Saturday, August 23, 2008
I post this picture because it is one of those unsung, unheralded moments in Jets history - the opening kickoff of the first Jets-Giants game, which Mike Battle ran back (leaping like a gazelle, actually) for a touchdown over the New York Giants in a hot August preseason game at the Yale Bowl in 1969. I was almost six months old, the nation had owned the moon for a month, and about 150 miles away from New Haven, both your uncles were looking for a Port-O-San at Woodstock. Once Mike Battle scored, the Jets then spent the rest of that humid, bright day pummeling the Giants into submission. Like Hal at Agincourt, it was a brief victory, followed by years attrition, illness and, ultimately, total loss. But for one moment, the Jets were the only football team in New York.
Oy me. Tonight's Jets-Giants game is not on in Philly. Instead, while following the game online, I will be watching the Steelers and Vikings in Minnesota. For the love of God, I hope that the Vikings will not be wearing their Bob Fosse outfits. I do not know what kind of pride you can have when you are taking on the Steelers in purple leggings. I don't know why I should care, except that I have a latent sympathy for the old Vikes from their days of unbeatable home field advantage. They were one of my three adopted proxy teams during the first great Jets miasma, the 9-43 years of 1975-77. Basically, I rooted for them in the playoffs, the one place where I knew I wouldn't find the Jets, and Minnesota was well in the thick of it back then. What clinched my proxy feeling was the loathsome outcome of the 1975 playoff game at Bloomington against the Cowboys, the game that is the titular owner of the first "Hail Mary" pass. Like anything else associated with the Cowboys, such a claim is a ridiculous fraud born of the worst form of American hubris. How could I ever root against the Vikings when they were victims of Drew Pearson's push off of Nate Wright?
This well edited tailgating retrospective on the moment epitomizes the kind of fans and game the Vikings were once known for. In the present, we see stout descendants of actual pillaging Norsemen drinking beer in a parking lot, dressed for the kind of shattering cold that, strangely enough, was not in evidence on the day of the 1975 game in question. Two things here: it is impossible to appreciate the madness of that playoff game without forgetting that the referee who blew the interference call was then tagged by a bottle to the head from one of the end zone fans. This is a remarkable detail often forgotten, one that transcends the Lake Wobegon stereotype of Minnesotans as withdrawn, shy, and largely harmless folk. Second, it is important to remind ourselves that since they left the frigid, abandoned-by-God confines of Metropolitan Stadium, the Vikings have never returned to the Super Bowl.
Back to our heroes: An uncanny number of the past and present preseason squabbles between Jets-Giants have been humdrum, awful games - usually won by a point, a touchdown, or by apathy - 16-15, 15-14, 16-14, 10-0. Nothing at all like the circus Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler apparently put on display last night. Whereas during that hot weekend in 1969, as his country transformed all around him without his really understanding it yet, my father saw Don Maynard leading a chorus of "Goodbye Allie" for Jets fans to sing at the conclusion of the game at the Yale Bowl. Maynard sang it for Allie Sherman, the coach who cut him from the Giants in the late fifties. Jets 37 Giants 14. Dad still remembers it.
True to the drama of the moment, Sherman lost his job that season and never made it to the Hall of Fame. Maynard kept his job, and his bronze bust is visible in Canton, Ohio. I will take whatever belated pride I can. Beat the Jints.