they lose, as they invariably will?
Or, once they start winning, do you up the ante of expectation and look for more from them, week after week? If you answer yes to the first, you run the risk of not experiencing the deep, paralyzing, devastating joy when they surprise you and win big games - the way I felt when we beat Denver at Mile High. Only the birth of one’s child, the rush of heroin, or an orgasm can provide anything remotely euphoric than that. And I was unfamiliar with those things at 9.
Thus, the rabid fan, a born endorphin junkie, cannot help but pour himself entirely into the struggle, expecting better and better performances with each win his team racks up. So yes on the second question as well, thank you.
But then there’s your problem right away, isn’t it? Here’s where the real quandary appears for the true fanatic: the Jets lost the following week to New England at Foxboro by a staggering 55-21, and I quickly became despondent. I didn’t know yet that investing oneself that much into winning was always going to be a losing battle with the Jets, but by then I was already a junkie.
Once you’ve been through enough of the mania of winning and losing during a season, you come to realize that the pain of a disappointing loss feels more intense than the joy you feel when your team wins. I just didn’t know that yet as a boy, but even if I had understood it, I don’t think it would have made any difference because I know it now, and it doesn’t help matters any better than it might have when I was, as Mr. Walsh put it, a little maniac.
A brief digression here, but what was it with Foxboro anyway? A 41-7 loss on Monday Night Football in 1976, the trouncing in '78. Then there was the astounding 56-3 loss the following year. What do you say at the end of a game with a score like that? “That Pat Leahy’s got a golden toe?” Whatever identity issues the Patriots needed to work out - as evidenced by their weirdly kinky "Superpatriot" of the 70's - they were definitely working them out on the Jets.
We listened to that game at Foxboro in the car radio. We were traveling north, looking at the autumn foliage but also looking at neighborhoods in Westchester County to live. We toured a few houses, I think. Each time the New England Patriots touched the football, they scored. You actually ended up feeling better when the Jets lost week after week with no expectation for them to win. And what kind of terrible fan would want his team to suck?
We went to New York City to see the decorations for Christmastime and listened on the radio while the Jets beat Miami 24-13. Then Dad astonished us again - he got tickets for all of us to the home game against the Baltimore Colts. That meant my little brother Charlie was coming, too. I felt that it was my duty to instruct him in my magnificent obsession, just in case he decided to join the tribe.
I explained to him what Shea Stadium would look like outside and inside, what the game would mean for the Jets if they won (probably a chance at a Wild Card appearance in the playoffs so long as they beat Cleveland the following week). I mentioned how I had seen Baltimore in the past and how much better they used to be. I was doing for him what I thought Dad should have done for me - laying the emotional groundwork for insanity. Charlie took it all in, but I could tell he didn’t care. The Jets won 24-16.
This 1979 Topps card for Matt Robinson was taken at the game. Football cards had the annoying habit back then of blotting out the team insignias, but I recognized Matt's distant Fu Manchu and the sickly green of Shea's field.
He threw two magnificent touchdowns to Wesley Walker, one of which was the result of a tiptoe dance Walker was compelled to do along the sidelines. I got so excited when he scored that I climbed up the railing of the upper deck where we sat and began waving my hands wildly in the air with nothing to keep me from falling to the Loge below. I was insane. Mom screamed. Dad grabbed me and asked what the hell I thought I was doing, but I just kept laughing like a madman, wagging my tongue at him, delirious with joy.