From here, I remember every game of the 1978 season. Every week there was something entirely new happening, and it speaks to the low expectations of well-mannered children - or perhaps to the obsessions of a neurotic few - that even though the Jets would only break even, I felt like I had witnessed someone walking on water when the season was all done. As with everything to the rabid fan, my personal memories are bound to the outcome of each game.
We could have watched the game against the Philadelphia Eagles on TV since it was away, but instead we took my grandmother to Sagamore Hill, Teddy Roosevelt’s homestead. I had been there before on class trips. The best part was looking into the bedroom of his youngest son, Quentin, who died in World War I. I loved looking at the illegible handwritten message Quentin had made on a closet door as a boy.
On the way home, I got car sick and threw up. We pulled over just in time, and my grandmother scolded me. She thought that I had been reading a book on the Presidents I had bought in the gift shop. Don’t you know that people get sick when they read in the car? she asked. They did, but the issue (figurative and literal) was Jets’ offense, which had been unable to produce more than two field goals against the Eagles. Preposterous. Sickening. Which Jets team would show up week by week was now anyone’s guess. Yin and Yang.
It was near dinnertime the following week for the away game against Denver at Mile High. The Jets’ quarterback in place of Todd, Matt Robinson, was doing an exceptional job. (Indeed, are those the lips of God speaking in Matt's ear as he rolls left? Or is it Robinson's conscience, manifesting itself in the form of Walt Michaels, proactively warning Matt about playing with injuries?)
The Yin and the Yang were each well represented. The first half belonged to my fatalist sense of things because the Jets trailed at the break 21-7 to a superior Broncos team, but then the second half belonged to my newly prodigious capacity for hope. The Jets fought all the way back and trailed 28-24 with about a minute and a half to play. Then, dinnertime.
Dad had been raised by a German gourmand mother whose claim to fame was that she was reputedly perfect in the kitchen, so Mom always felt self-conscious about her own cooking. Here she became a mystery to me. Despite her fire and wrath, she also lived with a durable inferiority complex with respect to preparing food. There were days it seemed more than cooking issues, though. She sometimes looked out the window when no one but I was listening and say, “I don’t think I’m going to make it.” She must not have known I could hear her, but sometimes I wonder if she thought I was the only one who would know how she felt.
One way for Mom to feel in control was to cook for Dad as successfully as her mother-in-law had. It had the curious effect of anxiously galvanizing everyone in our home into the cause. Everything in the evening was timed with her meals because it was her performance, and “Everything” included the last minute-and-a-half of the most important game of the season thus far.
But I begged. Please. The Jets had the ball in their own territory and were beginning their last drive of the game. Please. Pleeeeaaasssse.
“Can’t I wait until the game’s over?”
“Turn off that damn TV,” my father commanded.
Not even a negotiation. There was no debate. He gave me the Face. If dinner got cold, Mom would feel as if she let Dad down, even though he wouldn’t have interpreted it that way; it didn’t mean nearly as much to him as it did to her, but technically, he had little to do with it.
It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized the delicate logic of such an unspoken arrangement, of how common it is among couples, of how strangely effective it can be, and how it appears to serve the best interests of all persons in the house to keep it exactly the way it is, with genuine love intended for all. Everyone would be let down if dinner failed. She would let herself down, therefore letting Dad and us down, and though I didn’t quite understand the semantics of all this, I instinctively knew that I was a link in the chain. Even though the Jets were trying to upset the defending AFC Champions in one of the most difficult stadiums for a visiting team to score a victory, I still needed to turn the TV off and come to dinner. Anything else would inadvertently set off a catastrophe. Come to the table, Marty.
“Fine,” I said with grave misgiving.
“It’s not like they’re going to win,” Dad reminded me.
“We’ll keep the radio on,” Mom said judiciously.
“No,” Dad said, petulantly. “That’s silly.”
But Mom won out as usual. She told me to say Grace. I had managed to get the prayer before dinner down to a record speed:
Then: “Mom?” I said, turning toward my ally.
“The radio? Please?”
And then as soon as Dad reluctantly clicked the transistor back on, Sunday’s manifestation of God’s Grace arrived, right on cue. It was the first great miracle of my life as a Jets fan, and coming as it did when I was 9, after three and a half seasons of solid devotion, it seemed a long time coming. Spencer Ross’ voice on WCBS blared across the kitchen in mid-sentence, but what he said couldn’t have been true. Out of nowhere, he was saying something about a long pass thrown to Wesley Walker for a touchdown. But that wasn’t possible.
I leapt in the air, and much to my delight, so did Dad; we vaulted out of our seats. We were going for the living room, pushing each other out of the way to watch the replay on NBC. It was unbelievable and true. In slow motion, Matt Robinson’s long pass disappeared from the top of the TV screen for a single instant. The half-blind Wesley Walker was suddenly visible, running, watching the invisible ball linger in the air, moving with those little stutter-steps he used - waiting, waiting…for what seemed like forever. But then the ball was there in his arms! Wesley Walker was there where he needed to be, in the end zone with the ball. The game was over, and the Jets had beaten the Broncos 31-28. Again and again on replay!
The Jets were now a winning team.