Friday, July 29, 2011

NY Jets #54 - Part 3

When I was eight, my parents took us to Disney World, which was the biggest trip of my life to that point. It was the beginning of February, the gloomiest month for anyone who lives in the northeast. It was my first trip on a plane, and I remember being amazed by the idea of leaving behind an horrendous snowstorm at JFK Airport for the warmth of the sun only a few hours later.

Disney World's greatest attraction back then was Space Mountain, which had opened two years before.  The ride simulated the build-up to a NASA space-launch, with authentic-sounding Mission Control banter in the background as you rode a moving platform to your destination, which was frankly paradoxical. "Space" and "Mountain" are two concepts that are a little disconnected. You can find a mountain in space, but usually on a planet moving through space. It was called "Space Port" or "Space Voyage" when the ride was first conceived in the 1960's, but I gather that "mountain" conveys more the sense of a human adventure, so there you are. It was and still is an indoor roller coaster ride in the dark (here with the lights on) simulating what in reality would be considered a really bad ride in space.

I remember the ads quite vividly (at the link, enjoy the animation, the futuristic font, the control panel lights, the yellow turtleneck on the guy riding it and the Dorothy Hamill haircut on his date). It was advertised as a dangerous ride. As Dad and I moved along the moving walkway toward space, there were warning signs letting people know that this was not for everyone. An attendant stopped a woman on the way toward the roller coaster and told her that expectant mothers were not permitted on the ride. The woman looked indignantly at the young man. "I'm not pregnant," she said. "I'm just fat." Dad, who was always encouraging me toward more adventurous, mannish pursuits, thought this might be just the thing. Never mind the fact that I hid through most of Haunted Mansion ride and that at eight, I still slept with a stuffed ocelot every night. His name was Ozzie.

I mention all of this reference to Steve Poole #54 for two reasons. One is simply because I have no real statistics on him, other that in 1976 he played nine games for the Jets, recovering two fumbles, one of them a touchdown recovery of a blocked punt against the Bills on Halloween. He is on the University of Tennessee's professionals list between between "Gordon Polofsky" and "Peerless Price." But I remembered his picture from a Jets' game program, and I always thought what an odd name it was - Poole. It registered with me because I was afraid of the pool as a kid. In his continuing efforts to have me experience a moment of bravery, Dad tried to coax me off the diving board, but I wouldn't do it. I refused to put my head underwater. What was it like to have a name that conjured something so fearful to me as water?

Somewhere in the transition from the hotel where we were first staying and the Magic Kingdom, Ozzie went lost. I do not recall the moment I realized he was lost; I just assumed that he would appear some time. He did not. By the time we reached Orlando we were a couple of hours from wherever Ozzie had been left behind, in a Florida motel. I tried to enjoy Disney World as best I could, but the simple truth was that my best friend, an non-animated figure made of artificial fabric, whose intestines had been filled and refilled again, whose cheap manufacture necessitated that my grandmother in Brooklyn redesign a neck for him made out of one of her opaque medicine bottles, was no longer with me.

I have always been troubled by an inability to let go of things - my football team, the past, the people I hurt and who've hurt me, the towns I left behind, my drinking, the jobs I've had, the women I kissed and so on, so much so that my life sounds like a Woody Guthrie song when it most obviously is not. If Dad at first thought this was a moment of serendipity, he was probably soon compelled by the gnawing look of gloom I wore in the Magic Kingdom to go on a mission to bring Ozzie back. And this, despite his own hopes for toughening me a little, is what he did. While I went on rides and posed for photographs with disarming-looking mascots, he traveled hours back and found Ozzie in the possession of a Mrs. Poole, a maid in the motel where we had stayed. She had found Ozzie in a laundry basket wrapped up in the sheets to be delivered down for the wash. I scarcely think he would have survived the ordeal.

Steve Poole then became associated by a highly associative child with something larger than the fear of the many, many things that seemed to threaten his childhood. He became associated with someone who saved one of its symbolic protectors, which Dad was only glad to redeliver, hoping I suppose, that my day of manly reckoning with fear would come some other time.


