Sometimes you'd see distracted men coming into the unwelcome sunshine from the Lucky 7's Cocktail Lounge on the corner of Old Mill Road. They seem like they were awakening from their sleep, tilting and reeling, listing like wounded ships. I remember how one of them tried to chat with us in a voice that registered as a growl as we stood there, straddling our bicycles, going over our loot. You guys got cards, huh? What you got? Who you got? When we wouldn't answer or would just stare, he quickly renounced his offer of friendship and told us we were ungrateful children for the world we had inherited. I couldn't help but notice the Lucky 7's windows, diamond shaped, colored and frosted, concealing the bleary light within. Today, my old football cards are somewhere in my house, in a narrow box, kept from the light and the world like those afternoon drinkers, and I wonder where Eddie's are today, or where he is, rather.
I gave up collecting football cards by 1979, though I had made my best collection that year. I had become weary of the poorer characteristics of Topps cards. They didn't show a great deal of action, and even when they did, the cards had no logos on the helmets. Here Jake Walsh may have had a point; at first I assumed that there were some games during the season when teams played without logos on their helmets; maybe they were out being cleaned, or maybe players were sometimes asked to pose with a blank helmet. I didn't realize the lost art of touching up the photos on cards, in the same way Stalin would have portraits touched up to remove people from reality. Topps had a less pernicious reasoning for editing out the logos - to avoid copyright infringement. That never happened on baseball cards, except when an entire mop-up revision needed to be done to convey a change of team for a player, as with Oscar Gamble in 1975.
|This is still better than my college roommate's fake ID|
Anyway, this might as well be Troy Benson's driver's license photo for 1989. He has the look of a man who has been waiting on an unconscionably long line, being commanded by perpetually angry people to sit in one area, move to another, then go back to another waiting area because he has not completed his paperwork in full. Other than that, he looks like an average football player I knew in high school, with his nose wide and flat, his large chin taking up half his face, and his eyes far apart and dull. His hair sits flatly on his head with a fashionable part down the middle; he has the signature blond mustache of the era, with the look of a man you will run into when you both coincidentally need to pick up a case of Bud Light at the Circle K - that is, if you didn't live in Troy Benson's home state of Pennsylvania, with its Blue Laws.
|Stan Blinka, LB|
There are two things on the Interwebs I found about him. Though he was born in Columbus, Ohio (day-dreaming of playing for Woody Hayes, I presume?) Blinka went to Sam Houston State in Texas and was then drafted by the Jets. Here's a good article on his return to his alma mater in 2010, along with many other SHS alumni, to inspire last year's players as they took the field at Reliant Stadium to play rival Stephen F. Austin University (the Lumberjacks). The players left the tunnel with old SHS players standing in a line, rooting them on, which is nice. I wonder if any other players there would be labeled "NFL stars," as Blinka is in the article.
The next set of stories though are a little less flattering to Blinka, but I would argue that they represent a larger problem that defenders are dealing with even now. After the Jets' 15-13 victory over the Green Bay Packers in 1982, Packers Coach Bart Starr filed a complaint with the NFL over a hit Stan Blinka leveled at Packers' receiver John Jefferson. Here is the New York Times story on it. Here are more stories on its immediate after-effects. It seems to me that the hit, which I do not recall, was one of those that makes officials, coaches, players, reporters, and league executives mindfully stop and reflect (or more likely pretend to reflect) on the true nature of the game. What can be done to stop football's worst brutalities? they ask. So Blinka was fined and briefly suspended for the hit. If you scroll down and find Dave Anderson's article on the issue (which has two grainy photographs of the forearm hit to the head) Anderson notes that the league claimed that, up until that hit, it had been 63 years since anyone had been similarly fined and suspended as Blinka was that week in 1982.
Anderson is right to point out the hypocrisy of this decision. He gets Pete Rozelle to look at Stan Blinka's record of penalties to show that Blinka was, to that point, statistically a clean player - especially, Rozelle admits, "for a linebacker." Anderson also maintains that it is difficult to believe that the league would really require 63 years to find as egregious a hit as Blinka's apparently was. Without any real precedent, the punishment seemed fairly arbitrary, except that the Blinka hit occurred only three and a half years after Darryl Stingley had been paralyzed by Jack Tatum. The league felt that it could concretely deal with the inevitability of paralysis. They did not even realize that someday they would also have to devise a strategy for understanding the long-term psychological, physical, and emotional effects of even ordinary week-by-week contact; of course, they still don't know how to respond to such realities today, though they claim to try. The league tries again and again, often in vain, to reduce the number of horrors that the game, by its very nature, creates.
What stays with me most, though, is that in trying to find out specifics about Stan Blinka's career (other than those from my own memory, of hearing Spencer Ross say his name on WCBS) I discovered only information about this now largely forgotten moment. How little we really know of each other from the Internet, yet it is fast becoming our sole source of all knowledge. It behaves like our own memories, holding onto only the fragments of things we would otherwise soon forget or enhancing those things that we have sugarcoated into believing about ourselves. There is much more to Stan Blinka's career - the career of an otherwise clean player - than the one moment we find in cyberspace.