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Saturday, January 19, 2008

New York Jets By The Numbers: #5

Five is one of those numbers that doesn't quite fit into the world of football. It's hard to name a famous #5 on any team anywhere. The most embarrassing playoff game in NFL history was between the Cowboys and Lions in 1970, with the former winning 5-0. You get five points in football by scoring a field goal and a safety. Nobody takes the number 5 seriously, except if you're a kicker or a punter, for not only are you somehow implicated in the cumulative scoring of the points that yield 5, but it is also likely your number. You really can't get a quarterbacking job with the number five. Only Paul Hornung could get away with it, and they made him a fullback. Paul Hornung was the Golden Boy, though.

Firstly, there's Don Silvestri, punter, kickoff specialist. He was second in 1995 to Morten Andersen in touchbacks, which, in the Kotite years, translates as a notable achievement. Bring it out to the 20.

But for Jets fans, #5 is one man: Pat Leahy. It wouldn't kill to consider someone like Pat Leahy for induction to Canton, but of course, it'll never happen. Much beloved, much bemoaned, Pat is still the most prominent and important #5 the Jets have ever had. He was the Jets' top scorer for 11 consecutive seasons, and when your team can't get score in the red zone, the kicker is going to win a lot of your team's scoring titles. I've written before about his miserable misses - a missed field goal attempt in Miami that would have made the difference (rather than a 28-28 tie) and would eventually given the Jets the AFC East Title in 1981; a missed PAT against the Dolphins in 1982 that might eventually have put the AFC Championship Game at Shea, not in the Mud Bowl. See my entry "Leahy" for more on himself.

These are paltry issues, though. There should be a Hall of Fame for Placekickers to recognize the little guys that come through in the long-run, if not always in the clutch. If John Madden can finally accept the Immaculate Reception, then I can accept Pat Leahy's misses. A great field goal kicker is consistent, and Leahy's subsequent years of consistency make him a shoe-in (groan) for the Placekicker Canton. It could be said that as soon as he left the swirling winds of Shea for the more comforting confines of the artificial turf of the Meadowlands, Leahy got better and better. By the time I was in college, I knew that a Pat Leahy kick was a lock. Like most placekickers of the era, he looks more like an insurance salesman than a football player. Yet he was the Jets' MVP in 1990. We love you Pat.

But hang on. Before we shut the books on number 5, there's more. There's Brooks Bollinger! Did Chad Pennington ever worry about Brooks Bollinger? I don't think so. There were a few moments there where, amid the frustration Jets fans had in the early part of this decade with Chad's injuries that the future seemed possible with...Brooks Bollinger, the player whose name conjures more a little known film noir with Wendell Corey than it does a multi-touchdown performance. But what can you do? This is the Jets.

There's never been a Super Bowl quarterback on either side of the ball who's worn #5. There is an African-American Presidential candidate, yes, but a QB MVP with a kicker's number? Nah. But into one team's life can come more than one #5 quarterback. Just for kicks, the man of destiny might be named Brett Ratliff. Just in case he doesn't succeed where (or because) the other Brett might, he might make a second fortune by virtue of simply being himself. His name should be trademarked as a perfect exercise for actors as they enunciate each vowel and syllable and warm up their mouths. BRETT RAT-LIFF. Each time you say it, the second string quarterback of the New York Jets receives a royalty. That might make up for the inevitable quarterback hex that accompanies the number five.

And finally then there's Booth Lusteg. That's right. In German, his name means "happy" or "joyous," I think. I couldn't find him anywhere as "Lustig" as he is spelled in the NY Jets Database, and that's not the only inconsistency. He's also on the Jets All-Time roster as a kicker in 1967, whereas Lusteg himself claims he was on their roster in what would appear to be 1968, when Jim Turner had the job. It appears to have been a temporary gig. (Notice that Booth is obviously a creationist). And pick up Booth's book while you're at it. Life after football and inspirational speaking - they go together like gazelles and dinosaurs apparently do in the creationist's world.

But it strikes me that it's important to only not acknowledge players for their achievement on the field and their importance to the franchise we love, but we need also recognize those we feel made the effort to have a funny name. In the tradition of the Lombardi Trophy, we could call name our funny name award after its first recipient: for every number, there should be Booth Lusteg Award.

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