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Monday, June 29, 2009

NY Jets #39

Johnny Johnson
Thirty-nine is thirteen three times. Does this explain its general absence from the annals of the greatest? I conjure Larry Csonka's bruised spirit, one so dedicated to life's coexistence with pain that he actually made a teammate vomit in the huddle when the unfortunate glanced at Zonk's gruesomely bloody nose. In the modern era, Laurence Mulroney and Steven Jackson have some claim on the number's voodoo, such as it is. But number 39 will not be joining football's House of Extravaganza. He will not be opening any cologne lines. He will not be changing his name to "Tres Nueve."

So we begin with Roderick Bryant #39. It's become a kind of a cliche on these pages to talk about the short-lived career of the average player in the NFL secondary. He comes and goes with the success of the receivers he covers. At the beginning of his rookie season in 2004, in his first play as a pro, Bryant broke up a crucial pass thrown by Peyton Manning. It was an auspicious start. He played 13 games that year, but then he was never heard from in the professional game again. He's out there, somewhere. "Roderick Bryant" is the kind of name you might find on the marquee of a late 40's studio film: Roderick Bryant, as you've never seen him before. The next thing you know, he's lucky to make a guest appearance on The Love Boat while Fred Astaire gets the handoff (of a cat) from O.J Simpson at the end of The Towering Inferno.

Jehuu Caulcrick #39 is somewhere out there, maybe even still on the squad. But among Thomas Jones, Leon Washington and Shonn Greene, is there any place on Rex Ryan's Jets for the Winner of the Booth Lustig Award for #39? Born in Liberia, a child of that nation's civil war, his father was a member of the 1992 government there and was murdered. Jehuu Caulcrick was something like a folk hero and embodiment of the American Dream at Michigan State, but will he be with the Jets in September? His first name means "Yahweh is he." Caulcrick isn't He, but if Yahweh could come back as anything he wanted, why wouldn't he come back as a short but powerful running back? Does that mean Leon Washington is God?

If your name is Saladin Martin, who played in #39 in 1980 for the Jets, are you more likely to be like your namesake, one who apparently vanquished his Crusader enemies in the 12th century with a sense of chivalry for which Medieval Crusaders were supposed to have been known? Please, I don't know.

Regardless, Andrew Davidson played part of the 2002 season at cornerback for the Jets in #39. Perhaps if he had an interesting name, we could say more. We, meaning I, can't.


****

Fred Julian is at least one player in the history of the franchise whose career was interrupted by the Cold War. At 5'9", he lead the New York Titans with six interceptions in 1961, even when competing with Dick Felt and Roger Donahoo, each of whom clearly has a funnier name than does Fred Julian. He remembers Harry Wismer fondly - checks arriving on time, first class travel - and he remains not at all bitter that the Titans cut him when they anticipated that Julian would be called up by selective service to face down the Soviets over the Berlin Wall. Call him a happy revisionist. Call him content. He appears in his photograph as exactly the kind of square-jawed member of the generation that did not identify themselves as casual free spirits. Though Michael Vick may be trying to return to the NFL, Fred Julian never did. For better or for worse, he is an object example of the difference between the past and the present.

****

Three times an unlucky number makes 39. Three men who wore #39 for the Jets have one particular nominal trait in common - alliterative names:

First, Harry Hamilton #39 for the Jets from 1984-87 at safety. He was memorable, hard-working, tough player and among the smartest of Jets to have ever played, which means that he had to be cut by the team. As this 1988 George Vescey article from the Times points out, "Any way you look at it, the way the Jets lopped off this solid citizen and solid tackler demonstrates the transient and anonymous nature of pro football." Sounds like something I'd say, George. He also points out that it's easiest to blame and shortchange the secondary for giving up a touchdown instead of going after the defensive linemen for giving the QB the time to find his man. Harry Hamilton's dad infers that the color of this scapegoat in general cannot be ignored. This is all starting to sound familiar. There have been several unhappy stories among former Jets players in the #30's.

Then, another Harry. Safety Harry Howard, #39, who played for us in 1976. There are intangibles here, as they say. Intangibles can be items about a player that are not statistically quantifiable, like a locker room presence, an intimidation factor on the line, or an ability to distract your opponent. But what if your identity itself is an intangible. In the Jets' own online All-Time Roster, Harry Howard is literally "an intangible without a name," which is also how Lou Holtz in 1976 described a player named "Louis" in Harry Howard's write-up. This means that the Jets organization is currently mistaking Harry Howard for Louie Giammona, a running back drafted out of Utah State, whom we will meet when we cover #45. All we know about Harry Howard is that he was drafted out of Ohio State in 1972 by the Rams but played only one NFL season as Giammona's teammate four years later on the dreadful 1976 Jets squad.

