When John Riggins left the New York Jets as free agent at the end of the 1975 season, there was no one really left on the team who possessed his qualities of speed and power at running back. Clark Gaines was speedy, certainly, and had several good seasons with the Jets. No one else would come close again until Freeman McNeil was drafted in 1982. Before then, at the very least, Tom Newton replaced John Riggins in uniform #44, from 1977-82.
I remember him most vividly from the 1978-79 teams, and I wasn't sure why until I looked at his statistics from 1979. He gained 145 total yards rushing but scored six touchdowns, which must mean he was regularly brought in for short yardage situations close to the goal line. As the Jets' talented backfield coach, the late Bob Ledbetter put it in the Jets' 1980 Yearbook, Tom Newton had "that old knack of smelling the money at the end of the line," which, really, sounds like a line from a pulp novel. It obviously meant he was also a regular blocker, too.
It's hard to recall these things clearly, but I must be thinking of him fondly, as I sit here, writing. Pavlov would obviously see the combination of elements at work here. Newton scored touchdowns in three of the eight precious wins the injury-ridden, confused squad had in 1979. And he scored a 51 yard touchdown in one of the worst losses I remember from that season, the 46-31 loss in Buffalo, a game that revealed that we were much worse that we thought and that Buffalo was much better; they would ultimately win the division. For years Buffalo had been a reliable win for us, even through the 9-33 seasons from 1975-77.
But the worm turned at the halftime of that game. In the first half, Tom Newton took a breakaway touchdown, and then followed it with a one-yard run, giving us a 17-6 lead. Anything seemed possible. Yes, this most definitely must have left its mark somewhere in the abandoned rooms of my childhood museum. And he wore #44. How can I not feel instinctively good about Tom Newton?
But then the Jets buckled in the second half, and Tom Newton and the Jets became human again. Perhaps as the understandably human inheritor of the #44 - the number that had previously belonged to a peerless, grunting mass of offensive power - Tom Newton embodies the pain that comes when the belief that our illusions will live on forever finally dies.
That's right: Bert Rechichar #44. The first of his number, playing for the New York Titans in 1961.
Here he is in his glory days, looking as if he's steadying himself against a possible tremor. Back when men were men and they drank Ballantine because it's made with Brewer's Gold. Actually, until Tom Dempsey kicked a 63 yard field goal with half a foot in 1970, Bert Rechichar set the record with 56 yards for the longest placekick in 1953 while with the Baltimore Colts. Kicking was obviously an imperfect science back then, even with all of one foot, usually requiring a simple head-on doink to the ball. There was probably more to it than that, but it became so much more complicated with the arrival of Pete Gogolak and Jan Stenarud, and men named Raul. Doink was all that was required. Linemen could be kickers, running backs could be kickers. Men were men, women were women, but anyone could be a kicker. It was the 50's one public allowance for promiscuity.
Moving on, if I'm pronouncing it correctly, I would like to congratulate Bert Rechichar with having a last name that's funny for sounding like something you should never do.
But we're also fortunate to have this testimony by way of Alex Hawkins, a 1950's and 60's Baltimore Colt of impeccably eccentric character with his assessment of Bert Rechichar:
Bert carried all his money with him, leading the other players to call him the "First National Bank of Rechichar." No one knew where he lived. When Coach Weeb Ewbank finally released him, Bert asked Hawkins to give him a lift to pick up his belongings. Alex jumped at the chance to finally learn where Bert lived. Instead, Rechichar directed him to half a dozen back alleys and side streets where he picked up a pair of pants in this building, a jacket in that one, a couple of shirts here, a pair of shoes there. After an hour of this, Bert said, "O.K., that's it." Hawkins concludes: "Would you say that Bert Rechichar was a totally sane man?"
No. But is that a problem? Again, no. The New York Titans had him for one season. Obviously, it seemed like a role he had been waiting to play all his life. A man who keeps his pants in odd places should play for a man like Harry Wismer who couldn't cover his checks.
Finally, there's Lonnie Young, the Grover Cleveland of #44. He played for Bruce Coslet from 1991 to 1993 and then returned to the Jets again for the Kotite years of 1995-96. What on earth did he do to deserve that? His better years with the Jets were in #31 when he recorded 102 tackles in 1992, but when he returned, he was given #44 and recorded 32 total tackles over two seasons, with one interception. I won't even bother to find out where and when it happened. Do any of us really want to relive 1996, and I mean for any reason? Think about it. Honestly.
But here again, I must turn to the wild and the wacky. I confess I know nothing about video games, and it seems as though this Wikipedia entry is talking about something older than dirt in the gaming world, but it makes for great reading anyway. Here goes:
Lonnie Young appears on the Phoenix Cardinals roster in Tecmo Super Bowl for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Nobody knows exactly why, but he has the highest running speed attribute of any player. Robo Lonnie Young is an Ultra Beast. Some believe his elite starting speed is due to a programming error or glitch. It has been a mystery to Tecmo fans since 1991, when the game was originally released.
All of us should be so lucky as to have our best abilities, even in the simulated world, be as a result of a glitch. My glitch is depression. So what's the deal? Why did the Glitch Fates pick Robo Lonnie Young to be so fast? Why was he made an Ultra Beast? Why can't I be an Ultra Beast?