Thursday, July 7, 2011

NY Jets #53 - Part 2

There is an extraordinary pipeline that runs back and forth between the Jets and the New England Patriots.  Since 1997, they have traded coaches and stars back and forth.  Most of it, of course, has been to the benefit of the good people of West Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont (I guess), Rhode Island and Massachusetts and all other bandwagoneers.  Belichick was defensive coach for both teams, Parcells was Head Coach for both, and so was Pete Carroll.  Eric Mangini was Belichik's protege.  Curtis Martin went from New England to the Jets, making him the most valuable acquisition we've gotten out of the pipeline, but of course New England has enjoyed the greatest benefits in the larger sense.  Belichick - whom Parcells presumptuously appointed as Jets Head Coach when the old man "retired" to become GM in 2000 - takes a perverse pleasure in snatching up our seconds and making them firsts.  Like Danny Woodhead.

Former Patriot Larry Izzo #53 came to us in 2009.  Izzo was one of those players whom you hoped would turn Belichick's stomach when he was dressed in green, but then Izzo was found to have a spine injury that forced him to retire a couple of months later.  It was not to be.  I liked Izzo because he represented a kind of player for whom no opportunity is ever turned down; in other words, he is a special teams man with more special teams tackles than any human being alive.  We assume that this would apply to anyone in the CFL.  No offense, fellas, and no pun intended.  Finally, the famous story about Larry Izzo is that at training camp in his rookie year with Miami (1996, undrafted) Coach Jimmy Johnson said that only two players were guaranteed to make the team - Dan Marino and Larry Izzo.  No one knew who the second guy was; they do now, mostly.  But I think Jimmy Johnson liked to say the name - "Larry Izzo," with its connotations, sounding like some guy fallen off a truck, like some nobody whose name sounds like "zero." His name has been bothering me for a long time because I could not remember the larger significance of it.  But now I remember.  Though there is no known relation, "Izzo" was Vince Lombardi's mother's maiden name.  Pedigree asserted, albeit nominally.  Larry Izzo was the omega to Marino's alpha.  Each of them would make it to opening day.  In the universe, one cannot exist without the other.

The 1975 Topps card of center Warren Koegel #53 immediately reminds me of a Presidential portrait, or even better, the famous painting of William Blake.  It's the image of a noble personage, a man looking hungrily beyond the the renderer's view.  Maybe that's the way he wanted it.  There weren't many "action" shots for that year's Topps cards.  Most of them were retreads from the years before or were reflective shots where the Jet players were asked to look off in the distance, and the players vacantly obliged.  Some have hands casually on both hips.  One or two try the lame, posed action shot - always amusing, for who are they defending against?  One or two look like they were taken during warm-ups at Foxboro the season before.  Among them all, Koegel's image looks like it belongs to a man who with a vision.  

His nickname was "Moose;" according to a rather detailed article on him for Coastal Carolina University in 2001 (where he was athletic director at the time), this nickname derives from the fact that he wore #14 as a Little Leaguer, the same number as "Moose" Skowron of the Yankees.  His Little League in Seaford, NY was very near the one I played for in North Merrick; what's incredible is that for someone as detail-oriented as I  (and about only a handful of things, mind you) I have no idea what numbers I wore in Little League, or even if I had a number at all.  That's bizarre.  It's another one for my mental health care professional.  

At any rate, Koegel (pronounced "ko-ghel," by the way) was director at Coastal Carolina and is apparently now in the same position at Jacksonville State.  Koegel was the offensive captain for Penn State in the late 60's and early 70's, with Jack Ham as defensive captain.  In the Coastal Carolina link above, there is an interesting detail about the end of Koegel's career in 1975.  He blew out his knee just before halftime in the away game against Kansas City, one of only three wins for the Jets that whole season.  His knee was repaired by Dr. James Nicholas, the eminent Merlin to Joe Namath's Arthur, the sports physician who enabled Joe to play longer than he could or should have.  "I haven't had any trouble with my knee since," Koegel says.  The irony is that Koegel's knee gave out before Joe's heavily braced ones did, which may be a testimony to Nicholas after all.  With the exception of John Riggins, the good doctor was sadly the most talented and able member of the team that year.

Out of Michigan State, drafted by the Jets in 2000, #53 Courtney Ledyard's KFFL profile through news releases looks like a journey back in immediate time.  In an instant, we know all the history we need to know, but nothing essential about the man - only the "transactions" of the quickly summarized past.  No looking through microfilm for us, or scrolling through the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, searching for "Ledyard, Courtney."  Those days are gone.  One link, one source.  That seems to be what it's all about.  At the above link, we begin with NFL Europe, where he was consigned in September 2001, and then to injuries earlier at the August 2001 camp, then his earlier re-signing in the spring of that year.  Such is Courtney Ledyard, whose name sounds like a band that toured with Lynard Skynard and Molly Hatchet.

Mike McKibben #53 arrived at Kent State two years after the shootings that marked the university in the historical mind.  What was it like then, and how did the jock culture at Kent State imagine itself in light of the countercultural community that the Troop G attacked?  How quickly did people need to move on there in order to move on with their lives?  Was it just a peripheral thing after a while, the way it is, probably, for students today?  People pass by the Prentice Hall parking lot to get to class and get on with their destiny.  

Mike McKibben graduated at a good time to join the Jets.  It would have been a good year for my Dad to join the team, and he was 41.  The jobs were available.  In 1979, McKibben's rookie year, the Jets broke even but could have done much better if not for the injuries that wore the team down to a nub.  Missing Pat Leahy alone cost them at least two games.  Mike McKibben became a starter very quickly, and it looks like he played at linebacker in all 16 games of that season.  He played less the year after that and then was out of the NFL.  He then played for Pittsburgh and then Denver in the USFL a year or two later.  Or vice versa.  

Oh c'mon, don't act like you remember their names right off the bat.  The Pittsburgh Maulers and the Denver Gold.  There you go.  There are no stupid questions here.  No one's judging you.  The interesting thing is that the Denver Gold practically replicated the Pittsburgh Steelers' uniform, while the Pittsburgh Maulers' purple logo looked like something out of the WPA.  Remember that the only stupid question is the one not asked.

"Ledyard, Courtney"


Slimbo said...

I always thought the figure in the Mauler logo was a disgruntled worker committing an act of violence towards another human being and not, like his NFL Steeler counterpart, a glorified symbol of American labor history...maybe it's the name, I dunno.

The Denver Gold logo reminded me of some drug hazed SoCal semi-religious cult.

Martin Roche said...

Agreed. Take a look at the Gold logo and you'll see a bastardized version of the WFL's Southern California Sun. Maybe that's a reach, but two non-NFL leagues going all sparkly on the logo.