Saturday, July 18, 2009

NY Jets #41 - Part 1

Where were you when Matt Snell #41 went across the line for the Jets' first and only touchdown in Super Bowl III?

The founder of the Hare Krishna movement, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was in Los Angeles, possibly writing a letter dated that day to his controversial protege Kirtanananda Swami about the construction of seven new temples in the United States. On the same day that their first album was released in the U.S., Led Zeppelin was preparing to open a show for Country Joe and the Fish at the Fillmore West. Living in Tehran with her family, Christine Amanpour was celebrating her 11th birthday, possibly thinking about going to school later that year in England. But none of these people probably knew who Matt Snell was.

My father was sitting in his in-laws' living room in Brooklyn, watching his beloved team take the lead in the Super Bowl after an impressive first half drive lead by Joe Namath and mostly Snell. My mother sat with him, watching on her parents' white Zenith black and white, excited no doubt as well; she is the most ferocious sports fan I know (for the Mets, that is). As yet two months from my own birth, I resided comfortably on the other side of conscious existence, perhaps hearing sporadic sounds of excitement, my mother's heartbeat, the bright tenor of my grandfather's voice calling to his wife for a cigar, or my grandmother possibly asking my father if he wanted more to eat. I remained as unaware that the Jets would become a source of obsession throughout most of my life as I probably did about the fact that soon my relative comfort would be rudely interrupted at St. John's Hospital in Woodside. One sensory experience adds to the other, though, and knowing what things transmit by osmosis to an unborn child, it is possible that I registered the audible cheers they gave to Matt Snell's 4-yard touchdown in the manner of a schema, a building block for later learning.


Where were you when Apollo 11 landed on the moon

I was a little over four months old when Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon, so just as with Matt Snell's touchdown, there's nothing actually there about it in my memory. In fact, for many years as a child, there would little or nothing so joyful in the world at large (or in Jets' history) to make my mind take that snapshot. Instead, I remember having a sense that Richard Nixon was in trouble because I watched Mom do her ironing in front of the Senate's Watergate Hearings on TV, but I don't even remember his resignation the following year. I remember staring at a cover of the Daily News when I was eight years old the morning after Elvis died. I remember delivering Newsday's the morning after the Son of Sam had been caught. I remember when I heard that John Lennon died in 1980 and when the Pope was shot a year later. I remember when I heard about Columbine. I even think I will forever recall the moment I heard that the King of Pop was dead.

I remember both where I was and who gave me the news about the planes hitting the Twin Towers, an event that instantly went from the cosmic to the personal in its horror because my brother worked across the street from the World Trade Center. He made it out, and ran for his life, like everyone else who had the opportunity. Thank God.

I suppose it has been a long time since we've heard about moments of happy, glaringly joyful achievement, like the moon landing - an event so monumental that NASA and its international equivalents would be hard-pressed to do it today, to even know how to do it today, or how to pay for it. Excluding the ending of our various wars, I cannot think of another historical moment of happiness that can be equivalent to Apollo 11; maybe the U.S. Hockey Team's victory in 1980 over the Soviets at the Lake Placid Olympics.

Sports are good like that. Sports provide records of small and slightly larger individual achievement that can shield us from remembering that our society has lurched forward without a singular mark of great achievement like the one three Americans made (with their government behind them) in July 1969. Most of the snapshot memories I mention above are marked by death and destruction. Consequently, I've grown up with the notion that I missed out on something even more than a moon landing or a Super Bowl. In 1969, my family had the distinct pleasure of knowing that their football and baseball teams were the champions of their respective sports, and that, yes, their beloved nation had also conquered the moon. The amount of overtime work done to clean up the refuse thrown from buildings in celebration during that year must have been staggering for New York City's sanitation department. Their life in New York was swelled with justified pride. Sports and life coalesced in a singular time of joy.

Such are my delusions. I forget that Mom and Dad were probably most of all happy that they had a child. How like me to feel as though that by being born in a momentous year I was therefore born unlucky. It should be comforting for a Jets fan to remember that one's life is marked by the individual experiences we have with family, with work and people, and not necessarily with a historically troubled football team. Yet it's always been a challenge for a fanatical fan born in the year of his team's greatest triumph; I missed a moment by which I could mark time, and since my childhood, I have used my football team’s subsequent history as one way gauge my own.

And that's why this entry on #41 finishes before barely even mentioning Matt Snell. We freeze the mental snapshot at a single moment from a single game, snapshots Matt Snell is asked to sign all the time. I will return to him at my site. His touchdown has an immortal place in sports history, in American football history, in Jets history, and in my own. Such is the nature of being a fan. It passes the time, but it allows a lens through which, for better or for worse, you measure time's passage.


Charlie Flowers was a casualty of the AFL's earliest years, and because he was the first Titan to wear #41, he is our first point of discussion with regard to the characters from our beloved team to have worn #41. He played at fullback in sunny Los Angeles for the Chargers in 1960, and then in sunny San Diego the following year. He played at the Polo Grounds for the New York Titans the year after that, and his career ended there before he could become a Jet. A couple of hundred yards total. He was originally drafted in 1959 by the Giants, which might have meant he could have been Don Maynard's teammate on the Giants before becoming Don Maynard's teammate on the Titans. But he appears to have never actually played a down for the Blue (Giants' blue, that is). Fate is fickle, odd certainly, perhaps even negligent.


Anonymous said...

I watched that game at age 10 in the basement of military housing at KI Sawyer AFB, Michigan. Matt Snell (not Joe Namath) became my childhood hero. I was probably the only Snell/New York Jets fan living in the middle of Kansas during the 70's. Still am both, but with respect to the Jets it has been a long hard slog.

Martin Roche said...

It has been a long slog. What a great comment. Thank you!