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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

NY Jets By the Numbers - #34

Who weeps for #34?

It's not the most distinguished number in football. Alright, there's Sweetness, Walter Payton. But it's a tough sell from there. The first name for #34 that pops into my head is the Buffalo Bills' Jim Braxton, the tough fullback who went in all the directions OJ Simpson would not go and who blocked for OJ in the 70's. Braxton did not live to see OJ's murderous path to disgrace because big Jim died prematurely of lung cancer in 1986.

Johnny Hector
Undistinguished? More like less appreciated. More like one man in the path of the faster man. Johnny Hector played Jim Braxton to Freeman McNeil's OJ Simpson. He lasted longer in #34 than any other Jet listed here. It's difficult to appreciate it now that I'm a day away from 40 years old, but throughout the 1980's, the Jets had a formidably consistent backfield that carried the team's offense through some pretty erratic years. From 1984 to 1988, Johnny Hector finished second in rushing to McNeil. But in 1989, Hector took the top spot. Both men were effectively replaced the following year (with nowhere near the same efficacy) by Blair Thomas and Brad Baxter in the McNeil-Hector roles, respectively. Above all, Johnny Hector was the Jets' durable Jim Braxton every Jets season from my earliest adolescence into my early 20's. This is why he is special to me.

LaMont Jordan
On the other hand, LaMont Jordan was the Jim Braxton for Curtis Martin. He has not gained as many yards as Johnny Hector just yet. After playing second fiddle to the greatest runner in New York Jets history, LaMont then packed his bags for the Oakland Raiders, where he went from being a Jets supporting character to a Raiders' 1,000 yard star (as opposed to thousand-yard stare, which Oakland fans have been wearing behind their makeup now for several years). Jordan was the one bright spot in the bleakest consecutive seasons that Al Davis' skeletal remains have been forced to witness from the comfort of his airtight, oxygen-rich, cell-regenerative compression chamber in Alameda Coliseum. Now, after briefly serving the devil in New England, Jordan is someone else's tertiary fiddle for the Denver Broncos.

Walt Michaels, circa 1958
Did someone mention Al Davis? Slowly I turn, step by step.... How many terrible nights has Walt Michaels awakened, drenched with sweat at the memory of his mistaking the voice of a drunken carouser in Queens for the one belonging to Al Davis? The entire story is found here and is ever-present in Jets lore. Maybe it's a sore spot, or maybe it's just simply a piece of pain that makes the survivor stronger in the presence of Fate's unkind face. Maybe he didn't care when the Jets fired him. Maybe he just needed to get away from the Jets. Still, Joe Walton did only a shade better than his predecessor and mentor, and I still think of the 80's Jets as Walt Michaels' team - one that he nurtured almost intact out of its callow youth in 1977 into a club that was a mere plastic tarp away from the Super Bowl in 1983. We should all have so good a ride. Oh, and Walt Michaels wore #34 for the Jets in 1963, his last year as a pro player. According to the Gods of Wiki, he played one game that year and then became defensive coordinator under Weeb - a position he held onto for a decade. He took it up again in 1976 and stayed on with the franchise until the demons of burdensome competition became too much for this crusty son of the Pennsylvania mines.

Dwight Lowery #34
Respect is hard to come by in this game. Take the case of our current #34, Dwight Lowery. I've noticed that basketball and baseball are trying to find their statistical whiz kids in the manner of baseball's Bill James. KC Joyner is one such writer, and his Blindsided is on my summer reading list. Here he applies some of his statistical geekdom to the New York Jets secondary, most specifically, to the underrated performance of Dwight Lowery. But even so, football statistics will never truly rival the burdensome temptation baseball creates among geeks to analyze, analyze, analyze. Perhaps in this way, we are all a little better off in football. Mr. Lowery's incompletes and yards allowed make him look good and, as one commentator points out, they certainly make the Jets' secondary look more formidable. Just don't start keeping track of his fake-to-take ratios. I mean, I don't even know what that means. Actually, I just made that up.

Bernie Parmalee
Do you remember Bernie Parmalee? I remember how funny the name sounded when I first heard it - when he first started playing for the Dolphins in 1992. But then I think I might also have been confusing him with Eric Bieniemy, who was a star at the University of Colorado in 1990. I don't know what it is about their names (they played at the same position), but for the longest time, I thought that the Dolphins' running back was the Colorado standout who had helped deprive Notre Dame of a National Championship (this was still in the days when I still cared how Notre Dame did - their great years, of course). Bernie Parmalee played two quiet seasons with the Jets and finished his career in 2000. He wore #34 for us. He is not Eric Bieniemy.

Nor is Kenyon Rasheed. Actually, if you want to know about Rasheed, you might do best to read his article on life after the pros, with all of its psychological and professional challenges. That he is currently the CEO of something called Rasheed & Associates makes me a little skeptical, but when I look elsewhere, I see he is also a restauranteur and the founder of a sports consulting firm. So, who am I to say? This is a man who had to endure his last pro year in #34 during the abysmal 1995 season.

Finally, Lee White wore #34 from 1968 to 1970, putting him squarely on the roster when the Jets won the championship. However, I've never seen a clip of him on the field. This does not mean he was not there. It just means that Ed Sabol's team on the ground didn't bother with him. White then moved onto the Los Angeles Rams in 1971, but the Wiki says rather cryptically that "At the Rams he played several games, but found it hard to settle into the area." Huh. The year after that, he played a single season for the Chargers of San Diego. What was it about LA? The smog? the traffic? the women? The uncomfortable slacks in the noonday sun? Will we ever know?

1 comment:

Slimbo said...

LaMont Jordan might be my all time favorite Jet. I can't forget that massive touchdown he had in the playoffs against Indy when they were (the colts)...before they became The Colts.