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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

NY Jets #17 - The Curse?

I used to live in a neighborhood where the resident across the street from me was labeled by everyone on the block as "Poor Choices." If there were a meth addict to impregnate her, she would find him. If there were a fistfight to be had with another woman over a parking space, she would mix it up in front of her kids. Often, with a determined smile, she would stare down the shady-looking baby daddies who came by to berate her for being disloyal or duplicitous. She endured, mothered several children, and maintained such a zen-like unselfconsciousness about how the neighborhood viewed her that I came to admire her. Though I wouldn't exactly gamble on her children growing up with the sense of a happy home, she had the power of Mother Courage, driving her children on to the next scheme for survival.

I'm not at all sure that this was a good choice for an introduction. I suppose the point I meant to make was that some people just make poor choices, yet they endure out of profit or pride, destined to live it out all over again at the risk of running infamous in the eyes of the world. As of writing this, two men who have such a reputation have come to confluence over the #17 - Braylon Edwards and Plaxico BurressOne is on his way out of the franchise, and one is seeking redemption on his way in.

I've maintained before that there is a curse to the #17 on the Jets, in that its wearer usually ends his career with the team for one reason or another. It is a black hole, absorbing the last, best hopes of any athlete. These two now add a new twist to the curse.

First, incoming. Before Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself and began a prison sentence, he wore #17 for the Giants. I didn't know until today that it was because he signed with the Giants on a March 17th, making the number, in his eyes, lucky. Who wore it before him on the Giants?

Apparently, there is a tradition where players will hand over their numbers to other players who wish it so long as the player surrendering the number receives some remuneration. In the case of aged punter Jeff Feagles who wore #10 on the Giants until Eli Manning came to the team, Manning paid Feagles back for the number with an all-expense paid Florida vacation. Feagles then switched to #17. When Burress came calling for #17, the punter was only happy to hand it over in return for a new kitchen, which apparently Feagles never received. This stiffing of a longtime veteran was just further ammunition in the press about Plax's shadiness, his unreliability, selfishness and so on. He still owes Feagles a kitchen; perhaps part of his work to re-establish his reputation would be to make amends by allowing Mrs. Feagles (presuming there is one) a chance to look at swatches.

Burress is a Poor Choices, an enduringly flawed figure, now "prison strong," who finds a new home with the most colorful of coaches on a team that itself has become the kind of circus show that Sonny Werblin could only have dreamt of in his darkest moments at Toots Shor's. Burress chose the Jets over the Giants, the team whose fans still feel he owes them something symbolic ever since his self-wounding threw the team into a lengthy funk from which they have not yet recovered. Something more than a kitchen. My brother is a Giants fan, and I can only imagine his combined sense of grief and relief as Plaxico Burress replaces Braylon Edwards in #17. But will the curse endure?

In order to answer that question, one must take into account the future of Braylon Edwards. Plaxico will not have to buy Edwards so much as a sandwich for #17 since the Jets have said sayanora to himHe will likely show up on someone's roster, like Arizona's, or better yet, Oakland's; Poor Choices will endure as Poor Choices always does. But as of this writing, though he has not been implicated directly, members of Edwards' entourage actually attacked staff at a Birmingham, Michigan nightclub on July 31, 2011:

... Edwards' buddies got into an argument with employees that "eventually spilled into the kitchen" and that one worker was "sliced with a knife requiring 14 stitches...another was attacked with a fork."

Again, the fight continued into the kitchen, as if it were a farcical brawl in a Mack Sennett silent film.

Great Men have entourages because Great Men are always inherently insecure. Unless you were the queen bee of a group of catty girls in middle school, you (and I) have no idea what it's like to have one. Your entourage is your protection, your enablers, your familiars, the people who keep your secrets, your true friends who know you best and can be alternately blessed by your generosity or cursed by your contemptuous regard. 

Edwards has had conflicts with the law and has avoided jail time, but if Plaxico Burress is truly settling upon a different way of living, he might advise Braylon Edwards to avoid nightclubs with his entourage altogether. But we know that's not going to happen. And Edwards? He apparently tweeted at the nighclub: "Damn. Get ya knuckles ready," followed by, "Don't fight if. You don't know how." The punctuation is his. I say "apparently" because these tweets were later erased, and Edwards claimed that his phone had been hijacked and that they were sent out by someone else, which is exactly what I would have done. It might have been the idea of one of his humbled entourage; it does takes a village.

****

Braylon Edwards always made me nervous. It seemed at first that his sense of timing was impeccable when it was time to make a poor choice. All players make mistakes with every game, but in the first two and a half weeks of the 2010 season, I made note that Edwards did the following:

1. Formation penalty that prevented the Jets from setting up in the red zone in the first half against the Ravens, week one.

2. Running into the kicker when placed in as special teams to block a punt against Baltimore, which then gave the Ravens the ball so that they could score.

3. Scored against New England in week two but taunted the man covering him, which earned him an unsportsmanlike penalty. Taunted his defender later on a two-point conversion but did not get penalized after he probably should have.

4. Received a DUI arrest after leaving a nightclub with D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Vernon Gholsten.

But then, I got soft on Edwards. Throughout the offseason, in order to deflect worry about the Lockout,  or about whether or not Rex Ryan's traveling show will finally derail,  I found it comforting to have Edwards' fine performances in the playoffs rewind in my head. First, there is this play against the Colts that essentially guaranteed that the Jets could move forward in the playoffs:


Great receivers can make poor choices, but they must make great catches when it is absolutely necessary. Steve Smith and Plaxico Burress did in the Super Bowl, as did Santonio Holmes. The fan tolerates the poor choices in exchange for such singular moments from your mentally ill wide receiver. It's all you can ask in the playoffs, and you are willing to forgive everything so long as he will save your beloved team from sudden death. Whether he tweeted about his entourage's violence outside Detroit or not, it seems impossible in the modern era to enjoy such moments without a dose or two of poor choices. 

And then when the gun sounded last year against the Patriots, Braylon Edwards, eager to stand out as always, added his personal signature to the happy night, and we see it now as one of his last acts as a Jet. You can call it showboating or insanity. Such flamboyance and vibrancy exists outside the stoic realm of football; Braylon Edwards, filled with the unlikely joy all of us felt that night, transformed into a sylph out of Cirque du Soleil and backflipped in front of all of Foxboro. 



Farewell #17, and again, sayonara.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good thing Greg Salas is a fuckin boss