Monday, June 13, 2011

NY Jets #51 - Part 5

"I just sent the woman we want to dogsit a photo of Jonathan Vilma."

Has this ever happened to you? You're struggling with returning to the work of naming and describing what you know of every player who's ever played for your beloved football team so that you can return to your famously unread blog, and you download pictures to put, without attribution, on your site.  But you're frustrated, blocked and you find that the higher the numbers, the more you have to say, the more you've got to say about the players, your life, the state of humanity, the end of the world, the non-end of the world.  You forget on which computer you've downloaded one of these pictures - is it on yours or your wife's?  Then you forget about doing it, entirely.  Will you ever get back to it?

When my wife e-mailed photos of Bill, our shepherd mix, to the woman who will be watching him over the summer while we are on vacation, she also accidentally sent a photo I had obviously put on her desktop of Jonathan Vilma #51.  The quote above was not intended as a simple declarative or as a confession of her lack of care about selecting files, but rather as something subtly critical of her husband's carelessness.  This is just like the shoes I leave next to her side of the bed day in and out when I return from work that she has gradually placed in a corner of our bedroom, at one point spelling out my name with them.  I never notice.

The dogsitter, a very bright young artist recently graduated from college, came by for us to meet for the first time.  "So I got pictures of Bill," she said, "and a football player.  Which was great."  She smiled understandingly, without understanding.  I felt obligated to explain that I have a blog where I name all the players of the New York Jets throughout the team's history, with something unique about each one of them, all the while hoping as well to find indelible commonalities.  I say that by doing this, one can perhaps find the limbic bonds that transcend both our own misunderstandings about this life and our need to quantify the dollar value of human life in trades, signings, and free agency.  As an artist, I hoped she understood.  We really need someone to take care of Bill.

She wouldn't understand - how could she? - that no matter how successful the Jets may or may not be now, their defense might have been even more effective had draft choices like Jonathan Vilma, John Abrahams, and James Farrior been kept on the team.  In all fairness, they departed for wealthier climes during the purgatorial Edwards/Mangini years, but to be a Jets fan is to understand what our dogsitter could not be expected to; that photograph of Jonathan Vilma is a portrait of a franchise's frailty.  For every Darrelle Revis and David Harris, we have to remember the larger absences these excellent players have been expected to fill, like patching the ozone.

It has been ages since the football team for the high school outside Philadelphia where I teach has won any major championships.  And even if they did, no one would notice since no one goes to the games – not teachers or students.  It’s a shame, because the model for life in Friday Night Lights does hold true in places like Florida and Ohio and western Pennsylvania, where football is no so much an after-school activity as it is a town's gathering place in a world where communication is impersonal.  No wonder that in such towns throughout the less populated parts of our beloved nation, grown men will go back long after graduation to talk about That Championship Season, without irony or rancor. 

If you would like to read a Q and A with Matt Finkes, former #51 with the Jets in 1997, then it’s here.  He returns to his Piqua High School in Piqua, Ohio, a decade after leaving there for Ohio State and then for eight games of professional football with the Jets.  The preface to the interview says, “Everyone seems to remember Piqua’s Matt Finkes.”  Isn’t that beautiful?  If I went back to Wampus Park High School in Cromryn, NY, would anyone remember Martin Roche?  Of course not.  But then I don’t think anyone there would even remember the name of our big football star, or even if we had one.  The question to ask would be "who was the top scholar and valedictorian?" and the answer to that question, my friends, would be the man who rented out an entire section of the side of a Manhattan high rise to propose to his girlfriend. Yes. Suddenly a nice interview on a high school’s web page years after graduation doesn’t seem so desperate; it seems like returning home to find some normalcy.


Before his coaching career, which includes the currently unenviable task of being defensive coordinator for the Redskins, Jim Haslett played in #55 for the Buffalo Bills from 1979 to 1985, which makes him as persona non grata to us as Lars Von Trier is to the Cannes Film Festival.  But he did suit up out of retirement in 1987, hoping to collect a few dollars as a scab before returning to playing obscurity again.  In this brief tenure as a Jet, he wore #51.

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