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Saturday, November 6, 2010

NY Jets #45 - Part 3

First, running back Eddie Hunter #45 may not have been a replacement player, even though he only played one season with the Jets, in the strike year of 1987. He scored two touchdowns that year, but I may have been too drunk or boring at college to have even known about it at the time. All that can be gleaned from the record is that he had a two-year NFL career with the Jets and then the Bucs. Both his touchdowns came on passing plays in his rookie year.

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Speaking of the undergraduate, there are players who operate in the collegiate world like gods - men who are legends to a population at the height of their capacity for enthusiasm. Such is the college star. And the person who makes the best cult recruit is also the biggest and loudest fan in the stands - the college student. I remember having an irrational, deep, cosmic attachment to my college's basketball team while I was there, and I don't even like basketball all that much. I remember seeing our star point guard at a college party and being introduced to him by friends as simply "Money." Something tingled at the base of my neck when I clasped his hand. I remember screaming my lungs out when they won the tournament championship about three years after I graduated from college. Was it the truest happiness a person could feel? I nearly had a mental collapse when my alma mater went into triple overtime in the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament 12 years ago. Following college sports prepares you for one thing and one thing only - to be a Moonie.

But what eventually happens to these immortal college stars, these cult idols? Tim Tebow scored his first professional touchdown against the Jets, but will he ever be any more than just another star made humble by the unsentimental world of crass professionalism? If the Christian Coalition has anything to do with it, then he will absolutely run for Governor of Florida someday. But think of John Huarte, Pat Sullivan, Brian Dowling, Ed Marinaro (we'll get to him), John Rogan, Pete Beban, Billy Cannon or Gavin Grey. Sure, Tebow can run for President, but what has happened to the rest?

Iacavazzi in a Princeton
Jets uniform
What ever happened to Cosmo Iacavazzi? He graduated from the last undefeated Princeton team in 1964 and was eventually drafted by the Jets for the 1965 season. In the crucial final game of the season against Yale, tied at halftime (Princeton had never been down all season) Iacavazzi then went on score on runs of 39 and 45 yards in the second half. At the moment when his team needed him most, he came through, as the great ones always do. He must have appeared to the Princeton loyal as the most blessed human on Earth, and Princeton ran away with the Ivy Title. He was a runner-up to John Huarte for the Heisman, well ahead of Joe Namath. The Jets then got all three of those guys that year - Iacavazzi, Huarte, and Namath. Huarte never took a snap. Namath changed the course of American sports, and Cosmo Iacavazzi is said to have suited up for two games, without any note of yardage gained.

He must have been thought of as something special by the good people of Topps because here is a 1965 rookie football card as a Jet. He's clearly still wearing his #32 Princeton jersey with the tell-tale Tiger-striped sleeves which have been rendered by the artist into the Jets' green and white. Unlike Tim Tebow, Cosmo Iacavazzi was given a new number as a pro - in this case #45 - with the Jets, starring as nothing more than a backup. The card reveals him metaphorically and literally. He runs toward us out of that unpleasantly yellow background of 1965 Topps, colored a Jet, yet still frozen in his Princeton life.

As the link above shows, he has lived a life of restless pursuits since graduation, including being the mayor of Hillsborough, NJ. That's better than being an orthodontist/forger like Billy Cannon. But is any kind of life good enough for a man who has been the most recognized person on campus?


Jets
Patriots
Jets
Patriots


Speaking of a restless life, what about Otis Smith's, in #45? He is one of my all-time favorites. Otis Smith began his career as rookie free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles at the ripe old age of 26 in 1991. He wore #30 when he began with the Eagles and #23 for the Lions when he retired. Above is a display courtesy of pro-football reference.com, which takes the time to show the numbers that a player wears and also how his uniform evolves, whether playing for one team or for dozens over time. In between the beginning and the end of his career, Smith wore the #45's you see above. From left to right they represent the Jets, the Patriots, the Jets, and then the Patriots again, all between 1995-2002.

The green 45 with the black outline represents the years of Richie Kotite's reign of error, but then Smith was traded mid-season 1996 to Bill Parcells' Super Bowl-bound Patriots, who are represented by the light blue and red 45. The green-outlined 45 represents the point at which Parcells took Otis Smith with him back to the Jets.

The last 45 on the right is for the dark blue and red Patriots of Bill Belichick, who took himself, Otis Smith, and much of my desire to live with him back to Foxboro. It was during Smith's second Super Bowl in New Orleans with the Patriots that he made the most crucial play of the organization's history. Adam Vinatieri's field goal to beat the Rams in the Super Bowl was set up by Otis Smith's interception of a Kurt Warner pass.

Otis in the right place during the
1999 AFC Divisional Playoffs
Otis Smith blew a lot of coverages for the Jets. Somehow I remember that. But he made big plays - I know that, too. I don't recall any of these any more memorably than I do my own college days, or my childhood, or the endless numbered autumn Sundays I have spent staring at the TV over the years, worrying about both the Jets and the working week to come. Otis Smith is seventh on the all-time list of career interceptions for touchdowns with eight, seven of which were with the Jets. It's the most exciting play in football. And the fact that Otis Smith had the potential to bring into being the most explosive change of a game's course meant that he had a special magic that could transcend a Sunday's bland, mundane depression. That's why he's one of my favorites.  I will hear no debate.

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