Sunday, April 5, 2009

NY Jets By The Numbers - #35 (Part 2)

Billy Joe?

That's right. Number 35, running back Billy Joe. "Billy Joe what?" you ask. I know of a Billy Joe Dupree, a Billy Joe Tolliver, a Billy Joe Hoefert, the mysterious "Ode to Billie Joe" that got a name change when it became a movie. But a flesh and blood Billy Joe with no further surname of which to speak? The answer is the same as the one about the one hand clapping; William Joe, running back for the Jets from 1967 to 1969.

Billy Joe. It conjures a hayseed, a country bumpkin. Big ol' Billy Joe. That big fella Billy Joe from Ancora, South Carolina. Big Billy Joe with what looks like a walleye and buck teeth. What do you think of the big city, Billy Joe?

Well, Billy Joe actually played for and graduated from Villanova. Imagine what Billy Joe might have done at Alabama or Auburn had they been integrated? Billy Joe won Rookie of the Year honors for the AFL and then garnered two AFL Championship rings, one with the Buffalo Bills in 1965 and one with the Jets in 1968. By the time he reached Flushing he may have seemed a belated nuisance to most Jets fans since they had rooted against Billy Joe on the nights and days when he played against us. He ran the bench squarely behind Snell, Boozer and Mathis. When Boozer's pernicious corns and bunions acted up in the home game against Boston in 1968, Joe scored three fourth quarter rushing touchdowns in a 48-14 win.

And where is Billy Joe now? In the College Football Hall of Fame, that's where. He's been coaching college football on and off since 1972. This is our Ode to Billy Joe. He's probably the most successful Jets' #35 we've studied and certainly among retired New York Jets he is the most successful football coach. Funny name? Maybe. Maybe it's even worth a Booth Lusteg. Obviously Billy Joe was, and is, a born winner.


We can dispense with the niceties. We have three names here from different eras. First there's Ed Kovac. Was he your driver's ed instructor? Your State Farm agent? Well, he played two games for the New York Titans in 1962 in #35 as well. Then there's Del Lee. I'm not sure how many games in #35 he played for the Jets in 1999, but he's in there somewhere and there somewhere out there right now, somewhere. And Tim Newman who's our scab replacement in #35 from the 1987 strike season. I don't even know what position he played. I could find out, but then he crossed a picket line. Nineteen eighty-seven was also the year I went away to college, and my mother had two parting pieces of advice for me: 1) Go to Mass 2) Don't ever cross a picket line. Of course, I'm sure Tim Newman had his reasons. He wanted to play. Don't we all?

Dennis Onkotz always assumed he would, and we can't blame him for assuming it. Drafted by us in the third round in 1970, the Jets had such high hopes for him that they let him wear the uncharacteristic #35 for a linebacker. That was the number he wore at Penn State as he set the standard in the Nittany Lion linebacking tradition to come of Jack Ham, Greg Buttle, Shane Conlon, Andre Collins, Brian Gelzheiser, Lavar Arrington, Brandon Short, Paul Posluszny, and Dan Connor. The full story is here, but he lasted only half a season long with the Jets, at which point Dennis Onkotz - model for those who came after him in Happy Valley - broke his leg and was eventually out of football for good. Just like that. To be fair, 1970 was apparently a popular year (among many) for key Jets players to be on the DL.

Finally, Danny Woodhead. I don't yet know whether Billy Joe or Danny Woodhead gets the Booth Lusteg for sure, but Danny gets a place in a subcategory assigned him alongside Dicks Wood and Felt: a funny name with a funnier redundancy. Nevertheless, Danny Woodhead also gets the Scrappy, an award I just made up this very second for the player most likely to be thus described by a color commentator. The requirements for this award are that the man in question has to remind the fan of Wayne Chrebet, Bruce Harper, Scotty Dierking or Mike Augustinyiak, another #35. Danny Woodhead manages all of these things just by being himself.

But in the real world, Danny Woodhead #35 - who has never played a single regular season game for the Jets - is a kind of 5'7" legend in places where the corn grows very, very high. He is the pride of Chadron State, a star in Nebraska, where most of the great stars traditionally come from Lincoln. Right now in the heartland there are, very possibly, polygamous cults being developed in tribute to his extraordinarily metaphorical stature. Try to grasp that he owns the NCAA single season and career rushing records, which is mind-boggling. No one but our beloved team even considered him for 2008. But then he blew out his knee last July at Hofstra, and though our scrappy fans have a soft spot for the underdog which eludes spoiled rotten Patriot fans, it looks as if Danny Woodhead will probably suffer the same fate as Dennis Onkotz. Another Local Hero has gone over the side of the professional game's Tallahatchie Bridge. Pass the biscuits, please.


Martin Roche said...

"If you improve some of your daily diet habbits then, its like piece of cake to quickly lose weight."

Your simile makes me hungry. Your spelling makes me sad.

Anonymous said...

Great writing! You should definitely follow up on this topic!!!