A friend advised me the other day to write entries that are more about my life and less about the statistical and historical content of the New York Jets By the Numbers. Nevertheless, the NYJBTN is a pet project, a hobby, a model ship in a giant bottle whose ongoing construction will be renewed when the 2008 season is done. In the meantime, the parallels between art and life come easy, for to be a lifetime fan is to experience new things that are, in many ways, simply repetitions of the old. Like love, we say. Seasons come and go, and with them come the perennial sense of disappointment and grief. Before the late 1990's, grief is all the fans of the New England Patriots felt (minus 1985, under Raymond Berry). How will a current seven year-old react when his beloved Pats start careening downwards somewhere over the next five years? It will happen. Like death, we say. That child has no schema for it. Enough. Never mind.
When I first started following games as a kid, the home games that I couldn't go and see at Shea with Dad I had to follow on the radio. No TV. The Jets didn't sell out games back then, and NFL rules prohibited locally televised presentation of home games for non-sellouts. You got used to the idea that you were responsible for your own misery by rooting for a team that wasn't even good enough to sell out a home game. With only the radio broadcast, you were left to the devices of your own obsessive imagination, and with one loss after another, it was a little like leaving a kid unattended with an aerosol can. There was a 43-0 loss to Miami or a 37-6 loss to the Cardinals of St. Louis, both in 1975. You became accustomed to picturing the awe-striking ineptitude of your newfound team solely within your mind.
Well, you had a little help. Each game, announced by Marty Glickman on WOR, was its own psychological saga. Dad couldn't stand Glickman's penchant for drama, but I loved it. As I've said before, Glickman's broadcasts were like listening to a salad bar's offerings being described while the entire restaurant was on fire. Glickman's original claim to fame was as a championship track star who was excluded from running alongside Jesse Owens with the US team in the 1936 Berlin Olympics out of respect for the racial sensibilities of Germany's Fuhrer. The only reason for this exclusion was that Glickman was Jewish. Let's just take a moment to remember that this decision came from then USOC (and later IOC) leader Avery Brundage whose own legacy of racism throughout his entire career speaks for itself. Glickman's harried voice carried all the qualities of a man traumatized by the experience of being betrayed by his own country. His was my first football voice, and it gave me a better feeling for experiencing the Jets than Curt Gowdy, John Brodie, Charlie Jones or Len Dawson ever could.
Back to imagining games. This is relevant to last night's second preseason game against the Redskins, aka "Brett Favre's Preseason Debut," which I was not able to watch anywhere because it was an exclusive to the NFL Network. Since we've recently been reminded that keeping your tires properly inflated will improve your gas mileage, I've noticed that you now have to pay for air at most gas stations. But though air is no longer a privilege to which I am entitled, I still steadfastly refuse to subscribe to the Network, and I don't know anyone who has done so. The sheer amount of money it costs to be a fervent fan is depressing. The latest strategy of having vaguely funny Jimmy Kimmel advertise the network's advantages is not compelling enough. It's extortion. I can't give in, especially when I recall how satisfying it was to see Roger Goodell having to reverse course and show the regular season Sunday night game between the Giants and the Patriots last December. I would rather follow the example I set as a little boy on Long Island - or as an overgrown child in Philadelphia - and use my imagination.
So I followed the Jets game online, which is nowhere near as informative or loyal to the ongoing action as is Major League Baseball's online coverage of their live games. That's by design, no doubt. Brett Favre threw a short touchdown to Dustin Keller, which was the only story people were interested in. From there, the game was handed to Kellen Clemens at QB, with little else to speak of. Mike Nugent hit a field goal from 40-plus, and then he errantly hit the upright from 23 to tie. Welcome to Gang Greenland, Mr. Favre. By the time it was over, I was myself well into the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theatres the experience of which, I propose, is not unlike the experience of watching a full NFL exhibition game. Having long loved Aqua Teen, I know that it is, ultimately, a program best suited to its intended time frame of 15 minutes - which by the way, is also the amount of time that Brett Favre was on the football field last night. Of course, the makers of the Aqua Teen are aware of the absurdity of trying to work their creations into a 90 minute storyline, so they only heighten its stupidity to create a movie that intentionally defies narration. Let's see NFL Network even try to tackle the same issues. An entire exhibition game is a mind-numbing experience (unintended). "What the fuck am I still watching this for?" asks the NFL Network subscriber. "I paid good money for this?!?"
And how would the NFL Network's coverage have been able to do justice to the strange appearance of Tom Cruise at last night's game at the Meadowlands? It's me, Tom Cruise. I'm a guy like you, wanting to see Brett Favre play. I cannot ignore the odd coincidence of his offering signatures at a Jets game the same weekend Shawn Andrews is returning to Philadelphia Eagles' camp after struggling this summer with serious issues of depression, an ailment no doubt that everybody's favorite Scientologist would want to diagnose with an E-Meter. I'm glad to see Shawn Andrews back and unafraid to speak openly about depression as an illness treatable with something other than vitamins. Who would have believed that an athlete has a better grasp of reality than a movie star?
Provided the weather holds, I will be attending training camp on Wednesday. The promise of seeing one of the ten greatest quarterbacks practicing from noon to 5 is a remarkable thing well worth worth the price of a car rental. There are some absurd expenditures I'm willing to make. Next year I'm certain the Jets will charge for watching practices at their new Garden State facility. But I'll jump off that bridge when I get to it.