Saturday, April 2, 2011

NY Jets #50 - Part 1

Eric Barton
Memory is not kind. Many of us go through days and nights of hard work, only to be remembered for slipping on a banana peel. We dedicate ourselves to endeavors that require years of preparation and practice with the focus on a single goal that others would have abandoned long ago, but suddenly we are pointed to the stray piece of toilet paper that has adhered to our shoe. Tommy Marvaso's son eviscerated me for pointing out, in #37, a brief moment where his Dad got beat on a pass in 1976. He rightly pointed out that I ignored his Dad's fine play in other games, all for the purpose of blogging droll comments about this and that.

This brings us to Eric Barton #50, linebacker for the Jets from 2004-08. Like several players from the Mangini era, Barton followed the squat coach to Cleveland and was released this year. First, I will do him justice. Eric Barton had a good career in the NFL. I quote the Wiki: "He has played in 120 career Regular Season games with 85 starts and has recorded 680 tackles, 18.5 sacks, four INTs, 18 pass [sic] deflected, six forced fumbles and four fumble recovery [sic] in his career. So far he has posted four seasons with 100 or more total tackles." As we shall see in a later entry, these statistics make plain that Eric Barton was worth the number he wore, whatever that means. Others, as we shall in our later installment for #50, may not have been.

It’s ironic, therefore, that we recall the 2005 Wild Card Game against the San Diego Chargers. He played well in the game so far as I can recall, but let’s go straight where we need to. Now, I mean no animus toward Barton here, but I watched the Wild Card Game from the edge of my sofa, where I had spent the great bulk of what was a second season of not drinking during football games. This was my first playoff game since my adolescence without a drink, and frankly it was more difficult than I expected. The Jets lead 17-7 well into the third quarter, but San Diego was driving with less than a minute left at 17-10. On what was essentially the last down (or maybe the third down) inside the red zone, Philip Rivers (no, Drew Brees) threw an incomplete pass, and by some terrible stroke of bad luck or poor judgment, Eric Barton hit Rivers (actually, Brees) late, a flag was thrown, and an automatic first down was granted to the Chargers, resulting in an Antonio Gates touchdown.

(Here by the way, was a slightly humorous - if I do say so myself - riff on how much I dislike Philip Rivers. However, as was pointed out to me by a kind reader, Philip Rivers was on the bench at the time as a rookie and Drew Brees was quarterbacking. How I could make that mistake is, well, inexplicable. So from here on in I correct myself. But still, as I said before, "even with his extraordinary numbers, Philip Rivers is a trash-talking, big-game choke artist. He is an obnoxious rube in a sport that thrives on the knuckle-dragging exploits of its Magillas. And that’s coming from a Jets fan." I feel like that that still needed to remain)

Brees or Rivers, I understand what Barton did; he was doing his job. He was showing up a little late for it, but there we are.

But in that moment, and in the context of my life as a fan, I experienced what I can only describe as a meltdown. First, I had a flashback, taking me some 22 years in the past, when a late hit by Mark Gastineau on Bernie Kosar kept a Cleveland Browns drive going against the Jets in the 1987 Divisional Playoff - a game that should have ended with the Jets winning. No doubt fueled by this, when the flag was thrown at Eric Barton, I went catatonic, then outwardly crazy. I became silent in a way that only a child does before it begins wailing cosmically, and then without a single word, I horrified my wife by hurling the remote control across the room so that it struck the exposed brick of our railroad apartment. The remote shattered into pieces and fell to the ground the way the lights of the Knights Stadium explode into the air as Roy Hobbs rounds the bases at the end of The Natural.

I'm not sure I remember what happened next. I think I stood up and started yelling something to the effect of this being The Last Jets Game I Would Ever Watch; this was The Last Time I Would Ever Waste Another Minute Of My Worthless Life On This Fucking Team. And so on.

My wife told me to go away and let her watch the rest of the game alone because I was an idiot. I said something like, fine, fine, root for this stupid team if you want to, I'm going to my room. The room in question, of course, was our room - my wife's and mine - but I think it's telling that I had completely regressed to the status of my childhood. I'm going to my room. This team is stupid. This game is stupid. I'm taking my shit, and I'm going home.

Except that I was home. Sitting on the edge of my bed, I stared down at the wood floor, reflecting on what my life would now be like since I would no longer be a Jets fan, which seemed a certainty at that moment. What was that going to be like? This team is dead to me. Did I actually mean it, any more than I had actually meant that I wouldn't drink during football games? Would this be a one game at a time thing? Would I have to adjust mindfully to my autumns and winters, without the Jets, without caring? Would I root for the Eagles? What?

