Thursday, June 25, 2009

NY Jets #37 - More Head Shots

I don't have anything on #37 Skip Lane, New York Jet cornerback from 1984. He sounds like a character from My Three Sons. There's that. And I have no head shot of Skip Lane, either. I do, however, have a picture of a skiplane, a small airplane with skis for landing gear. So, there's also that.


My family temporarily moved to a small town called Millwood in New York when I was ten. We lived in a funky-looking 1970's contemporary house with a strange tower. We were Long Islanders up until then. My little brother thought he saw a giant mouse on the steep grassy hill leading up from the back deck of the house. What he saw was a deer. Until then, the closest thing to a wild animal on the South Shore of Long Island that we had ever seen had been Mr. Fennessey from down the street, a small-time lawyer who enjoyed getting drunk and driving through people's backyards on his motorcycle.

Instead of the white noise of the Southern State Parkway, there were the sounds of crickets at night. This was the Shady Hill suburbia of John Cheever's imagination - the wooded areas of Westchester County that inspired him to create a wobbly postwar mythology of sorts. This world was different. The Jets provided a quick reminder of timeless things. One additional novelty was having the Jets on Monday Night Football in October 1979, playing the Minnesota Vikings at Shea.

Anyone who wonders why the Jets had only that one Monday Night Football at Shea in MNF's history might consider that the television crew were threatened that evening and that and equipment was stolen from ABC, too. Crime was a stain on the whole city, and both Yankee and Shea were like household blenders with cockroaches hiding inside. It was a bad scene. My friend from the Island, Eddie O'Fallon, reported that his father had gotten into a bottle wielding fight at the game with a bunch of young guys who had jumped him and his other sons.

Here's the only thing left of the game that I remember. I do remember the Jets won 14-7. However, I also remember a turnover in the first quarter that lead to the Jets first touchdown, a Richard Todd bootleg. On both the recovery and the score, I remember the shots of the menacing-looking, steamed crowd. Even at the age of ten, I knew that I was looking at people in altered states consciousness. Shea was drunk in a hard, sometimes ugly way that Jets fans get. According to the Jets' all-time roster site, #37 Tim Moresco, special teams' man, was responsible for the fumble recovery off that first quarter punt that set up the touchdown. He also stripped Cleveland of a kickoff late in the Jets' wrenching loss to the Browns in 1978.

And considering the unhappy life among many of the Jets Among Men after football, I am impressed by how well maintained Tim Moresco seems as a Senior Vice President for Richard Bowers and Co., an Atlanta-based real estate company, with lots of suits in evidence. No yellow polo shirts there. What is it about retired football players and real estate? The game itself is a preparatory extended metaphor for the real thing in turnover recovery.

Donnie Elder #37 never scored a touchdown in his career. He never scored on an interception, a fumble recovery, a punt or kick return. He never went to the Pro Bowl. He was drafted deep in the third round out of Memphis State in 1985, and he only played that one year for the New York Jets. Yet the second-to-last former Jet whom Leon Washington passed last season on his way up the list of overall punt and kick return yardage was Donnie Elder, who ranks 154th on the list. He's not the last to pass Donnie, though. With one additional yard gained, that honor goes to Lou Piccone. (I would like to use that last sentence in as many postings as possible.)

Jake Moreland #37 played both running back and tight end for the Jets in 2000, which was a slightly surreal season. It was the Al Groh year. It seems to show on Jake Moreland's face. Jake's head shot seems to capture a weary man's thousand-yard stare - the look of one who has seen too much and needs to be sat down, given some water. Someone needs to hunker down near him and occasionally try to catch his eye, keep repeating his name gently, ever so gently. This was probably a picture taken by the team photographer at the start of the season - Moreland's rookie year - but it looks like the expression he might have had at the end, too. Certainly it was my look at the end of the 2000 season, when players fizzled out from Al Groh's intense practices and just plain old refused to play for him, compelling my beloved football team to fall out of the playoff hunt. Jake? Hey. Jake? Jake...

Oh, there you are. Whew. For a minute there,...well, never mind. You look great. After two seasons in the NFL, Jake Moreland became an assistant coach for his alma mater of Western Michigan, thus reminding us that the other saving career after pro football is coaching. By putting on a suit and taking on the general tasks of a responsible life, Jake looks a little less traumatized by the madness of the war without end. Now he's ordering other men into unseasonably hot summer practices. I was worried for a minute there.

It's possible that Marv Owens #37 was part of a deal that brought Don Maynard from the New York Jets to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973. Ascertaining the truth of this is a little problematic for those of us whose knowledge of Marv Owens is built around the sole fact that he is the brother of defensive Brig Owens, who enjoyed a long career through some pretty exciting seasons with Vince Lombardi and George Allen on the Washington Redskins. Marv Owens' career by comparison was brief. Thanksgiving must have been interesting- that is, when Brig wasn't playing. But if he had to carry the weight of taking Don Maynard's place at receiver, then imagine how uncomfortable it might all have been, and it appears that his expression almost conveys this. Marv's NFL career ended in 1973, the same year as Don Maynard's. Please note that his afro goes beyond the frame of the picture.

Finally, behold Allen Smith #37, halfback for the New York Jets in 1966. According to what records there are, Smith passed up final year of eligibility in college to play professional football. His toughness seems to have earned him the nickname "Little Jim Brown," which probably signified something having to do with a similarity to JB's toughness through defenses and whatnot. From little Findlay College (now University) in Ohio, Little Jim Brown was one of the most respected players from among small colleges at the time. Apparently, according to the Jets All-Time database, in his first game of his last year at Findlay, Smith "rushed 20 times for 286 yards, and in season finale scored seven touchdowns against St. Joseph's of Indiana." Seven.

He was beloved in Toledo, a town I know mostly for Max Klinger, who isn't even a real person. He studied art at Findlay. By the time he became a Jet, he was already married with a one year-old. His life had just begun. But apparently his entire AFL career consisted of only one game, without statistical content.

His obituary indicates that life went on after the AFL for Allen Smith, as it does for all of us, despite our lies, our mistakes, our brief joys and late epiphanies. Parts of our lives end, but then something else begins, too, even when it seems hopeless. Did he ever finish his degree?

Allen Smith's one year-old did grow up, and she had other siblings, too. I wonder if, as his obituary seems to indicate, Allen Smith lived the right kind of life, one without regret.

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