Thursday, July 7, 2011

NY Jets #53 - Part 3

Al Palewicz and the Winnfield
Since I check my lists for each number with the Jets' All-Time Roster, I get a view of what's to come, and I've been waiting to write about Al Palewicz #53. And yes, the reason why is because of that facial hair. Obviously, that's just one picture and not the whole of the man. It's a profile shot taken on the sideline at Shea Stadium in 1977 while he wasn't looking. From here he looks like a guy who might not take kindly to your gentle assertion that your date is only dancing with you in the road house. He also looks like the guy in that very same road house who challenges a shorter Burt Reynolds to a fight that initially seems to a mismatch, but Burt always manages through charming guile and luck to eventually put the bigger man on his back. And with that, yet another bar room brawl in a Carter-era, country-fried car movie commences. As fists and chairs fly about him, the man with the facial hair occasionally sits up, struggles to see what's happening, but collapses once again when he takes a fake bourbon bottle to the head. 

You might be tempted to call that facial hair the Fu Manchu. However, according to Dyers' Extended Beard Chart, it's more accurate to call it "the Winnfield," named for Julius Winnfield of Pulp Fiction. The Winnfield strikes fear in the hearts of extremely mild-mannered men like me, who realize that charming guile and luck are not going to do you any good when you're confronted by its wearer in the real world. "Say what again," the man in the Winnfield says. "I dare you, I double dare you...."

Al Palewicz was born in Texas, played for the University of Miami, and after the NFL became an English teacher. Yes. Today, though, he has what looks like a fine real estate business in the area in and around Miami. His bio on his company's page shows a successful-looking man in a sharp blue suit standing in the legendarily beautiful sunshine. Someday I would like to think I'll have an opportunity to buy a house from Al Palewicz. The canvas for the Winnfield is still barely visible on his face, but Palewicz has certainly moved on.  He's joined a better groomed world that the big guy who fought Burt Reynolds in the road house would probably only visit in order to steal copper piping for meth money.
Carl Russ' Winnfield,
with soul patch

Palewicz played linebacker for the Jets in 1977 after apparently being out of football for a year. Linebacker Carl Russ #53 joined the Jets in 1976 and then played another year for us, this time wearing #58. One thing is for sure - he too is sporting the Winnfield. His chops are a bit more formidable than Palewicz's, and Russ has the added panache of a soul patch. This combination could also be called the "Shaft," named of course for the character whose facial hair might well have influenced the development of the Winnfield in the first place.

According to his write-up for the Muskegon, MI Area Sports Hall of Fame, Russ played for the Atlanta Falcons his rookie year of 1975, and then the Jets the following year. He sprained his knee in 1976 but returned in 1977 to find that Al Palewicz was now wearing his former #53. He finished the season and retired at the ripe old age of 24. The Muskegon page doesn't say anything about Russ' life afterwards, but it talks about the real reason for his induction. Coming from Muskegon, Russ became a starter for Bo Schembechler at the University of Michigan after joining the team as a walk-on. This kind of story has a place in the heart of an America that I have never really understood, a place where the loyal eyes of half a state's fans can make a young man feel like a god each week. I suppose I've always valued the professional game more than the college one because in my own life I prefer to be treated like I am worth something at the bargaining table as an individual who earns for himself and his own well-being first. Schembechler's famous speech on the ideology of subordinating the self in favor of the team is sentimentally appealing, but it's hard to take seriously now. The various NCAA violations, particularly at Ohio State, indicate that favoritism, money, and material gifts to players complicate the supposedly purer way of football, and they probably always have.

Today, it's going to require the Stockholm Syndrome to enlist me into a fanatical cult, though I'm certain they could have gotten me with a good song when I was between the ages of 18-22, when I wanted to prove to the world that I was capable of sacrificing myself to a goal that was purer than just finding out what I wanted to do for a living. Is it really that much of surprise that I have so little recollection of following the Jets while I was at college? I had already reached the fourth stage of life, "the soldier," as Shakespeare's Jaques calls it,

Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth...

My brother once told me that I frightened him when he came to visit me at college. We went to see my college basketball team play, and I quickly devolved into a wild, drunken, screaming fanatic right before his eyes, sudden and quick in quarrel. I remember going to those games, losing myself in the frenzy of overtime wins, crushed by avoidable losses. I would have done anything to help us win, when of course I could do nothing. I would have given my life, which sounds insipid to say, and it is, but that's the blind fanaticism of the fourth stage. I'm just glad the Unification Church didn't get a hold of me. I look back on it now as a fever dream of chemicals, very little sleep and unexpressed hormones, the perfect recipe for a cult conversion. It makes no sense to me now. I don't even know what my school's basketball record was last year.

Still, I think about it.  The Jets do nothing for me now personally except make me feel like I am loyal to something, even when each game has the potential to hurl me into an anxiety attack, so maybe I'm not so different now from someone who roots against Auburn but will never have occasion to send any of his children to the University of Alabama. But would I ever poison the trees that line Bill Belichick's home? No. No, I would not.

So anyway, there you are. One number, two teammates, bearded like the pard, playing football in a stylized decade that was progressive in everything, except Jets football.

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