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Friday, November 28, 2008

Day in the Jets Fan's Life - 11/27/82

A few days after Thanksgiving, we went to my cousin Will's house in New Rochelle. We had already spent the holiday dinner with his family, and now we back to eat the leftovers - the turkey sandwiches topped with stuffing. Will and I were born a month apart. He was essentially my very first friend, and we experienced life's transformations together. We got lost in Flushing Meadow Park together as toddlers. We smacked heads into each other and went unconscious one Christmas while running around Uncle Mike's apartment in the Village. We discovered a pen on the sidewalk that, when turned upside down, turn a clothed woman naked. We both fell in love with Jessica Lange in King Kong, and of the seven times we each saw it apiece the summer it came out, we went together twice to see Star Wars. And now it was time to journey into adolescence together. Three days after Thanksgiving, the Jets were playing Green Bay at Shea.

Just the week before, Dad had taken me and Charlie to see the Jets beat up on the Baltimore Colts 37-0 at Shea. It had been the week of professional football's return to action after a lengthy players' strike in 1982. The Jets looked and acted in that game like they were ready to conquer the world, particularly with Freeman McNeil who, before Marcus Allen, was the most impressive back in the AFC. It was a startlingly different experience from previous games I had been to. I had seen the Jets win at home against Miami and Baltimore in 1978, where they managed to squelch the other teams' rallies. I had seen the Jets manhandle the '76 Buccaneers at Shea, but that was routine treatment from everybody in the AFC the Bucs played that year. The Jets emerged from the the '82 strike with the pent-up energy of the break. They ran over the Colts as if hurrying toward the exits of a burning building. For a 13 year-old boy completely uncertain of everything, I took joy from watching a world-class bullying.

Back in New Rochelle, I was more meek and uncertain. Having grown up together for so long, Will and I could complete each other sentences, but we were also into increasingly disparate things. He kept using urban slang like "snap" and "fresh" that was alien to my cloistered little town. He listened to Iron Maiden whereas the peak of my adolescent musical rage would be The Who's Who's Next. Mostly I still listened to the Beatles. But we threw a football outside in his backyard, which felt awkward because everything felt awkward. But we tried.

Will was never a football fan, but like anyone who knew me, he was especially sensitive toward my obsessions. I probably talked about Freeman McNeil's extraordinary end around touchdowns to bookend the Jets win against the Colts. It was well known around our extended family that when I would visit on an autumn Sunday, someone would have to update me about a Jets game on TV or radio. I knew I had no place asking my hosts if I could watch or listen to the game instead of being a good guest and mixing and playing along. Mom would have had none of that kind of thing. I even knew enough to not mind.

So in the middle of our throwing the football around, talking about whatever 13 year-old boys talk about - possibly even girls - my father came outside to report that, in the third quarter, the Jets trailed the Packers 13-12 after a Mike Augustyniak run but that they would have been ahead by one point had Pat Leahy not missed two PAT's in the game. I reacted with an unspoken expression of hopelessness that Leahy's vexing problems with that elusive extra point conjured in Jets fans for years. The odd thing was that Leahy would keep writing postscripts to the tales of his insane placekicking by also winning enough games with the occasional field goal. In years to come, he would eventually be a lock on any kick anywhere. Actually, he would put up the winning field goal against the Packers that day. Still, in that particular moment, Dad's news of yet another Leahy foible was all there was of the Jets game. It seemed cruel. Will stared at me and said it best, exasperated at my look of torment.

"That's pathetic," he said.

"Yeah," I said, which felt awkward, but then everything felt that way.

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