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Saturday, February 21, 2009

NY Jets by the Numbers - #33 (Part 1)

Bob Burns and John Chirico each wore #33 for the New York Jets, and each gained about as much yardage as the other in their little time in uniform. Chirico, a Brooklyn native and graduate of Columbia gained yardage in the Bizarro games of 1987, as a replacement running back during the Strike. Burns, a standout running back from the University of Georgia, gained nearly the same number of yards with the Jets in the length of an actual season - 1974, to be exact. This is about as much as I can say, other than the fact that as professionals, they were and always will be Jets and nothing else. As professional football players, this is all they were.

But I guess I would be remiss if I didn't point out the lusty hair and somewhat dazed expression of Bob Burns, circa 1974. Again with the far-away look of framed contemplation. He looks like a nature child about to share the wisdom of Gaya with us, if not a little mescaline. In real life, his pleasures were more earthy (in the non-freak sense). According to the 1974 New York Jets Yearbook, Bob Burns enjoyed water skiing and hunting. One presumes in one form or another, he still does.

Pete Hart and Paul Hynes. Peter and Paul. One succeeding the other in #33 for the New York Titans. Pete Hart weighed as much as I do now (well, maybe a little less) and stood at 5'9" for us as a running back. That's a brick of a fellow who gained all of 113 yards on 25 carries in one season, the Terrible Titans' first, 1960. That's four-plus yards a carry. Not terrible. Whereas Paul Hynes' Titan career lasted the final two Terribles' seasons. In the role of what appears to be a defensive back, he intercepted two passes in 1962, his last pro season. Sometimes deciphering the performance of Titans of the past is a little like trying to read time-worn cuneiform off a slab in the Fertile Crescent.

But there are some Titans who need no Rosetta Stone. Everybody who knows the history of the Jets knows about #33 Curley Johnson, one of the four original Titans to play in Super Bowl III. Can you name the other three? Too late! Bill Mathis #31, Don Maynard #13, and Larry Grantham #60. I don't know which number Curley wore when he came to the Titans from the Texans in 1961, but he was given #33 when Sonny Werblin bought the club from Harry Wismer. He threw a pass in 1964. He shagged a kickoff in 1966. He ran for net -6 yards in 1968. Mostly what Curley Johnson did was punt, as he evolved from running back to full-time punter as a Jet. He averaged an average punter's distance of 42 yards over the course of his career. In the half-hour long summary videotape I own of the 1968 AFL Championship Game, there's a great second-long shot of Curley pacing the sidelines waving his fist and whistling sharply. For one of the original four Titans, the game must have been a gut-wrenching roller coaster that finally culminated with euphoria in the frigid air. In that moment, his career probably became something more than just a collection of personal bests and achievements, but rather a collective enterprise with an entire team. Who knows? Before then, his happiest moment as a pro might have been a late-game touchdown catch he made in a 52-13 trouncing of the Oilers in 1966. The receiving corps were on the bench, as was Namath (Mike Taliaferro made the throw).

Super Bowl III was his last game as a Jet. His replacement the following year, Steve O'Neal #20, would set the NFL record for the longest punt. In his last season as a pro, Curley Johnson became a New York Giant. In August 1969, while playing for the dread Blue, Curley Johnson, recently cut from the Jets, was probably watching from the other sideline while the team he had followed out of AFL obscurity into franchise immortality celebrated their 37-14 victory over the Giants in a highly charged exhibition game at the Yale Bowl. I suppose he cheered inside. It's a testimony to what a sour person I am that I cannot help but think he must have been bitter about it, though. Maybe Curley Johnson is a better person than I am.

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