Saturday, January 24, 2009

NY Jets By the Numbers - #30 (Part 1)

Nineteen eighty was a disappointing year in a largely disappointing New York Jets history, and Bobby Batton had an appropriately nondescript year at running back for us. Drafted in the seventh round that year, he might have believed the hype written about the team, only then to see an absolutely miserable 4-12 season. They would come back to nearly win the division the following year, but Bobby Batton would not. Batton's statistics in 1980 are basically as anonymous as could be: eight games, three attempts, four yards gained. But maybe hidden within Batton's work is the Rosetta Stone cuneiform translation of the Jets' meaning in the universe. Three attempts, four yards gained. One step forward, stay in place, disappear.

(In an article written about Wesley Walker's troubles, Ian O'Connor makes brief reference to the Jets of the early 80's, whose promise were tempered by many things - poor conditioning, Studio 54, selfish, hamfisted celebrities, and poor race relations within the team. I need to go back into Gerald Eskanazi's Gang Green and see if he writes about it. Injuries undid the Jets in 1980, but bad feelings probably did, too.)

I say it early and often: the Jets and I have a symbiotic relationship forged out of a mutual sense of futile dedication and our loyalty to the cause of pressing on for the sake of pressing on. Players are supporting cast members in this Wagnerian epic. Brad Baxter #30 is an excellent case example. He played exclusively for the Jets from 1989 to 1995, which were hard lean years for Jets fans. We saw one playoff appearance through it all. In 1991, probably his best season, Brad Baxter went to the playoffs for the only time in his career - a miserable 17-10 loss to the Oilers. It was a good year for me. Pushed aloft by a false sense of security that only undergraduate honors and success can provide, I scored touchdown after metaphorical touchdown in my imagination (Brad Baxter scored 11 actual TDs in 1991, with 666 yards. Yikes). Maybe he thought there would be another shot at football in January. But by 1994, I was tossed out of a graduate program and had to move out of an apartment I had proudly found myself. In the photograph here, we see Brad Baxter that season being tackled in another 17-10 loss, this time to the slowly improving Packers who have a young talent named Brett Favre. Both in the photograph and in his career, Baxter's run is coming to a close. He is probably feeling like the fleet gazelle that has eluded the big cats for so long that he has neglected to notice that he has lost a step, and now in the paws of his betters, he is facing the truth - it's not what it promised to be, this once long life.

What's that look in Dennis Cambal's eyes? Why did they ask football players to look like this in football cards in the 1970's? In the 60's, overly posed "action" shots like the one we see for Mark Smolinski on the right hand side of the blog were the norm. By the 80's, gametime shots - especially ones taken pregame - were more common. But public relations and football card shots in the early 70's seem to portray players without their helmets, discovered in moments of meditation and reflection - a perfect compliment to an era when young men were growing their hair long, growing their mustaches in curious ways, and taking on appearances once found among residents of failed Northern California communes. The era of Semi-Tough. Dennis Cambal was probably no freak, even if he looked a little like a hippie, but he probably looked the way a lot of young men who graduated out of William & Mary did in 1972. Drafted by the Oakland Raiders, Cambal had the ill luck to be sent to the Jets just as they were beginning to lag far behind their old AFL rivals. Dennis Cambal is watching that lost opportunity fade into the red cauldron of the Bay at sunset. His lone statistic for the 1973 season, and for his career, is eerily similar to Bobby Batton's in #30: "8G."

Drew Coleman is our current #30, that is until Rex Ryan decides what he would like to do with him. Among a Jets secondary that has made believers out of some, Coleman may yet fade into the haze of the team's future, in much the way he fades into the background of another man's touchdown (Chicago Bears' Mark Bradley, back in 2006). But if Rex Ryan believes that Darrelle Revis is the best cornerback in the NFL, then can't something be said for Drew Coleman? Isn't there hope for all of us in some way?

And finally, the first part of our discussion of #30 will conclude with the most famous #30 in New York Jets' history, Nuu Faaola, a durable short yardage gainer and special teams man for the Jets from 1986 to 1988. Here a rare 1987 clip (not replacement football, mind you) of Nuu at home against Buffalo. The crowd Nuu's at him as he gains a first down, and we hear Marv Albert correctly enunciate his name: "New-ew Fah-ah-oh-la." Here I break with my own self-imposed rules on naming winners of the Booth Lusteg Award for Funniest-Sounding Name. For #30, I temporarily suspend my rule prohibiting a winner whose name sounds "funny" because it is ethnically unique to the sound spectrum of a mostly Western ear. If you listen to Marv Albert say Nuu Faaola's name over and over, while the Meadowlands crows accordingly, I think you'll agree that there is an exception to every rule. (But is that Joe Namath doing the color commentary on the YouTube video? And is there a Monty Python copyright frozen at the last frame? Why?)

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