Jamie Rivers #54 LB
Jamie Rivers #54 played middle linebacker with the St. Louis football Cardinals before he came to Jets in 1974. This does not surprise me. The Jets of the late 70's (with all due respect to Jamie Rivers) were a hodgepodge of old players, traveled veterans from mediocre teams and blossoming players (very few talented young players were on the 1974 team, except for Jerome Barkum and, of course, John Riggins). The best explanation for Rivers' arrival on the Jets is that his coach in St. Louis was Charley Winner, who was later Head Coach of the Jets from 1973 to the middle of 1975, which was Jamie Rivers' last season in the NFL. He had a good run.

Still, I love to play a game to which I will someday devote a multi-part entry called "Infinite What If's" (just made the name up; we'll consider something else) that re-imagines outcomes for the Jets teams of the past. I have argued before that the 1974 team is one of the most compelling to study. (Commenter Michael said he was interviewing members of the squad, so I'm curious about that.) This is a team that won their last six games of a 14-game season, two of which were against division rivals who were going to the playoffs. Had they defeated Buffalo earlier in the season (they lost by 4) they would have won the Wild Card. If they had also won an additional game (against the middling Oilers, most likely) they would have won the division. Jamie Rivers played for the Jets that year and the year after, seasons which were quite different; for some reason the 1974 club had the breaks going their way. Teams like that get lucky, like the 2002 or 2004 Jets. I like to think we're beyond that point now, especially since those lucky Jets teams, like all such teams, didn't make it as far as the conference championship game.

Had they won the Wild Card in 1974, they would have played eventual champion Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Had they won the division, they would have played the Wild Card Miami Dolphins at Shea or the AFC West champ Oakland Raiders at Oakland, which means we would never have known the Sea of Hands, which would have been a loss to the history of the game itself. But such considerations have no merit in Infinite What-If's. At least the Jets would have been in the playoffs, even if they probably would not have gotten any further. In a little boy's mind, it would have made the possibility of a winning team seem less impossible.

Does this look like a
Actor Peter Gallagher went to my high school, as did the late Laura Branigan, whom no one would remember if you didn't hear this on the radio all the time. My best friend in grammar school has become reasonably famous over the years, but there comes a point where you stop mentioning aloud, to whomever is around, that "I went to school with that guy." In all of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' appearances on TV over the years, at what point did Jim Waskiewicz #54 stop telling people that he "went to school with Bob Gates?"

Jim Waskiewicz graduated from Wichita High School in Witchita, Kansas and then went to Witchita State, which inducted him into their Hall of Fame in 1981. Witchita State is known more for baseball than football, and their teams are the "Shockers," but did you know that the full name is "Wheatshockers?" I didn't. You husk corn in Nebraska but shock wheat in Kansas. Now I know. At any rate, he played linebacker for the Jets from 1966-67 but didn't get a Super Bowl ring the following year because he was on the 1968 expansion draft for the Cincinnati Bengals, though I do not see him on their roster. He played the year after that for the Atlanta Falcons, which was his last in the NFL. From the vault of a someone named Meteorite Guy (online, we are all becoming Brazilian soccer players) who apparently collects high school yearbooks of famous people, we see junior year Wichita High man Jim Waskiewicz (above right) in 1961 not looking much like a football player.

Go to the link, scroll down and find Waskiewicz sitting (at left) with his awkwardly bare chested high school wrestling squad.  He resembles a geeky kid anxious to get the approval of everybody around him, which traditionally is not the attitude of the stoic high school jock who prefers to blend into a wall against which he hopes a pretty girl will lean.

But in the above link you will also see that one of of Waskiewicz's classmates at Witchita High from that year was senior "Bob Gates," who is, indeed the outgoing Defense Secretary of the United States. To be honest, young Gates really does look like someone who will become the leader of the Young Republicans at William and Mary and then join Washington's elite, working for the CIA. He was a flunky for William Casey, he probably knew a great deal about what happened during the Iran-Contra Scandal, and yet he has survived cannily enough to be Defense Secretary for two Presidents from different parties. Perhaps you really can see the future in high school yearbook photos. If he doesn't jump out as a linebacker, Jim Waskiewicz still doesn't look like he would lie to his mother to cover up his knowledge of a trade of arms-for-hostages in what he believed was inevitably going to protect national security. Am I wrong in thinking, on the other hand, that young Bob Gates already looks as though he would?


Slimbo said...

Space Mountain without the lights looks like the Jersey Turnpike between Exits 9 and 13 encased within a pre-exploded Hindenberg.

Martin Roche said...

And there's no exit to the Garden State.