Friday, April 16, 2010

A Shutout Sky

Jets vs. Colts, October 24, 1976
I am seated beyond the left hand bottom frame
The picture I have stolen from Getty Images is from the upper deck of Shea Stadium, likely in the first half of the Jets home game against the Baltimore Colts, October 24, 1976. The Colts have the ball and are just in Jets territory. Clare Gaines ran for 102 yards in the game, but all I remember are Roger Carr's post patterns that bookended the game, giving the Colts their two touchdowns. The first of these came early in the first quarter while people were still settling into their seats. The second came with the score 13-0, when there was still a possibility in my imagination that the Jets would finally score. They did not. Then it started to rain. Then Namath was knocked out. Then we went home. The Colts won handily 20-0. The Jets were never even a rumor in the game.

Can't you just feel the oppressive, claustrophobic overcast sky? Doesn't it seem like the old stadium, now dead and gone, is suspended somewhere free of the constraints of time and space in an enormous chasm of dull white light? No?

I am located somewhere on this side of the field but in the Loge section, with my dad. The Loge was below the mezzanine, merging with the box level at about the 50 yard-line. This was my third pro game and though I could not yet really articulate the sensations of ennui, it was there, gnawing at me, asking if I really understood anything beyond just the obvious, physical sensations of the now, the moment, and, if I did, whether it really mattered a damn.

I don't think little children who are fans of great football teams quite go through this kind of thing; young fans of the Dallas Cowboys or the Pittsburgh Steelers lived in a universe that didn't ask them to be very self-conscious at all. They felt the leisure that comes with knowing you're great. You sing when you're winning. This was the third time I was seeing the Jets lose big, and having attached myself solemnly and wholly to this team, I realized that I had been given a burden that felt like dead weight. Most children begin their lives by asking, what else? where else? why is that? I began by asking, "But why me?"

At the risk of incurring the wrath of an undead J. Paul Getty (he always looked like a zombie, anyway) I'll explain the photos. For years I have been trying to find a way of communicating what I experienced when the Colts came to town. Most children feel a quiet awe at first seeing a field of play loom closer and closer through the confused view of a stadium tunnel. To see the field in full was always breathtaking, even if you could see the ghost of the Mets field underneath.

I am not in this picture.
But what drew me was the sight of the teams assembled on each sideline. In the related colors of green and blue, they had once played in a Super Bowl that had changed the shape of football forever. Their fortunes had shifted since then; the Colts were going through a good spell with Bert Jones, the man who inherited (by way of Marty Domres) the position held by Johnny Unitas, whereas the Jets were careening downward from their greatest moment toward an oblivion from which, one might argue, they are still recovering. Against the field of faded grass, the colors of the two teams stand out. They stare at one another across a vast but measurable space that seemed to get wider and wider each season that they meet under Flushing's gray skies. To me, the contest on the field seemed less important than the colors of the winners and the losers on the periphery. Dad had already seen me play baseball. He knew his son was an aesthete, not an athlete, and when I pointed the Rothko pattern of blue atop brown-green grass atop kelly, he nodded quizzically, and went back to the losing game.


Anonymous said...

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Martin Roche said...

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