Johnny Johnson
Starting Lineup action figure
There aren't many players who get the NFL in-action figure - the kind that Dad picks up at Kennedy Airport when he realizes he still hasn't bought anything for the kids on his business trip to New York - but #39 Johnny Johnson did before the 1995 season. The only trouble was Johnny Johnson wasn't there by the start of '95. He had enjoyed five successful seasons as a tailback in the NFL, first with the Phoenix Cardinals, then with the Jets from 1993-94. In that deranged 6-10 season in '94 with Pete Carroll, Johnny Johnson ran for 953 yards on the ground. Then, while the Jets fell deeply into the mire of Rich Kotite's uniquely depressing leadership, Johnny Johnson vanished from pro football as quickly as an ambitious government minister in Stalin's inner circle. And in the midst of the gloom that followed, we fell under losing's ponderous spell. History was rewritten. Adrian Murrell kept us amused, but our memories became unreliable. Did we ever have a Johnny Johnson? Didn't we used to have a big, powerful backfielder once? Where did he go? The Cardinals? Wasn't that where he started? Was his name Jimmy Johnson? No, that's the Cowboys' old coach. Oh, never mind. Just end the season. Where have you gone, Johnny Johnson?

****

Maurice Tyler had four interceptions in his first season at defensive back for the Bills in 1972, but then after that his career was a long succession of packing and unpacking, town to town, up and down the dial. Who will ever speak for the traveling secondary player who's only as good as the imagination of the the coach will allow? Look, the game has changed a great deal, and defenses have evolved, but it didn't change quickly enough for Maurice Tyler. He was marked by that most anonymous of distinctions in his career - he changed his number each time he moved to a new city: #42 in Buffalo, #23 in Denver, #25 in San Diego, #27 in Detroit, back to #25 for the Giants after playing in #39 for the Jets in 1977. Nary a winning season the whole way. I'm not sure if that's the way he looked that particular season the Jets went 3-11, but the combination of the afro and hearty mustache is, by definition, unbeatable - even if Maurice Tyler's career was not.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

NY Jets #38 - Part 2

Mike Zordich played for Penn State at cornerback, and now his son plays linebacker for Penn State, which makes me feel pretty old. Zordich played in #38 as a rookie for the Jets during the "lost" years - a time where I became disenchanted with the lusterless play of my football team because I was busy trying to pick up women at hopelessly crowded house parties or maybe trying to understand Roland Barthes' S/Z. It was not to be.

For himself, Mike Zordich came to the Jets in the strike year of 1987, and he played all 16 games the following year. In 1988 he scored on his first pro interception, a long return against the Houston Oilers to top off 45-3 win. If I had been paying attention during this one year in the lost ones, I might have thought of Zordich's interception as part of a big win in what would be a big season in a big career for Mike Zordich as a Jet. None of it was to be.

I knew Mike Zordich more by his play in #36 for Philadelphia, where he became a popular Eagles player in a city that loves its highly physical defensive backs. But obviously he most important thing here is Mike Zordich's faint mustache at left, which I too possessed in and around the time that Mike Zordich first became a professional in the game he loves. It's just a hint of hair under the nose. Like the mullet, these mustaches were regarded without irony or critical abstraction. These was intended to attract females which, as I mentioned earlier, it did not in my particular case. Nor did it help me understand French poststructuralist theory.

****

During my junior year of college, I was given an opportunity to study at Blackfriars College, Oxford for entire school year. This may be news to you, but 20 years later, it's apparently not news to my students, one of whom inferred that I mentioned decades-old experience a little too often today. The following exchange took place recently:

"Mr. Roche?"

"Yes?"

"I ran into one of your former students the other day. Do you remember (name omitted)?"

"Why yes, I do. Does he remember me?"

"Yes, he did. In fact, he asked me, Does Roche still talk all the time about the fact that he went to Oxford for a year of college?"

"Ah. And what did you say?"

"I said yes, he does."

It took a couple of days for me to silently, quietly and humbly recover from that one.

Safety Todd Scott wore #38 for the Jets in 10 games during the bleak 1995 season. Three seasons before, he had gone to the Pro Bowl as a Viking for the first and only time in his career. He was also named to the All-Madden team that same year. Does he mention the season 1995 as often as, apparently, I do my year in the sun? Well, I know I won't mention Oxford anymore - except in my blogs, which no one reads anyway.

