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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

NY Jets by the Numbers - #33 (Part 2)

Here in town, it's a snow day. Our high school English faculty had a pool of $150 to pick which winter day would be our first snow day. I picked March 2. Unfortunately our first snow day of the year was February 18th, so the snow day pool money went to a colleague of mine who's a much lovelier person than I. Still, I really could have used that buck fifty. In this economy, as the Brothers from the East once said, stakes is high.

It's always been a little like that for me. I realize that you don't have to win to play, but winning helps you play just a little bit harder. I don't think I've ever won a football pool, a NCAA basketball tourney pool, a snow day pool, a hand of poker, anything valuable from a slot machine, a bet at the doggie track circa 1988, or any other contest of chance. Sure, there's skill in making the right calls, but frankly, as I'm learning now that I'm shopping for a house in an atmosphere of most uncertain times, there's only so much that skill can do; it's often up to chance where you'll be in six months time, no matter who you are in this ridiculous world. The house wins overall. Sometimes the best and most advisable turn is to just sit still and wait. Like Didi and Gogo. Just wait.

Number 33 Kevin Long looks like he's waiting, doesn't he? Perhaps with a resigned sense of fate, too. You get the sense that he has an overall feel for the eventual outcome, even if he's not sure what it will be. This might seem a little ironic since the photo is taken during his best NFL season, 1978. He gained 954 yards on the ground and became the most successful runner on a team with small but durable stars on the ground: Scott Dierking, Bruce Harper, and Clark Gaines. Kevin Long looked so much the star back then that I believe that it his his image that was copied and rendered again with a new number in 1979 for the team poster. There were two such images produced by the NFL for the Jets that year - the other was of Richard Todd, which I believe I may have owned (am I really starting to age such that I cannot fully recall?) There were big expectations behind Kevin Long. He came from a brilliant career at South Carolina. His name was perfect for a running back. Run Long.

I remember an early 1981 season game against the Houston Oilers at Shea. Kevin Long took a short pass from Richard Todd for a touchdown for the Jets' first score of the game. For Jets fans who remember the 1980's with the decidedly mixed pleasure that befits our station in this ridiculous world, it was the beginning of a well-known turnaround. This was the game that signaled a change of fortune from the team's start at 0-3. The Jets would beat the Oilers 33-17 on that hot, dusty September day and would henceforth complete the rest of the season 8-2-1. As he ran toward the far sideline after scoring, Kevin Long paused; with the crowd likely roaring in his ear, he lifted his facemask ever so slightly, and promptly vomited. He then recovered himself enough and kept moving.

So there are no undiluted pleasures. As luck would have it, Pat Leahy missed a winning field goal against Miami a few weeks later. Had he made it, it would have given the Jets the division title by the end of the year. Instead, Kevin Long would appear in Sports Illustrated weeks later, credited with gaining 67 yards in the home closer against Green Bay that would give the Jets a Wild Card berth which, as luck would have it, would be against Buffalo at Shea. It would be Kevin Long's last game in the NFL before departing to the USFL and becoming a star for the Chicago Blitz, who then, as luck would have it, would move to Arizona and become the Wranglers.

I don't remember #33 Ronald Moore, but that might be because my mind didn't want to confuse him with Rob Moore #85, the wide receiver who, much to my chagrin, had left for the Arizona Cardinals a season before Ronald Moore reached us. Though it was not actually thus, it appeared we got a Ronald for a Rob, hence getting the shorter end of the deal with a longer name, for Ronald Moore came from - as luck would have it - the Arizona Cardinals. He had run for more than a thousand yards for the Cardinals in his first year, but the Jets got him two seasons later in 1995 at the beginning of his decline and at the outbreak of the short but horrific Rich Kotite era in Gang Green Land.

Here Eric Mangini seems to be offering an argument in defense of Eric Smith, our current #33, perhaps in light of some of the less than kind discussions that went on early last season on JetsInsider regarding Smith's performance and regular playing time. However, one might also look at the obvious role he plays in showing up at publicity and good will functions on behalf of the Jets. He is there to hand out gift cards at Dick's Sporting Goods when such appearances (and their paychecks) are beneath Brett Favre. Somebody's got to do it. Ah, but for how much longer now that we have Lito Shepperd?

Number 33 Jerald Sowell was a tight end disguised as a fullback; he probably caught more 1-yard passes for touchdowns than any other fullback in franchise history (even more than Kevin Long, I believe). His relatively long career with the Jets began with Bill Parcells and ended with Herman Edwards. He was the man Parcells hoped would beat out Adrian Murrell for a starting spot on the 1998 team. I still have problems with that. Here he is hauling in the only Jets score in the 30-10 playoff loss they suffered in Oakland in January 2003, a game I binge drank through in order to endure the pain. It may have been one of my personal nadirs, which is why this picture says it all. Good for Jerald Sowell.

Drafted second round out of Bethune-Cookman University, Terry Williams played at defensive back for the Jets in #33 from 1988 to 1989. At their web site, his alma mater, for whom he is now a secondary coach, says it much more graciously than any of his mere, unmarked 11 games could: "Williams was drafted by the New York Jets of the NFL where he played for two years until a knee injury ended his playing career well short of what was sure to be an illustrious career." I don't even care if it's true or not. We should all leave our professional epitaphs this way. But this I love - in terms of his current work, "It is not uncommon to see Williams still using his speed and agility to demonstrate defensive routes and blocking techniques to his cornerbacks ... thus showing his exuberance for the position and game he loves to coach so dearly." Indeed, my good man! Indeed.

1 comment:

Slimbo said...

I remember the Kevin Long upchuck episode well. Can you imagine what the Shea crowd's reaction was? I'll bet it escalated the post-touchdown celebration into a frenzy.