A professional photographer is assigned to get shots of the players comprising the newly established team roster. The photographer blandly instructs his subjects to express something professional for the camera, yet he also captures a player at the brink of his year, after training camp, after scrimmages, and cuts. If a picture can say a thousand words, then head shots can at least offer about three or four important windows into the souls of their subjects. As we embark on discussing players who've worn #28 for the Jets, let's take a look at five players through their team yearbook head shots. What do you see?
(all photos courtesy of the Jets' All-Time Roster)
In the last decade, #28 has become an important number in the Jets organization. A "28" jersey is one of two Jets jerseys I own. Though he wore #28 for the Jets, Raymond Austin's is not the name above the number. He is the last player to wear the number before the last player to wear the number. The truth is I can find no statistics on Raymond Austin for 1997, his lone season with the Jets. So what do you see in his head shot? I see an arresting expression, mixing self-confidence with a sense of vague unease. Damn right I'm good. But I was drafted on the 145th round by Miami and then got sent to the Jets. So now I don't know what the hell's going to happen to me. Best not to think about such things, Ray.
His predecessor in #28, Reggie Cobb, has a very different story from Austin's, yet as with Austin, Cobb's story is in his eyes. Like Austin, Reggie Cobb came out of Tennessee - much more highly tauted, though, and he did not disappoint. He played for Sam Wyche with Brucie-attired Tampa Bay Bucs. He finally reached the kind of mark to which all running backs eventually aspire - he gained 1,171 yards in 1992. But as is often the case with backs who reach 1,000 plus, it was all downhill from there. The running back who gains less the year after a big one has a target on his back. Everybody senses - perhaps rightly - that you're not going to get back on the hill. Your legs are out of gas. It's a question of sheer attrition. By working hard, you made yourself expendable. Once again, football is like life. There was one year with Green Bay, one year with Jacksonville, then a final year with the Jets - 1996 - with a grand total of 85 yards all season. So this is the look of a man who is about to gain 85 yards for a 1-15 squad. He senses that this is his end. Unlike Raymond Austin, Reggie Cobb knows what's going to happen next.
Then there's the expression of downright obliviousness we see in #28 Pat Chaffey, who came to the Jets from Atlanta in 1992. He played two years for us. According to the Jets' All-Time Database, when he was originally drafted out of Oregon State, Chaffey "was signed to the New England developmental squad for 5 weeks belore (sic) ending up with Phoenix's developmental squad lor (sic) the remainder of the season." Boy, can you imagine? The Patriots, back then? The Cardinals back then or, y'know, ever? How happy was he to play for a team that promised to win as many as six games in a season? You can see it in his face. Hot dog, he's saying. The possibility that his two seasons with the Jets would be his last years in the pro's may not have mattered to him. This is his last yearbook head shot. He's extremely happy to have gotten this far, I guess. He persists in a state of giddy delusion. As a Jets fan, I recognize the expression in the mirror.
I don't know if this particular head shot offers a window into Cecil Leonard's soul. But he seems to exude a wariness about the world and its promises, doesn't he? He graduated from Tuskegee, and his first year with the Jets was 1969, when the team was football's champion. Has he noticed that the good times aren't going to last in Flushing? Having lived all his life in the South, is he feeling like a little fish in a big pond? Is he mistrustful of the city folk and their ways? What's the problem, Cecil? Maybe if you had been born a man of color in this country right after World War II and become a professional in the year after MLK's murder, seeing fire hoses turned on protesters, seeing the destination cities of the Great Migration implode, then maybe you'd wear that permanent expression, too.
Whether he's just been caught in a bad picture or just plain old stoned out of his goard, Darrol Ray is probably about to have a good year. Darrol Ray was just a flat-out good free safety sometimes, with seven and six interceptions in his first two years, respectively, 1980 and '81. Like Cecil Leonard, he played his short career with only the Jets, but he lingers in my memory for plays that secondary players dream about. I remember him running an interception back 75 yards for a touchdown in the 1980 opener loss against Baltimore, and I remember a 90-something yard interception of a Kenny Anderson pass for a touchdown in the 1983 playoffs against the Bengals. Darrol Ray and the Big Play. There may be no more exciting play in football than a secondary player's recovery of a turnover for a touchdown. Just to prove it, there's Darrol Ray in my memory, clear as day, hauling that baby back home. A dusty, hot day at Shea. A rainy wet and cold day in Cincinnati. I see them as vividly today as I did back then, even though my original viewing of those moments on TV was somewhat compromised by my own jumping up and down and by the sound of my own screaming.