I have been here before, and not because they were in last year's AFC Title game. My first Jets playoff game was an exact primer for watching how quickly a playoff game can spin out of your team's control. Such was the case with the 12/27/81 Wild Card Game loss to the Buffalo Bills, where the Jets were down 24-10 at halftime, fought back and then lost within the last minute.
Unlike last night, it actually looked worse for the Jets in the second half of the 1981 playoff. In the image below, courtesy of Corbis, Jerry Holmes #47, defensive back, is trying in vain to chase down Bills' running back Joe Cribbs, who is about to score on a 45-yard touchdown run, making the score 31-13 in the third quarter. I remember this. I remember the sense of frustration that only a 12 year-old can feel when he believes that the gods are serving up his hopes to the dogs. The Jets would respond with two touchdowns after Cribbs' score but then would mythically fail on an a Bill Simpson interception Richard Todd pass intended for Derrick Gaffney. I was filled with awe at how terrible it felt. I felt a little of that last night, but my wife and I had friends over, and that was a good distraction from the kinds of things a lonely boy once felt almost thirty years ago when Joe Cribbs added insult to injury.
If you looked closely and see into the eyes of the fans there in the background at Shea Stadium, then maybe you'd see the same expression of horror and haplessness among them. But is that what Jerry Holmes himself is feeling at this precise moment?
This is happening. It is. It's vanishing out of sight. We waited all season, and now this.
I was listening to NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me two weeks ago, and their guest was former Ravens lineman Tony Siragusa, the large guy who stands at the end zone and provides whatever insight that a big guy in the end zone can provide, which, to be honest, is something I don't think I really understand, but Fox does; and that's not a statement I make very often. Anyway, he was asked whether he rooted for the Ravens in the playoffs, and he replied that if they still paid him, he would root for them, but no.
Can Jerry Holmes really feel what the fans are feeling right now, in their knit green hats? Who knows. Maybe not there, not then. Still, we all feel it somewhere. That sense of loss. There it goes. It's vanishing. It's gone. Gone for good.
After the 1983 season, Holmes went to play for Walt Michaels and the New Jersey Generals and then for the Pittsburgh (wait for it) Maulers, both of the USFL. (I believe Mike Rozier played for the Maulers.) Holmes left a good thing with the Jets at a time when better things outside the NFL seemed possible. On the verge of next season's lockout, we now know that the NFL really is the only game making a wholesale profit in America, but Jerry Holmes didn't see any of that way back then. How could he? So he had to try.
According to the vast black hole of information, after his playing career, he went on to become the Head Coach at Hampton University in 2008, turned the team around and then was fired for shopping himself around informally for a better coaching job in the NFL. By publicly shopping around, he apparently hurt the school's recruitment for the following year. Still, he had to try. Now he's a secondary coach for the Hartford Colonials of the UFL, which still exists, I believe. Remember when we talked about the Colonials, earlier? Remember? The former New York Sentinels, whose home was in Hofstra? Ah, the UFL.
Makes me kind of feel bad for Jerry Holmes, although right now I'm liable to recognize loss and misfortune in any given situation. We're all searching for that moment when opportunity will shift our way. We chase after it - it's a job, a love, a piece of serenity. But all things are elusive in their own way, and some objectives are in fact the very ironic source of our undoing. We either watch it evaporate from the stands or on the field, and I don't know which is preferable, for the sense of loss is palpable either way. There it goes. Gone for good.
Whereas sometimes the objective seems impossible to begin with, even as it rips right past you. Tommy Marvaso, #47 played defensive back in 1976, statistically one of the Jets' worst seasons, particularly on defense. After that, he falls off the statistical map, gone for good from the professional world of football. He has one lone, dubious moment in a quick wrap-up of the NFL Films' week 13, below. At about the :20 mark, veteran tight end Jean Fugett is running alongside Marvaso and then suddenly gets behind him and open for a touchdown from Billy Kilmer.
In this case, two people watching helplessly in the stands were Mom and Dad, while the Jets lost 37-16. It was their last game. They didn't get divorced; Dad divorced the Jets after that, giving up his seasons tickets. Like a lot of people, he didn't even go to the last home game against the Bengals. It was a sensible thing to do after a second consecutive 3-11 finish. He had been watching the Jets' fortunes vanish out of sight since 1969, losing season after losing season, and he decided there wasn't really a point to watching it happen anymore.
But in Tommy Marvaso's case, he may not even have had enough time to watch it vanish completely out of his view. There may have been only a quick moment of recognition to see Jean Fugett there, and then not there. Where the hell did he go? he wonders as he looks to see Fugett with the ball. How the hell did that happen so fast? Gone for good, Tommy.
Try to grasp this one. Roscoe Word #47 played at cornerback for four different teams over nine games in the 14-game season of 1976. This means that Marvaso replaced him in the secondary in number, if not at position. I'm not sure where Word finished the season, but he had the most traveled single season I have ever seen in the NFL. He began his career with the Jets in 1974. It's difficult to tell where and when he ended up first in the '76 season; it may be that it started with Buffalo, but then he either went to the Giants or back to the Jets, getting his old #47 back, I guess. Then he traveled to that legendary island of misfit toys, the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here his journey came to an end. Which games and where and when, I cannot say.
If you cannot show a respect for a man who was witness to such an allotment of losing over one season, then I do not think you have a heart beating inside you. Consider that the 1976 Jets (again one of our worst squads on record; a team whose own coach quit on them before the season ended) were not even the last place team in the AFC East. That distinction belonged to the Buffalo Bills who, after finishing 10-4 in 1975, finished 2-12 the year later. The Giants finished 3-11 while the Bucs established the industry standard for ineptitude and went winless. It is statistically possible that on his journey, Roscoe Word may not even have encountered a single victory.
Did it matter? Perhaps no more to Roscoe Word than it did to Jerry Holmes. We assume he collected a paycheck wherever he went. His only complaint may have been having to collect all the W-2's. But it's the idea that maybe he finished his career with those legendary 0-14 Bucs that intrigues me. To be a benchwarmer, a replacement, a cog in as mightily broken a piece of machinery as the Buccaneers were that year must have been a humbling experience or, possibly, surreal. Perhaps he saw himself as a fly on the wall, a witness to history. If the great affair is to move, then the trip ought to be interesting.
All I know is that he made a late-game interception in 1974 that made my Dad exhale with a violence of joy that only a man in the throes of passion can truly express, as the Jets held onto a 21-16 victory over the Patriots at Foxboro, keeping the Jets' winning streak on track that year. I have written of this before; it's my ur-Jets moment. The Jets were out of the playoffs by the time Word ended the game, but Dad went to the following week's game against Miami at Shea, which Word helped end yet again with a late-game interception of Bob Griese. Dad came home buoyant, willing to renew his season tickets another year, willing to believe all over again. In two weeks, I saw him become a boy again right before my eyes, and because of this, I think Word is the man most responsible for making me what I am today - a convert, a Jets fan, a neurotic, a wreck, a shell of a human being who fights against high expectation each week after a win and who finds reassurance of humanity's innate ridiculousness with each Jet loss, the naively felt possibility that comes with each Jet win.
Thank you, Roscoe Word. For better or for worse, you have made me who I am. And because the human soul's limitless capacity for faith cannot be measured in a statistical value that I yet know of, I am left only with the option of referring to you as an infinite Jet.