My wife is a good person. A kind and loving spouse. I had closed the door, but she kept letting me know the details of the rest of the game. Yes, the Chargers tied it up, but Nate Kaeding missed a field goal in overtime, and now the Jets were driving downfield. Slowly, slowly, I discovered what I already knew somehow deep inside - that my will to give up was worthless. I knew who I was. I was a Jets fan, and if Doug Brien was going to screw up a game-winning field goal for the Jets in the Wild Game overtime, then I would die a Jets fan there and then, anyway. So I came out of the bedroom, and watched Brien line up for the kick. It was good. And then Doug Brien fucked it up the following week in the Divisional Playoff. But hell. What are you going to do?

But let's get back to Eric Barton. I believe he made as many as nine tackles in the Wild Card game, which apparently he also did in about seven games during that season. He was a good player in as much as any player who works hard and plays hard and often is. His only real mistake in that game was making a split-second error that he knew better than to make. This happens to all of us (Gastineau, notwithstanding). For me (and maybe for an assortment of Jets fans throughout North Jersey, the Island, and South Connecticut) it just came at the wrong time, both in terms of the game's clock and in our life clocks as fans. But it didn't change anything permanently. It never does.

Glenn Cadrez #50 played linebacker for the Jets from 1992-95. Then he went on to win two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos in the latter part of the decade. My recollection of his play is dim. Technically, he is noted as playing only one game of the 1995 season before moving to Denver; the Jets would win four games over 1995-96 and be the laughingstock of the NFL. In Cadrez's best season - 1999 - he himself registered statistically somewhere in the middle of all defensive players, which won't get you to the Pro Bowl or Canton, but it will make you a respectable player. We can't all be Ray Lewis, and if we were, we would all be insane.

It made him enough of a football player that he ended up with the kind of life that a really good high school football player imagines when he first recognizes the potential for the road ahead. After football, he happily married a Playboy model, has been on sports radio and has co-started his own horror film production company.

But what if you don't want to stop playing football after the NFL? Tim Cofield #50 played his last season in the league as a linebacker for the Jets in 1989. But then he went to Canada. I recall that during the 1982 Football Strike, NBC showed CFL games in the hopes of recuperating some of their losses. It must not have worked (could 1987 really have been any better?) though it was our first introduction to Warren Moon, quarterback for the Edmonton Eskimos. I wouldn't sneeze at CFL games this winter, though it won't compare, obviously. Am I an Argonaut or an Alouette?

In his years in Canada, Cofield was an Argonaut, a Stampeder, a Mad-Dog, and most importantly, a Tiger Cat. If you can name all the cities associated with these entities, you win a prize (one of them was in the US). I say most importantly as a Tiger Cat because it is here, in his - I don't know what you call it – Tiger Cat tribute page that you see Tim Cofield saluted as a hero not just to the profession of linebacking but to the very existence of Canadian football itself. In what is called the CFL Scrapbook, a former opponent named Chris Shultz describes Cofield as, "a nightmare experienced in real time" and that "I retired because my body told me to in a very direct way named Tim Cofield."

I'm not even quite sure I understand what that means, but I love how the statistic-heavy NFL is in such stark contrast to the narrative-laden heritage of our brothers to the North. The CFL doesn't keep track of the individual stats of its players as minutely as the NFL does; perhaps they see their players more mythologically, as through the veil of legend. "He may have only spent parts of 6 seasons in Canadian Football," the site says, "but Tim Cofield left a path of destruction that rivals that of the top defenders in league history. Tim Cofield as a defensive force deserves to be remembered." A path of destruction.

Tim Cofield - we who are about to go without football this year salute you. Would that I could conjure a memory of you as a Jet with a tone as Homeric as the one with which your Canadian fans remember you.

So who's up for some British Columbia Lions this year? Some Blue Bombers? Some Roughriders?

Behold the journeymen's life - eight teams in eight seasons. Drafted originally by the Raiders, linebacker Ron Holmberg #50 suited up for nine games for the Jets in 1998, and then was sent to Indianapolis later that season. Even his collegiate years were disparate, as he played for both Navy and Penn State, which seems as much a jump in setting from Minnesota to New England, or from Green Bay to Carolina, as seen below. But you get to see the country that way, and if there's a better way for a vagabond to pick up a paycheck, I would like to know what it is:

57 50 59 51 50 56 47 58


Matt Heiniger on Sports said...

First off, you do an amazing blog. Just had to point out a minor error...when discussing Eric Barton you keep referring to him getting a roughing the passer penalty when he hit Phillip Rivers in the end. It was actually Drew Brees quarterbacking the Chargers in that game

Martin Roche said...

Holy God. I've been making errors like these for the past few weeks. Like I've been saying, I have got to start quitting my day job. I will be more careful in the future. It will be amended immediately. Thanks for the compliment. I will keep trying to earn it.