Saturday, July 11, 2009

NY Jets #40 - Part 2

But there are some questions you cannot answer, no matter how many trips you make to Wikipedia or to its equivalents on the Internet's AM dial. Like what happened to Hank Bjoklund? How many people could possibly be named "Hank Bjorklund" outside of the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota? We know that on Long Island someone by the same name, a person listed as "retired," made a contribution to the Barack Obama Presidential campaign last fall. Is this the same Princeton grad #40 Hank Bjorklund, who was a running back for the Jets from 1972 to 1974? It doesn't really matter. (Did I actually say that?) What matters is that he is not the Bjorklund who made an identical contribution to the campaign of that lunatic Michelle Bachmann, Republican from Minnesota, whose theories on the census have even made cretins like Glenn Beck shake their heads.

If you rooted for the Jets between the years 1978 and 1985, then you know who #40 Bobby Jackson is. These were my most formative years as a Jets fan and as a human being. Therefore, Bobby Jackson remains a key player on a series of teams that nearly drove my barely developing brain into a cavernous oblivion of despair. It was the first time since the 60's that the Jets were actually winning almost as often as they were losing (sometimes more often). But they couldn't help themselves often enough. Above, you see him in his rookie season, being asked to cover future Hall of Famer and future Republican Congressman from Oklahoma Steve Largent in a frustrating 24-17 loss to the Seahawks. This game typified the Jets of that era. The Jets won the first two games of that season, then lost the two that followed the Seattle loss.

But back to Bobby Jackson. He intercepted five passes at left cornerback in his rookie year, something he repeated in 1982, a year when the Jets went to the AFC Championship. The only difference is that the latter year was a strike season of only nine games, making Bobby Jackson tied atop the interception leaders for the AFC in that category. And yet, did he go to the Pro Bowl? No.

He also scored two touchdowns that year, both in the same game against the Minnesota Vikings in a 42-14 Jets win. Three weeks before, Dad had taken Charlie and me to Shea to see the Jets rout Baltimore 37-0, but it wasn't until the Vikings game that I knew for certain that my team - my freaking beloved football team - was actually bunch of blood-hungry marauders out of Polanski's version of Macbeth. Bobby Jackson blocked a field goal and ran it back 80 yards for a TD, and then beat the Vikings with their own dismembered arm when he intercepted Tommy Kramer for a 77-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. I remember the sense of being 13, powerless to everything an emotional adolescent boy in his freshman year of high school is meant to experience, seeing Bobby Jackson's touchdowns as proof positive that being a fan could in fact satisfy a person's desire to be empowered on a molecular level. Then the Jets would lose to the hapless Kansas City Chiefs 37-13 the following week. Of course.

But then perhaps even Bobby Jackson had aspirations (if not perspirations) well beyond his own understanding, too. Or ours for that matter.

(Gatorade is thirst-aid! For that deep-down-body thirst

Well, anyway, I know Dad had a Bobby Jackson-moment-against-the Vikings, only it was a Mike-Battle-against-the-Giants moment. It is difficult to do this moment justice without providing actual video evidence, which can be seen on the NY Jets Historical DVD, but I will try. The facts are these. Forty years ago, while Woodstock was happening in upstate New York, the New York Jets and Giants played one another for an exhibition game at the Yale Bowl. The game is more important to us than it is to them because it was when New York fans were finally exposed to the uncomfortable - albeit brief - truth, that the New York Jets were the better football team in the Tri-State area - something rumored to be true but only feared as such since January 1969, six months earlier, when the Jets won the Super Bowl. Dad went to the game with his off-duty cop ticket holders and sat in the blazing sun as row after row of drunken fans from both sides fought in uproarious brawls that tumbled down the length of the bowl itself. It was a hootenanny, a donnybrook, a scrum, both on and off the field.

But the Jets never really were behind, in some measure because of an outstanding opening kickoff return for a touchdown by #40 Mike Battle. Here, you see that Battle's legs are in a blur of speed as he races down the center of the field for the Jets' first score in a 37-14 win. But it was the manner in which he took the ball at first and then leaped several feet in the air over the first Giants defender with a dancer's awesome sense of grace, and then went untouched, that stays with many fans even today. The first time I saw it - on DVD, no less - I gasped audibly, just as I did when I saw John Riggins score the knockout touchdown against Miami in Super Bowl XVI, or saw Michael Owen score against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. You are breathless, in awe. Dad's reaction was sort of the same, but the game itself gave him that sense of empowerment I mentioned above. This is my team, and they kick everyone's ass. Like Henry at Agincourt, and just as short-lived.

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