Sunday, March 30, 2008

New York Jets By The Numbers: #18

The plain truth is that 18 is a number that very few NFL legends have worn in their careers. There were Gene Washington and Roman Gabriel in the early 70's. All it takes is a Peyton Manning to change everything, though to be honest #19 never caught on beyond Johnny Unitas, so 18 may never make it either. To me, #18 one of the great unsung numbers of sport. Can you name a #18 in any sport who's worth a plug nickel? Darryl Strawberry! And don't scoff! But that's it. It's the Hebrew number for life. Not that that mattered to Sanjay Beach who, after playing for the Jets, caught the first pass Brett Favre threw to someone to other than himself. He wore #18 for the Jets in 1989. Would that Brett Favre had been with us, too.

Before Oregon State's Kellen Clemens graced the green and white with his, uh, reasonably dedicated effort, the Beavers' Kyle Grossart took the uniform - this after, I think, he had won a Super Bowl ring for the Oakland Raiders in 1980 - doing absolutely nothing. He wore #18, and probably had #17 as a first choice because he carries the curse of the QB with that number and ended his career with the Jets in 1981.

Behold Johnny Green's write up in the Jets' 1963 yearbook: "To say that Johnny Green came out of nowhere to rank as the AFL's No. 5- passer in '62 would be putting it mildly." Well, we all have our distinctions, don't we? As a Jet in 1963, he went 3 for 6. And that, my friends, spells the end of the career of the AFL's fifth leading passer in 1962. Maybe the Jets are just rough on quarterbacks. Word to the wise, Matt Ryan.

Before there was Joe Namath, there was Pete Liske, a pick out of Penn State, where he starred at QB. Then he goes off the NFL map. So what did Pete Liske do between 1964 and 1969? Fight in Vietnam? No. How about leading the Toronto Argonauts? How about throwing 40 touchdowns for the Calgary Stampeders in 1967? What the hell did you do? Not even being born yet? And was coming back to America really worth it? He played for Denver and Philadelphia, so the answer would be no. If the records are to be believed, he wore #18 for the Jets in his single season with them. Pete Liske, ladies and gentlemen. The first once and future savior at quarterback. Browning Nagle's distant ancestor.

Al Woodall was the backup from 1970 to 1973, and he joins the catalog of hearty fellows who played behind Namath in those years. This was not the role cast for a quarterback from Duke University to play. I do not mean to malign their football program but more the decision making of one Weeb Ewbank who never seemed to have a good arm ready to replace the most explosive one in the NFL. The real tragedy of Woodall is actually the tragedy of Namath himself, a player whose image in the popular imagination could never quite enable him to equal what he did in 1969. So how could Al Woodall have been anything more than Al Woodall when the supporting cast for Namath was even too small to protect the bloated bubble of Namath's persona? So Al Woodall handed off the ball to Emerson Boozer and John Riggins, the way Bob Davis and Bill Demory would and did. No one else could approximate Namath's offensive arsenal. Not even Namath himself could after a while.

Which brings us finally to Harry Williams, Jr., who is now a Houston Texan after being a practice squad Packer, Bear and Giant. It is an unforgiving game, this American football. He was originally drafted by the Jets. Who right now, playing video games at home before eating creatinine and bench pressing in the afternoon, is the next unsuspecting draft choice who will someday become a practice squad receiver or the next Toronto Argonaut? Who?

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