Friday, July 1, 2011

NY Jets #52 - Part 2

This is a poignant image of David Harris #52. It's the portrait of a man who got to Peyton Manning twice during the 2010 AFC Championship and played an overall good game, but still found himself surrounded by the blue and white confetti of the opposing team in the end. He looks like he's done for the season, but not for his career. He looks like he could be ready for another game. His mind is only grasping that it's the end of the season. Everything else seems ready for more. He took the loss that year better than I did. We could have beaten the Colts in the title game. They looked frightened for a while, and then they didn't. David Harris had them thinking for a while, but then he didn't. When it's over, you find yourself numb, staring straight ahead, just as David Harris seems to be, wondering if it could have gone your way after all, hurting more and more with each passing minute because you know it could have.

I think it's still worse for the fan. David Harris makes a lot of money as a consolation, and by the standards of the salaries players earn he deserves it well enough. He is one of the best Jets linebackers ever. He has that consolation as well. Two AFC Championship losses for me have been exciting and new, but bitter all the same, and the long winters that have followed the two senseless losses to consecutive losing Super Bowl clubs have been very hard. When I retire, I will retire to Florida. That's all I have to say. I don't care how cliche it is.  It will be easier to be a football fan in Miami, even if the Dolphins are there.

It would be ridiculous to imagine, as I have, David Harris playing alongside Jonathan Vilma today. Harris actually took over for Vilma at inside linebacker when the latter was put on injured reserve back in 2007. Statistically, though, is Harris a better linebacker? I would argue so, though it's a tough call. He has near as many tackles in as many years as Vilma, and both have been injured for extended periods. What if David Harris has an even better year next year, or whatever year they decide to play professionally again? What's great is to be in a place and in a time when you can imagine such a thing. This is what it is to be a Jets fan in the present time. In eternal time, the only thing you have to worry about is the absurd but tangible possibility of freak injury. Cruel fate. We can console ourselves that these may be the best of times, but why can't we hope for even better? Is it too much to ask? History, sadly, tells us yes, very likely. 

Meanwhile, I will reassure myself with this:


Mike Hennigan #52 began his career at linebacker with the Detroit Lions in 1972 and finished it in 1978 with the Jets after three seasons. Since there were no records kept of any specifics in defensive performance, we have nothing really to go on. He did coach his alma mater's football team at Tennessee Tech football team for about a decade. In 2006, he stepped down from that job for medical reasons which remained unspecified. I must have seen him play about five times at Shea.

Mike Hudock is the first #52 in franchise history, playing center for the Titans and the Jets from 1960-65. As there is a bizarre and unspoken intimacy between a quarterback and his center, it should be noted that Hudock, who died in 2003, was probably Joe Namath's first center in professional football and perhaps even the first starting center in Miami Dolphins franchise history. But no one remembers centers. There's Jim Otto, Mike Webster.

Born in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, Jim Hudock traveled far outside the coal mines of his home to the University of Florida. He was apparently drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 1956, but they had a regular starting center in Jim Ringo, and there doesn't seem to be any record of his professional existence until he appears, as he does above, at the Polo Grounds in a New York Titans uniform. He played consistently through the Titan franchise going green and white, then moving on to Miami in 1966, and he even played a spate of games for the Chiefs the following year. He was an original AFL man.

Then as now, centers are never known for their flamboyance but instead for consistency, solidness and presence. Optically, in the card above, it seems as if Mike Hudock casts a presence as large as the idea of team's name - as a titan, from a race of ancient deities doomed to be overthrown by the younger gods. The mere mortals in white shirts near Mike Hudock's feet walk aimlessly about the old arena and are dwarfed by him, while the arena itself seems too small to hold his giant frame.

Of course, the New York Titans' name became an ironic footnote, like Edsel onto Ford. Their outdated arena was actually too large for the small handfuls who would casually arrive on Sunday. Jean Shepherd once said that Titan games at the Polo Grounds were delightful to attend because the bare hundreds who would show up would gradually find one another, sit together and idly chat like generally disinterested parents at a child's peewee sports game, all while the real match on the field went silently on, punctuated only by a referee's whistle that would echo around the Grounds' horseshoe. An ancient from an ancient time, Mike Hudock stands atop this already outdated world, and though he will survive the very beginning of the end of the old era, the new gods, with their mustaches, white shoes, mink coats and outrageous demands, are awaiting their turn.

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