****

Kwame Ellis in trouble.
A simple search online for former 1996 Jets safety, #38 Kwame Ellis produces an interesting result. It was bad enough that Ellis did not even play all the way through the New York Jets' worst season in record, and while he would play in NFL Europe, he would never play for anyone else in NFL United States. But he was also arrested in Mexico last November for stiffing a cab driver the equivalent of $26! The age of immediate worldwide access to information should encourage all of us to behave better, if only to save us from the worldwide embarrassment that a reported misadventure might bring us. Even a non-celebrity former athlete like Kwame Ellis is that much more likely to be humiliated online by a site like YouBeenBlinded, which suggests that Ellis may have stiffed the driver in order to save his money for a pickup with a lady of the evening on the strip. The site seems to specialize in reporting on athletes breaking the law. It's a rich ground to till.

And finally...Jon McGraw #38. No, he never sang with Elmo, but I remember when McGraw was drafted out of Kansas State as a walk-on turned college starter turned pro. Stories like that resonate, of course. Now that he's with the Kansas City Chiefs, he has his own web site. Why? Dunno. But enter the site and hover over the headings at the top, and you'll find that it makes this sort of weird sound, like what a bumble bee makes when it brushes against a screen door.

NY Jets #38 - Part 1

Into how much of futurity? My wife and I are buying a house. We have to pack the apartment, and before that, we have to clean, which is enough of a task that you might even think to never move, ever. Think of the famous Collyer brothers, one of whom was found dead behind an impossible network of boxes, newspapers and gathered stuff. The other was found crushed beneath a booby trap of detritus and clutter. Sometimes the mind makes itself believe that wherever you are is the safest place to be, even as something better waits for you on the other side of town. My Mom would often invoke the Collyers when she saw my piles of magazines and newspapers in my room as a kid. I've always, always had problems with letting go.

Which kind of explains what I do here. Perhaps by gathering things from the past, constantly bringing back names and numbers, I'm building the protective pile around which I can seek a defense from the world outside the windows. Perhaps they will find my lifeless body after days of digging past Phil Wise, W.K. Hicks, Scott Dierking, and Steve O'Neal. Or not.

Or Ed Taylor, #38 at free safety for the Jets from 1975-79. Not a single winning season in the mix. The Jets existed in the same realm as Archie Manning's New Orleans Saints during the time. Things didn't get better for the Jets until 1981, at which point Ed Taylor was finishing up his career in #45 for the Miami Dolphins, the Jets' biggest rival then as now (speak not of Those Of Whom We Do Not Speak). To be honest, playing as he did for a team that won 25 games over the five season he saw for them, I don't remember much about Ed Taylor, and even then he played in the shadow of Burgess Owens and, later, Bobby Jackson. He wasn't a Mormon like Owens, but he was born in Memphis, and went to college at Memphis State. Oh, wait. I do recall that Taylor took the field in his latter Jets seasons wearing shades that were pretty slick, in a late 70's sense. Headband, beard, honey-shaded game time shades - there are worse things for which to be known. Yes indeed.

Where are the Giants fans who remember running back Billy Taylor? He graced the cover of Big Blue's 1980 yearbook after gaining 953 total yards the season before. By the following year, he would wear #38 for both the Giants and the Jets. He was cut from the Blue a few weeks into the 1981 season and picked up by the Green to gain one yard total over two games. He was handed the ball once against New England and took the ball once in a predictably frustrating loss to the Seahawks (Dave Krieg's first start as I recall), both games at Shea. He didn't even start in the home thumping of Buffalo in between. He gained two yards in the Patriots game, then lost one yard against Seattle. History always provides such things as a retrospectively pat examples of how minutiae reveal truths about big things, as if Jets fans needed such clarifications. But did Billy Taylor spend the rest of the season on the sidelines thinking about how his performance for the Jets was merely a metaphor for the Jets' record in those games he played? No, probably not.

George Floyd? Yes. Is that the name of a supporting actor in a Marx Brothers film? No, it is not. He is an inductee in the College Football Hall of Fame (how many former Jets are inductees?), former Jets safety in #38, and I have absolutely no statistics on him, though his Wikipedia entry mentions, his ability to level "vicious hard hits," which might mean he wrote the entry. No harm, no foul, George. After all, Billy Squier was known for hard hits too, but then George Floyd would probably have had enough common sense not to ruin his singing career by prancing around in his video for "Rock Me Tonight" like a very silly, silly man. No, sir.

This is how you dance.

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.

