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Monday, January 26, 2009

NY Jets By the Numbers - #30 (Part 2)

The first time the New York Jets played a regular season game at the New Jersey Meadowlands was the second game of the 1977 season, when the Jets fell to Baltimore 20-12. The Jets had managed a safety and Leahy field goal all day, and many of the masses departed early to tackle the then unfamiliar commute from New Jersey back to Long Island and the city. Under threatening skies, Jets fullback Charlie White #30 scored a one-yard touchdown to narrow the Colts' lead to eight. It would be the only touchdown of a brief career that would end the next season in Tampa Bay. Ironically, the year after that, an entirely different Charles White of USC would win the Heisman Trophy.

In the category of brushed with greatness, consider the Jets' safety #30 Chris Hayes, who spent one season with the championship Packers of 1996 and one with the defending champion Patriots in 2002. (Did Bill Parcells see something in Hayes during Super Bowl Somethingorother when the Patriots fell to Favre's Pack such that he brought him to the Jets for the following training camp?) Sandwiched in between, Hayes spent five seasons with the New York, from 1997 to 2001 - years I like to think of as the Jets' modern era of confused expectation. As long as he didn't have to play on Kotite's squads, he should have counted his blessings.

Dean Look has a great name, even if his history in the AFL consists of a single season with the New York Titans. He is our first #30 in franchise history. I knew a guy in college named Dean. Every time we saw him, we used to yell, "Dean! Look!" He would reply, "Holy shit!" every time. We didn't know about a Dean Look from the New York Titans or anything. You really had to be there.

Did you know Chuck Mercein #30 played for the New York Jets? I didn't either. Do you know who Chuck Mercein is? Chuck Mercein is the guy you see holding up his hands to signal that he is not pushing Bart Starr over the goal line in the final seconds of the Ice Bowl in 1967. This is because Mercein was promised the ball in the huddle, but Starr decided to keep, leaving a startled Mercein behind to fall atop the pile. His heroics on the final drive led the Packers to the goal line. None of these adventures manifested themselves for the Jets in 1970, his first and only season with us (and the last season of his career). Hopefully the final drive on New Year's Eve 1967 made it all worthwhile, for he never even carried the ball in Super Bowl II, and he appears to have missed the entire 1969 campaign for the Packers. Much of his career seemed to be about waiting around for his chance, which must have been frustrating. Sometimes that's the way life has to be.

And finally, Mark Smolinski, the Jets' standard bearer for the #30, whatever that means. During a fairly entertaining and enlightening HBO special on the history of the AFL - which my brother kindly taped for me while I was laboring under the strain of only 13 channels in a miserable Philadelphia apartment - we see that the league was indeed progressive-minded. AFL players refused to play the All-Star Game in New Orleans in 1964 when they realized that the city would not to offer rooms in the reserved hotels to African-American players. The league franchises made black and white players feel more at home with each other than players in the other league felt. In a seemingly unrelated point, John Madden mentioned that the AFL was the only league that insisted players' names be put on the backs of uniforms. To illustrate Madden's point, the film showed a clip of a crew-cut Jet player from the back bearing the name "Smolinski" and the #30. They might just as well shown the extraordinary length the to which the Buffalo Bills went to print the name "Schottenheimer" on the back of a certain small linebacker's jersey, but there you are.

But then I guess if you put a player's name on his jersey, he feels more like an individual. Is he then more inclined to see his colleagues that way, too, such that when Abner Hayes, Cookie Gilchrist and Dave Grayson were refused a room, Jack Kemp, Keith Lincoln and Mark Smolinski (had been an All-Star that year) took offense? What's in a name?

Along with the late Johnny Sample and Bake Turner, Mark Smolinski was also cut by the Baltimore Colts in the early 60's, only then to return to haunt Baltimore in the last game of his career, Super Bowl III. Smolinski's last touchdown as a pro came in week 2 of 1968 in (of all places) Birmingham, AL when he blocked a Terry Swanson punt and downed it three yards away in the Patriot end zone to give the Jets a ten point lead on the Boston Patriots in the third quarter.

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