Thursday, January 8, 2009

NY Jets By the Numbers - #29 (Part 2)

Number 29 Adrian Murrell was a consistent presence in the Jets backfield from 1993 to 1997, which is no small thing, especially since these encompassed some of the worst of the franchise's squads, historically. The time of which I speak was also a miserably wandering one for me. A couple of years out of college, I thought I was going to be a professor, only to be unceremoniously kicked out of a PhD program. I thought I could make it on my own, only to be jobless without money for rent and taking up house-sitting just to keep a roof over my head. I thought I found freedom in eventually finding a job, but I was just another sad, sorry, pathetic and abused cubicle cog. I thought I had found true love but discovered instead that I was only the receptacle for a beautiful woman's Daddy issues. Life presented me with the usual kind of disappointments that assault people in their 20's, but they felt like collisions in an endlessly dark tunnel.

Through it all, Adrian Murrell was there in the Jets' backfield, reliably getting the ball handed off to him. Or maybe it seemed that way. He ran well in 1995 but would gain a further 1,000 yards plus each of the next two seasons. You could even buy his jersey. How do you gain 1,249 yards for a 1-15 team, as he did in 1996? I kept looking at guys like Murrell and Wayne Chrebet and Kyle Brady (sort of) and Mo Lewis and Hugh Douglas and asking myself, "Can these guys really be that bad?" And the answer was yes. Yes they could. It was the same answer I had when I asked myself, "Could I have screwed it up this badly?" Why yes, boy. Yes.

Yet I remember the last of Adrian Murrell one hot, hot summer day in 1998. Bill Parcells was in his second year as coach, and the Jets were at training camp. I had gone back to teaching part-time, now at the Art Institute of Philadelphia which required that I teach four-hour basic composition to really unpleasant art students. I vividly recall waiting on this particular day for the windowless classroom to become available; I looked down and saw a copy of the day's sports section from the New York Times on the hallway floor. Picking it up, I saw an article about the Jets' running backs for the upcoming year. We all knew that the future of the backfield was now the brilliant running back recently stolen from the Patriots, but I also assumed it still included Adrian Murrell. Imagine, I thought - Curtis Martin and Adrian Murrell. But no. In the article Parcells literally said he was rooting for Jerald Sowell to win Murrell's spot which, eventually, he did. Murrell was released and was then signed by Arizona where he gained another 1,000 yards for the last time in his career. The Jets would embark upon our team's modern era of strange inconsistencies, wrenching highs and bland disappointments - which kind of sounds like my 30's, now that I think of it. Yet Adrian Murrell was destined not to follow me and my team into our new millennium. It felt dishonest and unkind to him. But I have a question - if I buy my dream house or publish something really cool, do the Jets win the Super Bowl? Very likely.

Oh, and yes, Adrian Murrell is also yet another West Virginia Mountaineer running back gone to the Jets. Preceded by Michael Beasely, succeeded by Robert Walker. And now we know.

But in the time before our times, Titans roamed the land. There was no one but them. They played before no one, and no one came to see them at the Grounds of Polo. They were lonely. They became the Jets. But during that time, only one man played running back in #29. His name was Bill Shockley, and he is not to be confused with the racist developer of the transistor. He retired in 1962 after his last season with the Titans, but there is a single story that lingers as an epilogue. He suddenly reappears on the radar in 1968 to play, it would seem, a single game at placekicker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. What was it like, at the age of 31, to suddenly return to football after six years? Had he been practicing in his backyard, kicking between lampposts and electrical poles?

It turns out that the lone game was the 1968 opener, a 34-20 Steeler loss to the Giants. He had won a spot with the Steelers but missed his first PAT. He did make all the rest of them, but I don't know if he attempted any field goals in the game. Regardless - and I can't believe I'm saying this - he was released the following week and permanently replaced by our very own and extraordinary Booth Lusteg. By virtue of this serendipity alone, this unparalleled moment of zen, Bill Shockley is to be named an honorary winner of the Booth Lusteg Award for Funny-Sounding Names Among Players Who Wore #29 for the New York Jets Franchise, even if his name isn't all that funny. This award is given posthumously in this case, with no less appreciation for its recipient.

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