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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

New York Jets #41 - Part 3

Well, this got complicated, but it's about to get simpler. We finish the number 41 with the 1998 appearance of Keith Byars in #41 for the Jets. This is a man who, missing nearly a full season at Ohio State, still managed to be near the top of their rushing categories all time. If I were a fanatical Buckeye fan - and God only knows what universal stratagem prevented that from happening - I would drop an excess amount of money in my insomniac moments over the Internets on a Keith Byars jersey. He was a monster. Watch this return of a punt in the 1984 Fiesta Bowl against Pittsburgh, and you see what I mean. Look for his teammate, Pepper Johnson among the human Buckeye pile in the end zone.

Then there's this little gem from sometime in 1990, I think. Keith Byars was playing for the Philadelphia Eagles, and had been since 1986. The game is Giants-Iggles on the hard, cold concrete surface of Veterans Stadium in Philly. On a Randall Cunningham QB breakaway, Keith Byars lays a block on his former teammate Pepper Johnson that is so terrifying that Pepper looks as though his body is reacting to the shockwave of an explosion. He literally goes horizontal in midair. Textbook Buddyball, and yes, that is Rich Kotite supervising the activities of the Eagles' offense on the sideline. Pepper Johnson probably feels Byars' block on him even to this day as he rolls out of bed in the morning.

Keith Byars, ball, midair
Jump ahead some eight years, and Keith and Pepper are now teammates on the Jets. It is the AFC Championship Game, January 1999. I offer some of his little bits of brilliance above because it's Keith Byars' fumble late in the first half, deep in Denver territory, that still recurs in my nightmares. In some sense it turned the game around, though the Jets still lead at the half. It's hardly fair to point this out, but it took the wind out of the Jets' timid sail. It's also not a good parting memory for a man who played hard and well for so many years, but as Jet, Keith Byars remains in my mind as you see him here - fixed in midair, playing in the last game of his career, suddenly conscious of the fact something has gone terribly wrong. We all felt the same way that day, Keith. I often feel that way in general. I am a Jets fan. And he was not alone in blundering; this was one of six Jet turnovers in the Title Game. Curtis Martin fumbled on the Denver 44 later on. It was the last game of Pepper Johnson's career, too.

Keith Byars' fumble is the snapshot in my mind that acts as the bookend to probably my first nurturing sensation from the football world, #41 Matt Snell's touchdown in Super Bowl III. They are exactly 30 years and one week apart from one another. The Jets have yet to get that far since January 1999. When will the next snapshot come?

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