"A man is a god in ruins. When men are innocent, life shall be longer, and shall pass into the immortal, as gently as we awake from dreams."
Who is this man?
Who is this man who walks about these dying grounds, asking for neither compassion nor remembrance? He may appear lost, but he knows exactly where he is. He stalks with a mindful slowness characteristic of his age and gravity, perhaps attempting to bring memory and reality back into synthesis one last time before the end. But not his end, mind you - the end awaiting the elysian fields on which he once played many, many years ago, his home grounds - the only ones he ever knew as a professional.
This man is Emerson Boozer #32. The photograph is gratefully stolen from a small collection taken by the photographer of Jets Night at Shea, which was last July 8th, the last July 8th Shea Stadium would ever see. The stadium continues its extraordinarily fast decline, shocking us with how fast it takes to destroy something once so pedestrian and real that we assumed it would always be there, even as a nuisance. But it's going away, fast and free of nostalgia's vain restraint.
Anyway, I was planning on being there for Jets Night at Shea, if anything because I believed it was my responsibility as a Jets fan to say farewell to Shea as a Jets fan and not just as a Mets fan. I was a Jets fan before I was a Mets fan, and I first went to a Jets game at Shea a whole two years before I saw the Mets there. But I didn't make it to Jets Night. I missed seeing Greg Buttle, Bruce Harper, Wesley Walker, and Marty Lyons. And Emerson Boozer.
He wore #32 from 1966 to 1975, never once not playing in a Jets uniform; he gathered a Super Bowl ring in 1969 and a career-high 831 yards in 1973 at an autumn age in football of 30. He blocked and ran for Namath. It was his job. On that hot summer night last year, he stared across the chalk lines and greens. For years he played on a football surface that never quite looked like a complete football field. Over the course of a Jets season - whose start was always delayed by the end of the Mets' season - the baseball field at Shea slowly dissolved into a impressionist's portrait of a football field. As he stares at the baseball diamond in the Mets' final season at Shea, Boozer sees the shadows of his onetime Sunday ritual.
Finally, Emerson Boozer's very name brings together two of my great loves - Ralph Waldo Emerson and alcohol - one of which I've had to give up altogether. Like Emerson says in the quote above, innocence is immortal in the realm of men's dreams. As he stalked Shea Stadium one last time, Emerson Boozer, the winner of the Booth Lusteg Award for #32, perhaps saw himself taking a fake from #12, moving to the edge of the pocket, looking for someone to block.
Drafted out of the University of Washington, Charlie Browning was Boozer's predecessor at #32. He came into the NFL in the same year as Joe Namath, but unlike the man who handed Dan Rooney the Lombardi Trophy this past weekend, Charlie Browning's career lasted only one play in one game. He ran the ball back on a kickoff 31 yards, which isn't bad for one return. But that's it. And unlike Joe Willie, Charlie Browning #32 is no longer with us. He joined the world of the dead at some unknown time.
What happened to Charlie Browning?