It's the Solstice, a time of hope made in the dark. Maybe not hope for the playoffs. After this past weekend, after being blown onto the bubble, after losing first place just as so many prognosticators said we would, we now have only one last indignity remaining - to lose to Chad Pennington at home. With all of its curious, gobsmacking contemplations, I guess this season has really been about Chad all along.
But now, now. There's no need for the all-too warm and familiar, all-knowing despair. I've written many times about "being here before," but I would like to counter my own compulsion for pathos by noting that nowhere but the last twelve seasons in Jets' history have the Jets finished with a winning record most of the time. The Jets finished seven of 12 seasons from 1997 to the present with winning records, and one at 8-8 in 1999. For some franchises this might constitute business as usual. It's practically the norm for the Giants, a team that absolutely will not fold under enormous pressure, even after losing key players like - as my wife put it - "that idiot who shot himself." And Jets fans cannot hate them, only envy them. Broken record, really.
This season had more wonderful surprises in seven Pro Bowlers, the most of all teams in the NFL this year. This is an astounding piece of news for the boy inside the man who was once ecstatic with merely seeing Wesley Walker on the sideline of the 1979 Pro Bowl at the LA Coliseum. Nick Mangold is finally being recognized, even as a reserve, and Thomas Jones gets a much deserved nod. He has become a worthy successor to Curtis Martin, the workhorse gone before him. And Darelle Revis, last year's first round is in as a reserve as well. (When was the last time a first round selection went to the Pro Bowl in his second year for the Jets? John Abraham went in his second and first years.) And while I wouldn't weep were Eric Mangini fired at the end of this year, the Jets' seven Pro Bowlers may yet keep his spot warm for yet another season of hemming and hawing over dinky passes and runs up the middle.
The Jets may yet eke out a playoff spot, but I'd rather resign out of heartbreak to a place where accepting the inevitable might just bring some ironic relief. When I was 12 and an altar boy, I saw a priest pass out at the pulpit during Mass, only then to wake up in the sacristy with some holy water to the face. "Whew," he exclaimed. "Thank God that's over with." That's what I mean. He realized that it wasn't as if there was never going to be another Sunday Mass, just not that particular, agonizing one. There'll be another Jets season of intense promise - if not next year or the year after or the year after, then maybe the year after that. Should the Jets lose to Chad Pennington at the Meadowlands, there is relief in knowing that they can't hurt us anymore this year. Then it will be time to watch the playoffs without fear. Thus the solstice is our first sign that all the days will get longer from here. In the midst of this cold, we begin to see signs of relief. For those of us seasonally affected by much more than just Brett Favre's turnovers, there is also the eventual sunshine emerging just past the prolonged clouds of March and April and their persistent rain.
Hell, I'm already planning the next season's pre-mortems. Is Brett Ratliff the future when Brett Favre retires/signs elsewhere? (No one should really be fooled by the fact that Brett Favre is a Pro Bowler. I mean, what's the punchline?) Are there any other Bretts in the house? Is anyone interested in getting Matt Cassel on the Jets? How about a really tall wide receiver? How about some linebacking help for David Harris, Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace? Is this thing on?