Sunday, February 20, 2011

NY Jets #6 - Part 1

Don't be deceived. Through the blur of the heat of a Miami afternoon, you see a #6 dropping back to pass, and you say to yourself, oh yes, that's my quarterback. But then you notice that the Poly-Turf surface is a sign of a different time. You are not hallucinating, nor seeing a mirage of the heat waves from the artificial field. You are not looking at Mark Sanchez. It is 1973. You are looking at Bill Demory. He is dropping back to pass.

There is a special category in New York Jets lore in which Bill Demory #6 fits: quarterbacks who were required to step in when Joe Namath was injured in the early 70's. During the unfortunate 1973 season - a year where the Jets were playing away from home for half the season because the Mets were playing in the postseason - Al Woodall went in for Joe and was then periodically replaced by Bill Demory #6. Quarterbacking is a position that requires so much responsibility, offers so much potential for notoriety, and yet it leaves many well-meaning athletes in the dustbin of history. Covering for Namath in 1973, Demory almost exclusively handed the ball off to Emerson Boozer and John Riggins to earn a 9-7 win, a game that saw him throw the ball seven times, making one completion for all of 11 yards. Then he played fine in a loss against Pittsburgh. Then he beat the Patriots again, this time with a little more command, but then this was the Patriots of the early 70's who were actually a funny team to watch.

Over a period of five games that season, sometimes starting, sometimes in relief for Woodall, he threw 12 for 39 for 159 yards. That doesn't even seem possible. That seems like the below average performance for a single start. So in that action shot above at right, stolen as all things are from the Internet, is the rarest of rare finds: a photograph of Bill Demory passing. The Jets never really had anyone formidable ready to start in Joe's place, so the running game of Boozer and Riggins was its only remaining strength. He did not play in 1974. Thus, travelers, we end our trip down Bill Demory lane, with apologizes to you all for the avoidable pun.

Normally, with exception of high school and pee wee fields, #6 is a backup quarterback's number. Maybe he's a kicker. Maybe he is the quarterback of the team that the hero's squad plays against in football movies. But don't mistake your average Hollywood "Semi-Tough" backup with Bubby Brister. We know that Walter Andrew "Bubby" Brister III was a starting quarterback with Pittsburgh for a while, and he was a backup the rest of his career for the Eagles and then the Jets. But Bubby Brister was feistier than most backups - a shouter, a ranter on the field, a down-home rip-snorter who earns the right to be the winner of the Booth Lustig Award Winner for Downright Goofy Names in the Category of Uniform #6. None of this, though - his guts, his remembered acts of grit, his country-friend nickname - none of this did any earthly good to 3-13 Kotite squad in 1995.

But fortune smiled on Bubby better than it did the Jets. After he left, Bubby Brister became a folk hero on a 1998 Denver Broncos team that nearly went undefeated and eventually beat the Jets in the AFC Championship and then won the Super Bowl. Touche, Bubby Brister. Touche.


Ah, but we must discuss Doug Brien. Before the end of the 2004 season, he was merely another kicker, a man with the same dream as the one Adam Viniateri once had long ago - to hit the big one to win the playoff game that sends your team on to the next round, and then the next, then the next, like a good luck charm with the golden toe I once told Pat Leahy he had at Hofstra. In retrospect, the 2004 Jets seem as familiar as a cop show, a medical drama, or a courtroom scene. You watch it knowing that the outcome will be resolved in a familiar way. In the end you're a little angry at yourself for watching in the first place. Really, you could have run on the treadmill and watched it on the big screen at the gym with its sound turned down. At 9-3 on December 5, 2004, the Jets went 1-3 the rest of the way, with a 23-7 loss to the Pats. As I say, it was a familiar experience as Decembers went for Jets fans.

They traveled to San Diego, and it was there, after the Jets nearly gave the game away, that Doug Brien hit a field goal to beat the Chargers in the first round of the playoffs. The script picks up from there in Pittsburgh, where the Jets hang tough with the 15-1 Pittsburgh Steelers at heinz Field. Then Doug Brien missed two field goals within the last two minutes, and the Jets lost 20-17.

How could it have happened? One of them glanced the top of the goal post. Each was missed from within the Steelers' 40 yard line. He had made a comparable field goal from 42 yards earlier in the second quarter. I didn't think the 11-6 Jets could win the game in the first place, but Doug Brien's apparent cool under pressure had me thinking off the script, to a world of insane ideas about being in the AFC Championship against Adam Viniateri. Then everything came back down to Earth. Doug Brien missed two field goals. I went to the bathroom and vomited. Doug Brien lost his job.

But what if he had made both of the kicks? Let's go back to 2004. Let's imagine that, like Al Pacino's character Arthur Kirkland in ...And Justice for All, Doug Brien managed to do something off the usual script. Let's say he makes those two field goals, ones that he would have been able to make at any other point in the season, and the Jets win 23-20. They move on and improbably beat the soon-to-be champion Patriots in the AFC Championship. I experience joy.

But really, what happens to me, living as I do in Philadelphia? The Jets play in the Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles, and whatever animus has been set aside by my fellow Philadelphians against their native New Yorker friend evaporates entirely. My claim to their affections has always been that I am not a Giants fan, and that is all that they need to know. One of my colleagues at work suggested that their shared futility makes the Jets and Eagles a kind of cousin to one another, like the King of England and the Czar of Russia. I have relied upon this good faith comradery for years now, and I don't know how in January 2005 I would have recovered from a win over the Eagles in the Super Bowl or a loss, for that matter, knowing that my friends would never really look at me the same ever again, nor I them.

We will never have to worry about it (we never really should even have entertained the thought in the first place) because of Doug Brien, and there is a dull fragment of satisfaction in that for me.


Michael Kronenberg said...

Martin-I enjoy your blog. Here's a link to what Bill Demory is doing today.

Martin Roche said...

Thanks so much! I always appreciate the updates.

Michael said...

Just to let you know. I'm interviewing a bunch of retired Jets players for an article on the Jets' 1974 season. It will be on the Jets website and published in a magazine.

Martin Roche said...

That's great. I think that's such a great Jets season to study, especially since they fared so well in only the second half of the season. I can't wait to read it.