Friday, July 25, 2008

New York Jets By The Numbers: # 27 - Part 3

I attended a Catholic college in Rhode Island that was a day and a half by car from my family. That wasn't what I planned; it just happened that way. My Dad moved us from New York to the Deep South in 1987. When he did that, I became a stranger in two lands - New England and the South, two different worlds, yet two parts of the country that are remarkably parochial in their own ways. New England introduced to me the sensation that I have felt all my life since, that of being a stranger. New Yorkers who move elsewhere have this. Their diaspora around the country fits with the sense of a lost homeland. Like God's own chosen people, no matter where they are, New Yorkers know they have a home that is already ideal for them, waiting for their return. The New York metropolitan area is a place full of pressure, angst, neuroses, excellent food of every variety, sports out the yang, constant local news, excellent (or competently objective) journalism, and cultural experiences of every kind. It also has an oppressively high cost of living and a former Governor who thought he could get away with having sex with hooker who appeared in hip-hop videos. This... this is New York.

I've lived in Philadelphia for 15 years and am proud to call it my home, but like the weepers by Babylon's waters, I remember Zion. Having a disconnection from where I grew up proved worthwhile in the end, I suppose. It produced the person I am today - wary, careful, and skeptical. I like that. At college, I found other souls from disparate parts of the world - United Kingdom, Switzerland, Illinois, Maryland - who felt similarly detached from home, who also could not return on weekends to do laundry or get a hot meal. We spent the lonelier weekends playing cards, getting drunk, eating food from the "Yuck Truck," striking out with girls, and using fake ID's to get into local neighborhood bars and receive withering stares from indignant townies.

Our college had no football team. Its basketball team occasionally went far into the March tournament but usually saw its bubble burst beforehand, or they got beaten in overtime in the first round. The New York Jets of my college years were an underachieving bunch, going 24-38-1, with no playoff appearances. I spent one football season in England. In my sophomore year, I did what some people do when they are lonely; I turned to following Notre Dame football.

There was some basis for my jump on the bandwagon. My uncle went to Notre Dame, and I think my grandfather loved Notre Dame football more than his own life. To a grade-school educated factory worker in Brooklyn who remembered "Irish Need Not Apply" signs, my grandfather looked at Notre Dame as the great example that the Irish could make it in America, and though his goal of visiting his ancestral homeland could never be realized, Notre Dame remained a kind of floating homeland for him. It was for me, too, but for different reasons, obviously. I mean, I was certainly enjoying the better socio-economic benefits of being a fourth generation Irish-American. It was a good time to root for Notre Dame, though. Coached by former Jets coach-washout Lou Holtz, Notre Dame went to the Cotton Bowl in 1988 and won the National Championship on 1989. Three of my exile friends had siblings or parents who went to Notre Dame, and we followed Saturday's games more than any game on Sunday.

I know Notre Dame is hated, and rightly so. Like the Patriots, their arrogant fan base is to blame, but so too are Rudy and ND's wannabe alumni. As erroneous as it seems now, I made myself believe that Notre Dame tied together all the disparate parts of my life - my rapidly lapsing faith, my old home, my little club of fellow exiles, and my grandfather's old devotions. It made sense at the time.

But back in the day the Hurricanes of Miami were reviled even more than Notre Dame. The two undefeated teams met in the autumn of 1988, in the finest college football game I have ever seen. "Catholics vs. Convicts." At the end of a long comeback, Notre Dame managed to deflect Steve Walsh's efforts toward a two-point conversion at the last second and the Irish held on to win, 31-30. It made me happier than any Jets victory I had ever known. Notre Dame had given me all that I had needed in the moment, and after that, I cared less and less about them. It couldn't last. Today, I find myself almost rooting against Notre Dame and their longtime monopoly on Saturday afternoon's television time. It was a short-term relationship that made me happy enough to go on with my life. As I would soon discover when I got my bearings straight, the Jets were my life.

But until today I did not put it together that the Pat Terrell the Jets obtained in 1994 was the same Pat Terrell responsible for making the big play - Notre Dame's deflection of the two-point conversion. Particularly in college football, big moments dwarf the players who make them. Maybe that's why I like the professional game. It's not work for nothing. Pat Terrell leaped up for the ball, and I leaped with him, collapsing with my friends into a blubbering mass of joy. Pat Terrell wore #27 for the Jets in what was his most unremarkable season of work and then moved on to his next team in 1995.

And finally, to conclude our discussion, Phil Wise actually had the longest Jets career in #27. The first news I get from the Jets All-Time Database was that Wise experienced a consistently compromising injury, in both life and work. The 1975 Yearbook is quoted as saying, "One of the best all-around athletes on the team, but has been bothered with a series of groin pulls which have cost him 11 full games." Did they need to be so specific? Against the Colts at Shea in 1973, Phil Wise recovered a Raymond Chester fumble caused by Mormon Burgess Owens and ran it back 80 yards for a touchdown. I know Dad was there. The Jets won, 20-17 - one of four wins they would manage all year. I'm trying to imagine him seeing Phil Wise pick up that loaf of bread and take it home. It's a mixed blessing to remember such things, but then as the movie says, sorrow is just old joy.

Phil Wise may even have been slicker looking than the man who replaced him in #27, Ron Mabra. But then did he sell leather in the off-season? I don't think so.

1 comment:

Martin Roche said...

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