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Friday, May 14, 2010

NY Jets #44 - Part 2

The other day I joined Facebook. I suppose the feeling I had when I saw my face, name, personal information - my identity, essentially - on the screen for all to see was probably similar to the mixed feelings my grandfather in Brooklyn had when his first TV set arrived to his family's railroad apartment in the early 1950's. I had just joined the century with the rest of America, but it didn't mean that I thought it was any good for me.

The analogy is an admittedly poor one. Facebook is interactive, while television was not, and is not. Facebook has an impermanence in your life based on your need to express yourself in the moment. TV renders us passive and dull and is served to us, cold. But like TV, Facebook is oddly addictive - a rather facile mode of self-expression in a society that values facile self-expression and encourages addictive behavior. I suppose blogging is just as similar, only I thought by blogging, I would change the world. I was so very wrong, of course.

I'm not too sure what any of that exactly has to do with #44 Trent Collins, safety for the New York Jets during the NFL Players' Strike in 1987. But I sometimes think that when I sit down to write, I feel the way Trent Collins must have felt taking the field for three replacement games. He made a pro career out of returning one punt for three yards and, apparently, recovering a fumble. The Jets of the replacement games of that season did not win any fans, and the futility of the entire exercise must have been obvious to Collins. There were empty seats in the Meadowlands and very little opportunity for the players who made it onto the strike squad to extend their career beyond the three games. I remember watching bits and pieces of replacement games that season, with unfamiliar players playing in familiar numbers, not the least of which was #44. I nearly game up on pro football right then and there. Suddenly college sports seemed appealing, the way it does to so many of its fans - as a supposedly purer manifestation of a game. That didn't last long.

But it didn't stop Trent Collins, obviously. Though we know our efforts will hardly even raise an eyebrow, we are entitled to try, anyway. What the hell. Was it a thrill for Collins? Once the itch for professional play was scratched, did he walk away feeling sated, even while knowing a public address announcer would never compete with the noise of a real crowd to call out his name?

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Having recently graduated from the University of Texas in 1965 (and playing against Joe Namath in the Orange Bowl), Jim Hudson joined the New York Jets and was given the #44. The next season he switched to #22, the number he wore through the rest of his career with the Jets. This raises the inverse question that confronted us two years ago when we first wrote about #22. After leaving the New York Jets in #22 and joining the Oakland Raiders wearing #44, Burgess Owens multiplied his standing in the world by two, which is why it seemed appropriate that he celebrated the Raiders' interceptions in January 1981 after years of mediocrity with the Jets. He wasn't twice the man he was before, but he found his good fortune increased. Whereas though he divided his number by two, Jim Hudson found his fortunes increased and he also celebrated his own Super Bowl interception in January 1969. So, no. Or, yes. I forget what the question was.

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I'm a little gratified that the reporters who cover the NFL allowed Brian Cushing of the Texans to keep his Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. This wasn't their intention, but by doing so they are not allowing the league to duck the question of whether performance enhancement is everywhere in the NFL. It's everywhere in the NFL, and the more we remain open about the fact that football (and our love of it) develops these physical monsters on the field, the more the league will have to address its priorities in allowing to openly happen. There's nothing more I'd love than to believe that the NFL is clean. I love football. I love the football season. I love winter Sundays, and at the end of a long day of following the before, during and after Jets games, I am exhausted. I love it. But this kind of passion helps produce a game that is actually prone to physical absurdity. I don't want to believe that bigger is better in the glory game, but it's true.

Which is why when you're asked to look at Luke Lawton #44 as "the typical steroid abuser," look again. The NFL would probably like to point at Lawton because traditionally he's only been a practice squad player in Buffalo, the Giants, Atlanta - that is until he started playing for blackhearted Oakland. Since playing there, he has had a regular job in the backfield but also tested positive. He had a short spell with the Jets, Colts, and Eagles, but with Oakland, he became a fixture in the manner that, once upon a time, castoffs had been given a place in Al Davis' Alameda County. Did steroids help with that? I guess. But he's also an easy target. He's the screw-up who finally got an 85 on his chemistry test and showed everybody he could do it. However, the teacher thinks he must have cheated, and, turns out, he's right. But before he closes the books on the case, the teacher should also see if the "A" students in his class cheated, too. Hint: they always do.

Whereas #44 Joe Todd, who played one game for the Jets in 2001, is a pro nobody, but he has gone the route of becoming linebackers coach at both University of Rhode Island and later at Staten Island's very own Wagner College. Note to Trent Collins and Luke Lawton: those who can't do, teach.

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