Thursday, June 25, 2009

NY Jets #37 - The Artists

What's the hard part? The hard part isn't finding a thousand generalized themes about Jets in #'s 12, 13, or 28. It's finding a single decent binding thought about a football player who's worn #37. (There's Shaun Alexander.) Likewise, it's difficult to name a single #37 on the New York Jets worth his wax enough to make an impression on an overly receptive mind

If this were baseball, it wouldn't be that difficult. Some numbers in baseball are talismans. Two magnificent #37's from different eras in baseball are Casey Stengel and Bill Lee, each of whom is known for what he did on the field, yes, but also for his virtual reinvention of the English language. In baseball, #37 embodies a quality of eccentricity and even a strain of individuality almost too frustrating for team sports.

Football has never been particularly kind to quirky individualists, and so its numbers are treated with with little reverence for the power of the uncontrollable. There really aren't any Mark Fidryches in football - people whose entire persona seems built around gestures of obsessiveness and peculiarity. "Quirky" gets fired in football. It is a sport briskly intolerant of uniqueness. Its eccentricities turn into self-aggrandizing dysfunctions that make everybody wince in embarrassment. Take Ochocinco's tiresome attempts at humor, each one less funny than the last. Or Terrell Owens' closeted weirdness, as he lifts weights on his lawn. In each case, the eccentricity is just an extension of the man's frantic, dull insecurity.

It's hard to laugh in a state of siege, and maybe that's why there's no self-consciousness in football. The beguiling prayer circles I see at the end of football games make sense when players gather together for a crippled teammate or foe. Some cultures under siege find consolation in self-deprecating humor; others find themselves unable to bear the idea of a laugh, so they pray, solemnly. Creative self-expression has a hard time in an atmosphere of perpetual violence.

So #37 is just another man up or down, right? Thus is the attrition of America's game.

Well, let's start with Darien Barnes, anyway. He played for us in #37 for the 2007 season at fullback, a role intended to provide blocks for Thomas Jones. It did not work out. Much was written all over the place over Barnes' lack of efficacy at the position in that dismal season. He signed afterwards with the Buffalo Bills. There are many good points at this link about the general lack of success among Jet free agents in 2007; for once, free agents were less effective than draft choices for the Jets. Scroll down on the link, and you'll see SoFlaJets offer the following unintended piece of free verse:

darien barnes was terrible

make no mistake

this is a good thing to have an open roster spot,

maybe they can swoop in on someone's Psquad

But while we're on the subject of art, let me take the opportunity to mention that Barnes is also recognized as a comic book collector and, if one can take his word, a future author of comics. I mention this because, as he himself notes, Barnes might be considered a "dork" among his colleagues if word were out that he loved graphic literature (as we English teachers call it). Like I say, there is not much room for the inner life in American football.


But wait - don't despair. Not yet. Check out George Nock who played in #37, at roughly the same position from 1970-71. He was drafted, I believe, as the next Matt Snell. Nothing worked properly for the Jets those two seasons, no matter what the plan. Somewhere I have the sticker for George Nock in the Sunoco sticker book from 1972, but by that time, like Verlon Biggs, Nock had become a Jetskin. The last game of his career was the Redskins' Super Bowl loss to the perfect Dolphins.

But look here - George Nock is today a bronze sculptor, and a rather successful one if you consider the expense of such works.

Have I got this whole thing wrong? Is this a game that actually nurtures artists?

The current draft choices for the Jets should be worried that as soon as their likely brief careers are over, they'll be relegated to the purgatorial worlds of real estate, insurance sales, or physical education. Worse, they might face drug abuse, psychological trauma, racketeering, madness, alcoholism and/or incarceration. But maybe, just maybe, #37 can teach them a little something about the inner life after football. Maybe there's something in there for all of us.

Let the artist within speak. Perhaps the game is not an endgame. You are yourself, even amid the torrent of rage and competition. To paraphrase Emerson, let every heart vibrate to that iron string.

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