Sunday, January 20, 2008

New York Jets By The Numbers: #7

Ben Graham, Australian, burly punter, a man willing to throw himself into a tackle when his special teams coverage fails, which it did this year quite often. No mean feat. He still has four years left on his contract, but he was benched by Mike Westhoff for the final game against Kansas City this year. Westhoff is not on the team next year, so there's hope for Ben, I suppose. We wish we could give him better reassurance; after all, he was formerly of Geeno, an Australian Rules team. You know - the other football, other than the football they play with their feet.

Here's #7 Ed Bell looking remarkably like Otis Day after he had taken a hiatus from his Knights for a brief but intense career as a pro wide receiver. This may incomprehensible for fans of other teams whose many receivers are in the Hall of Fame, but the New York Jets have a great tradition of wide receivers - Maynard, Caster, Walker, Toon, Moore, Chrebet, Coles. Some better than others, of course. Ed Bell fits somewhere among the first three mentioned there, just before Walker and contemporaneous with Maynard. He was never an All-Pro by any means, nor was his career after the Jets anything more than just five catchless games with the San Diego Chargers. He didn't even get to wear their cool Charger baby blues as they were abandoned two seasons before. I just have a memory of him scoring the team's sole touchdown against the Steel Curtain in 1975. And he looked funny - a receiver wearing #7.

Chuck Clements, ladies and gentlemen. He was Neil O'Donnell's backup in 1997, Parcells' first year. There were other backups of note that season, though, weren't there? Ray Lucas, Glenn Foley. Next year, the greatest backup of all, though - Vinny Testaverde - would step in. In the midst of it all, Chuck Clements got lost and forgotten. I think this calls for a backup QB Hall of Fame. But take a look at that face. Stare at it long enough, and he looks, well, crazy.

It's easy to forget Boomer Esiason was a #7 for us, because Boomer - an Islip, NY native originally - quarterbacked for the Jets in some of their worst years. And that's saying something. A man who lead the Bengals - another fraught franchise - to the Super Bowl was thence forced to endure playing for the Jets during the last Coslet year, the only Carroll year and the first Kotite season - and take it all like a man. That's an overall won-lost of 17-31. He was knocked out cold and was out for a while in 1994, as our photograph attests. And today no matter where you go or what you do, Boomer Esiason will always be broadcasting something from somewhere, even if you don't want him to. Sort of like Bob Trumpy. Here's the thing, though: in only three seasons, he became the Jets fourth all-time passer. What strange statistics grow from years of mediocre franchise football. He also lead the team the night that Dan Marino drove a fake spike through the hearts of Jets fans in 1994. Did we know how bad things would get from there? Oh, I think so.

Frank Reich quarterbacked with the Jets? Yes. And he never erased a 38-3 deficit for them? Ever? No, but he's Fundamentalist Christian, a world view no doubt made possible (as all conversions are) by both the highest highs and the lowest lows. The greatest comeback in NFL history with Buffalo produced a euphoric affirmation: "God is an awesome God!" Whereas playing on Kotite's 1-15 Jets squad rendered the believer prostrate, penitent and needy: "I need God to get through this." Thus does God work in mysterious ways.

Tom Tupa is an unsurprising choice for Booth Lustig Funny Name #7, but Ed Bell comes close. There's something funny about the name "Ed Bell." He was also "Eddie" Bell, but regardless it's a name you can trust - as a bookie. Anyway, we're talking about Tom Tupa, the punter. When Vinny Testaverde went down with his famed Achilles' snap in the 1999 opener against the Patriots, I was actually watching the game with a bunch of Patriots fans and old college friends. When Vinny went down they cheered it like snapping jackals at the sight of the smallest antelope fallen wounded. They may have been expressing the rage of countless years of Red Sox and Patriots underachievment, but it still hurt. This was supposed to be the Jets' year. I hope they're happy now. Where have they put all that bile?

So with no backup ready (are you listening to this?!?) Bill Parcells puts the ball into the hands of Tom Tupa, the punter. Parcells had also increased the likelihood of Testaverde's foot getting caught in the hot, new turf of the Meadowlands by earlier replacing it in favor of the grass that they had briefly used during the preseason. But anyway, no backup ready. Not Rick Mirer - not yet - and what would it have mattered? It was Rick Mirer, after all. No, he sends Tom Tupa in, and though it still amazes me as I sit here writing the very words proclaiming it - Tupa immediately throws a touchdown strike to Wayne Chrebet. I get up and begin pointing my finger at the gathering of Patriot fans and yelling (screaming, really), "YEESSSSSS!!" over and over and over again. Yes! Yes! "You motherfuckers!"

Then I left the house and have never spoken with them since. The Jets lost 30-28, but for a moment, Tom Tupa restored my faith in a God whose sense of balance was fair. It was a brief feeling.

According to the Jets all-time roster, number 7 Sherman Lewis was a promising defensive back who tore up his knee while returning a punt in 1966 and never really regained his form. He was an insurance salesman, which I think was a popular off-season occupation for a time when athletes needed to make extra money. Except that he is also the Sherman Lewis who was an offensive coordinator for the champion Packers and the lesser Lions of Steve Mariucci. I think he may have been the last of the great supporting cast of black coaches who was passed over or the top job. See the things you learn?

Behold Ben Graham in his Geeno uniform. I mean, I get that this is an outdoor game and that these guys are playing without pads, but...I mean, the shorts seem really tight. You know? Just a little too tight. Fancy-pants kind of tight. You know?


Wildcard1981 said...

Little Eddie Bell was one of my favorite players. I was in my early teens but I remember him well.

Gordon Meagher said...

Yes. Eddie Bell, Rich Caster, Jerome Barkum and Don Maynard were all Namath's receivers in 1972. Not bad company.

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- Thomas

Anonymous said...

Eddie Bell was my favorite Jet,He was called "super Flea" as he was only 5'7". He was very fast and was in a professional track event at MSG

Sonia Pritchard Smith said...

Eddie Bell is my friend. Love dancing with that guy.

Martin Roche said...

I'll bet he's an awesome dancer.

Rosalia Gooden-Lindsey/Corsicana,Tx. said...

Yes,he was an awesome dancer. We go way back. As far as my high school days.