NY Jets #37 - Head Shots

This is not really a head shot for Billy Hardee, but this snapshot from some game in 1977 (the overcast loss to Seattle? to Pittsburgh?) is a reminder that life is filled with promises that don't quite end up as promised. That might be the running theme for this unusually diverse group of otherwise unknowns who were destined to wear #37 for the New York Jets. In this case, the lesson herein is that sometimes a snapshot has to do for a head shot, and that's just the way it is. It also does not mean that we will not call it a head shot, regardless. We reserve the right to contradict ourselves.

And Billy? He intercepted a Bert Jones pass at some unknown point in a 33-12 loss at Baltimore on November 20, 1977. This is what the record shows, but where and how did I watch the game, for surely I did. I know that if I went under hypnosis I would be able to remember details about the day and evening in question. At least I hope so. It was my parents' 12th wedding anniversary, and the game was on TV. This much is fact. Was I staying in Brooklyn with my grandmother while my parents went into town? Was I at home, watching my father tackle yet another daunting home improvement task? What does it mean that these things aren't there in my memory anymore? The score remains the same, but if I coax the memory further, will my mind affect such a change upon it that the past is changed too irrevocably for me to rely on any truth there? If I cannot recall these games from among my memory's signposts, what will I remember accurately? And if I cannot remember any of it anymore, then who exactly am I?

Let's move on.

The story behind JoJo Heath's play in #37 for the Jets is, on the surface, a simple one. He was the #37 on the 1987 replacement squad. For almost all of the replacement players we mention here, that would be enough. He showed up. But JoJo's story gets rather complex, and his might act as an object example of a larger idea we'll draw on further in this entry about the consequences of athletic dreams.

At defensive back, Joseph Elroy "JoJo" Heath was the team captain of the 1979 University of Pittsburgh team, and he was drafted in the sixth round after graduation by the Cincinnati Bengals, only then to be traded the following year to the Philadelphia Eagles. After 12 games there, Heath's career ended. Six years later, nearing 30, Heath joined the replacement squad for one last try at football and was promptly sent on his way when the replacement Jets gave way to the real Jets who, truly, did not play that much better. There is little record to show what he did as a Jet.

On December 30, 2002, JoJo Heath was found stabbed to death in a wooded area some 20 miles or so outside the Pittsburgh. He was 45 years old and was apparently the victim in a crack deal gone wrong. According to the official story, Heath came to a home regarding money owed on drugs but ended up dead from an altercation after it all went sour. He was stabbed 26 times. A confession was obtained, and in 2003, his convicted killer was sentenced.

Almost six years later, JoJo's son, JoJo, Jr., was wounded by gunfire in the midst of continuing violence among young people in and around the Pittsburgh area. I don't mean to sound so naive. Here in Philadelphia, the same menace exists among young men and women who grown up like JoJo's son, without parents or with incarcerated parents. I teach some kids who exist with that reality everyday. The remarkable thing is how limited, even futile the promise of athletics are as a means for escaping the madness. We know that almost no one that we can name has become a star in the NFL, but in our mythical, boundless dream world of American fame and success, sports do more than flesh out our aspirations. They mask the true realities of those hopes, too. They make us believe that anyone can do it. It may not be the fault of the game but a fault within a culture like ours where if we dream it, we believe we should have it. Would that it were so.

This might do for our introduction to another head shot of former Jets cornerback #37 Anthony Prior. Prior was distinguished as a player more for his speed than anything else, and his journey through the Jets went then to the Vikings, then to the Raiders. He also spent time in the CFL. What distinguishes him here is that he is a lone player to speak eloquently about something that has bothered me throughout this naming and numbering process over this past year: about how short an NFL player's career is, and how little reward - aside form the quick and fleeting cash - there is in the end. That does not even speak for the nameless, endless numbers of people who will never even get off the college football bench after making athletics the core of their educational study. And to what end?

Here is the Nation's review of Prior's book, The Slave Side of Sunday, and here is his somewhat riveting talk on the subject of football's empty promises to African-American men. I would suggest that any athlete is better off in the modern era than in past years where his pay was about as good as a teacher's. But perhaps our updated assumptions about athletics as a golden ticket have lead us to think of athletes as having no potential other than the one that requires that they eventually be ground down to a nub for our entertainment, all in exchange for big money. I don't know if Prior's statistics on the number of football aspirants who actually make it to the pros is true (and his style of presentation is somewhat broad) but it doesn't feel exaggerated in light of the fate of JoJo Heath. The sentiment rings true.

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.

f72topps212

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.