When Erik Ainge was drafted in the spring of 2008, I swear to God he was initially given the #8. I feel quite sure of this. I don't think he ever wore the number, but I recall that the Jets' website first put him down as such. He's played nothing but preseason in his career, he's still listed as a backup quarterback in a franchise that has had its Bermuda Triangle at the position, but nothing can be more vexing for a pro - whether he plays or not - than to have his number changed as frequently as he has since he arrived. He wore #9 as a backup to the backup to Favre, which then became punter Steve Weatherford's number last year, which means he was never active. Backup to backup quarterbacks are trumped by punters.
In 2008, he was apparently caught on steroids and so therefore left off the team in training camp; I'm grateful that other more successful offenders did not test thus. When one glosses through the photographs documenting his years as a starting quarterback at the University of Tennessee, one truly begins to understand the humility men still feel when the game they played for nothing (nothing except the university's profit) in front of more than 100,000 paying customers at game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville has been reduced to the working week of a man who has yet to be give a single start - a man without a number.
Then he got Pennington's #10 last year, with a couple of nice moments in preseason. Number 10 has a lot of importance, obviously. In my sentimental mind, I still think Pennington is my quarterback. I still imagine that I have to worry about his fitness for the year. I mean, is this an odd year or an even year, because it will affect Chad's elbow. But no. No Chad. More importantly for Ainge, #10 is the number he wore at Tennessee, which must have meant something to him. But now, no longer. Right now #10 is the big man in the corner of the end zone, Santonio Holmes.
By 2010, Ainge was #3, but that didn't last. His write-up on the Jets page has indicated nothing more than his collegiate statistics. But what many of us didn't know was how bad off he was from the very beginning. According to Zachary Rhymer at Bleacher Report, Ainge has had a bad, bad journey down into the hell of painkiller addiction, one that predated his arrival with the Jets. In this sense, the apparent steroid issue in 2008 was small potatoes. According to his piece, Rhymer quotes an ESPN interview with Ainge, who claims that while still at Tennessee, he would take 25 percocets at a pop. His dependency, apparently, began with a broken finger.
Ironically, his finger was part of an easy barb I made. Initially, Erik Ainge stoked my bitterness about being a public school teacher who's paid a lot less than an NFL bench warmer. "It's not (his) fault," I initially said, "that the invisible hand of our society gives me the bird every day. I mean, look. I start at my position every day." But as the link points out, now with the NFL Lockout, Ainge can't get insurance to cover his ongoing addiction recovery. Now, I just feel that whatever number he wears, Ainge will have to deal with one day at a time in a way that non-addicts can only guess at. If you have not had to look at life with the constant white static of addiction fizzing in your brain, then you are lucky. Addiction has a grip much stronger than the fickle comfort of the invisible hand.