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Monday, July 4, 2011

NY Jets #53 - Part 1

Which of these 1974 Defensive All-Americans
is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Hint: the Jets didn't pick him
With a few exceptions, number 53's on the New York Jets do not exactly charge the memory. The names are like a list of car dealerships in the Tallahassee area. But in the worlds from whence they come, all of these #53's are famous to someone somewhere. The professional football world is as unforgiving to a college football star as it is to the thespian who wins a copy of Stanislaski's An Actor Prepares on awards night at a local high school and finds himself five years later asking for your order at a McDonald's in Manhattan.

Can you spot the Hall of Famer in the Playboy 1974 All-American college football defense? Hint: He was not drafted by the Jets. Another hint: That's not a very good hint. He was actually drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. At the top left hand is Randy White #94, defensive end out of the University of Maryland. The others photographed here, to greater and lesser degrees, had careers in the NFL, but none with White's success. But this is the way it is in life. The player depicted here from Auburn is #53 Ken Bernich, All-American linebacker. He was drafted by the Chargers and then suited up for the Jets in 1975, recovering one fumble, though I don't know in which game. After that, he was done in the NFL. Today he recruits for Auburn even still and is apparently a high school football coach, presumably in Florida.

For me, the only really galling thing is that, again, the only guy above in the Hall of Fame is the guy the Cowboys drafted. It's sick, actually. The Jets did not draft in 1975 until the second round, and they drafted Anthony Davis, the Heisman Trophy winner. I don't think many people know that. I don't know if Davis would have really helped them much, but they did not want to give in to his contractual demands (they had a fairly expensive, wobbly-legged quarterback who had actually won the last last six games of the Jets' 1974 season), so Anthony Davis went on to play for money in the short-lived WFL. The next year, the Jets would draft a first-round quarterback, at long last.

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Khary (pronounced "Cary") Campbell #53 was linebacker for the Jets from 2002-03, out of Bowling Green. He played sporadically for us and then became a regular with the Redskins at a time when Jets players went to DC like panners to the West. He finished his career with the Texans in 2009. He was a special teams captain with the Redskins, as is depicted as such in the fascinating "men in suits" shot Jim Zorn insisted upon during his brief tenure as Washington's Head Coach. He wanted his captains to exude a look of professionalism which Campbell described as "gangster." (Another teammate preferred to describe the look as "deacon.") Campbell is second from the left.

In February 2009, Campbell took the floor dancing the Macarena at a Redskins fundraiser which featured, yes, former Lt. Col. Oliver North selling raffles table to table. Campbell appears to be a good guy, not really doing the Macarena but dancing to it in order to keep an otherwise dull team obligation a little amusing for everybody. But now I'm wondering what I would do if Oliver North came by my table asking if I'd like to buy a raffle ticket. I'd ask him a couple of questions, maybe. The first would be, "Who the hell let you in here?" The second would be, "Didn't you knowingly divert United States resources to make worthless contacts with military elements in a terrorist-sponsoring nation?" The answer to the first question, of course, would be to some degree former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs and ultimately Daniel Snyder. The answer to the second question is, of course, yes.

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"Often times, 'overachiever' is code for something like "This team is so bad, they've got Cascadden logging serious time." Slow, unskilled, overwhelmed - the model Jet of his era."

This is how Jeff Pearlman describes linebacker Chad Cascadden #53, who ranks 99th in the Top 100 Worst NFL Players Of All Time, on Deadspin. I'm happy to remind you that Jets players make up 10% of the list. Cascadden is technically the best of the Jets' worst, whereas their worst of the Worst on the list remains Johnny Lam Jones. This is all debatable and frankly skewed. Many, many players in the NFL try their best, but many, many players have no business suiting up. To continue the analogy above, how many actors have you seen in any medium whom you realize simply cannot even find the paper bag out of which they are supposed to act? As a teacher, I've seen a lot of bad teachers. I haven't been pulled over for speeding by many cops but when I have, two out of three have been - by this taxpayer's measurement, at least - really dumb, inarticulate cops. Many of us in this world are slow, unskilled and overwhelmed.

The trick of Pearlman's list is trying to discern the absolute draft washouts (like Lam Jones, theoretically) and/or hyped superstars (like Anthony Davis, who figures at #46!) from pure incompetence cloaked in feigned praise. Actual Underachievers vs. "Overachievers." I'm not sure Cascadden deserves his ranking, though as Pearlman points out, the "overachiever" was often the model Jet during the Kotite era. He had three tackles in eight games in 1996 and five tackles in four games in 1998. Back in the day when our expectations were so low, an "overachiever," which is exactly what I thought of Cascadden during this time, was our hero. It was hard for a Jets fan of the 1990's to judge who was and was not the worst. Our best were often the ones with the best attitude, and on a 3-13 squad (1995) and a 1-15 squad (1996) what the hell else can you expect? By this measurement, Wayne Chrebet was just as good at his position as Chad Cascadden was at linebacker, which of course is not actually true. But when your team is bad for a long time, it's hard to tell real talent from the untalented guys who just work hard.

And while we're back to the topic of draft choices, does anyone know what makes Barry Gardner #53 special? Drafted in 1999 in the second round by the Philadelphia Eagles, he had the benefit of less scrutiny than the top pick, Donovan McNabb. He played three seasons with the Eagles, two with the Browns, one with the Jets in 2005 at linebacker, and apparently one with the New England Patriots where he broke his leg at the start of the 2006 season. Today he is listed as a free agent even still, which means, I believe, that he's retired. His numbers don't put him on any lists of worsts or bests, but that's probably as much as any of us can say for ourselves. This is the way it is in life.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I met Chad once, and his NFL story definitely impressed me. He was a college walk-on who had a 5 year NFL career after being a UFA on the practice squad. He wasn't a starter, so it's not really that fair to say that his numbers weren't so great.

Lawrence Taylor and Ray Lewis he is not, but I think you have to judge the "worst" players relative to what was expected of them and how much of a chance they got to prove themselves. That's why Ryan Leaf is judged more harshly than say Max Hall. You have to take into account how much of a chance the player had to prove himself.

To actually make it to the 53 man roster as a UFA, and stay there for 5 years, despite being a 6'1" linebacker, that is impressive to me. Considering that the Jets had nothing invested in him (not even a 7th rounder), he must've been pretty solid to have stayed in the league for 5 years, about double the league average. UFAs are completely disposable unless they prove themselves otherwise (and they are barely given a chance to do that) whereas early round picks get every benefit of the doubt since the General Manager is judged largely based on how well his early round picks perform, and because they are the players that the organization identified as being the best players, so they enter with the presumption that they will be good and have to perform poorly to disprove that, whereas UFAs enter with the presumption that they will not even make the team and have to perform phenomenally to displace someone that the team actually traded for or used a draft pick to get.

Martin Roche said...

We are in agreement. When I wrote this post, I found the Deadspin assessment to be flat-out wrong. Obviously it was based on the same initial assumptions that follow them from college into camp. I remember Chad playing no better or worse than anyone else, and in fact I have good memories of him, particularly from a 1998 home game against Miami.

BigBlackRod said...

Anthony Davis finished second to Archie Griffin in the 1974 Heisman Trophy balloting.