Despite the strangeness of his voice and what my wife calls his weird name, Cris Collinsworth is a likable, smart character as Sunday talking heads go. He was too articulate and calm to stay on CBS-now-FOX, too clearly intelligent to fit in on NBC-now-CBS. And how long can he possibly last as a normalizing influence at a table of psychological air vortexes like Bob Costas and Keith Olbermann? This is the man who was forced to deal with Bryant Gumbel (my college graduation speaker, of course) last year when Gumbel called the Thursday night NFL Network games, although they sometimes did not seem to be the games Gumbel was hired to call. Patient and enduring, Collinsworth has always kind of been a favorite of mine. But then I actually like John Madden, so what do I know?
Collinsworth was the only one in the pregame to pick the Jets over the Broncos in the 1999 AFC Championship. Two weeks ago he said that the Jets and the Giants looked like they were going to the Super Bowl. But this week, after the Jets' offense spent five minutes on the field while their defense was unable to control Shaun Hill, Collinsworth had to reverse course, expressing a righteous indignation at being fooled by the Jets. "They're done," he said. Collinsworth spoke with the realization that his table mates would be instructed by NBC programmers to pile onto him. We're supposed to believe that these pregame talking heads are just like dirty college fellows in a dirty college dorm room, putting off their late-night studying for Monday morning exams by ordering food from the local grinder shop and berating one another for failed predictions of a Sunday nearly done. "Who was the idiot who said the Jets would go to the Super Bowl? Who was the dummy who said that Brett Favre would throw more yards than Chad Pennington?"
(Frankly, NBC's Hockey Night in Canada can never hope to replicate the original, persistently intoxicated repartee of the original dummies - Cosell, Gifford and Meredith, crystallized here in pregame mode for a 1973 Steelers-Dolphins game on Monday Night Football. Cosell first comments on "Jefferson Street" Joe Gilliam [apparently a black quarterback was still so exotic he needed a boxer's nickname] filling in for Terry Bradshaw:
Cosell: "BLACK QUARTERBACK. Look at 'im! In there. Til the last possible moment."
Then, Gifford and Dandy Don on the latter's missing mustache:
Gifford: You look funny.
Meredith: I am funny.
What's advertised on 1973 TV before the kickoff? Schlitz, Schick, and Gillette's "Dry Look" for all you fellows who've had the wet head for too long. Then, back to the game, we see an actual prayer recited on the field before the kickoff [this is Great God's America after all], and then Meredith corrects Gifford on who is singing the National Anthem. They are hammered.)
But I would like to thank Collinsworth for allowing himself to be set straight. To be fair, Collinsworth and a whole nation of football fans know nothing about the behavior of the New York Jets in December. How can they know better? Let's clear things up then. Witness, gentle friends, the extent of December's plagues on the Jets:
1970, 1976: 0-3
1971, 1975, 1977, 1978: 1-3
In '74 and '79, the Jets managed three consecutive wins to end December, compelling an otherwise unknowing world to predict a Jets' division championship for the following season. Futile.
The trend continues into the 80's, including that 1986 season when the Jets lost five straight, three in a row in December. With or without the help of scabs, the Jets did the exact same thing again in 1987. Then they managed to go 1-3 in 1989 and 1-3 in 1991 after an impressive 7-5 start. Or how about the great collapse of 1994 that began with Marino's Fake Spike and ended five losses later at season's end, three of which came in December? Do the Kotite years even count? You bet! The Jets did not win a single December game during those two seasons. In this century, the Jets have been 1-3 in 2000, with a weird pattern of a 2-3 in the Decembers of 2001, '03, '05, and '07.
Granted, these statistics represent a norm that can be found in a variety of teams' experiences. But I'm thinking here about clarifying things for all the nice people who speak hopefully and helpfully to me during the day about the Jets going to the playoffs. It's not their fault for trying to be friendly. They talk up the Jets because they know that if all else fails at least they can have a polite and encouraging conversation with me about my football team. It's kind, really. And perhaps because they do not take the season-end failure of any sports club so seriously, they cannot grasp what it did to me to see my Jets lose yesterday by 10 points to a mediocre NFC West team. My friends, colleagues, students shouldn't worry, though. It hasn't ruined Christmas. Christmas was ruined a long time ago.
Even Dad expressed an amnesiac surprise at the game. "I figured, y'know? I mean, it's Favre, for God's sake. He was going to do something."
"Dad," I responded, "it's December."
In the silence, the years spoke to him. First with piecemeal memories forged in the rain and cold of watery hot chocolate and off-duty cops in the Loge seats, then in an avalanche of disappointing fragments. One frigid, wasteful, frustrating Sunday after another.
"Yeah," he said.