Sunday, August 14, 2011

NY Jets #55 - Part 4

What is the measure of a good linebacker? Is it sacks? Is it tackles? If it's the former, then Marvin Jones #55 had nine, which is as many as Ray Lewis got in his first three seasons. If it's the latter, then consider that Jones played his entire career with the Jets - 11 seasons total - and finished with 1200 tackles. Lewis, in 15 seasons, has 1452. I understand that this is a slightly unfair comparison, but it also illustrates Jones' strong contribution to our team. On squads consistently inferior to those for whom Ray Lewis has played, Marvin Jones made a significant mark at his position.

I say this because Jones had to deal with the tag of his being a high draft choice when the Jets desperately needed an improvement in their defense. In their transition from Bruce Coslet to Pete Carroll, the Jets were poised to begin a new defensive era, one that was trying more and more to effectively stop the run. Picked from Florida State in the first round, Jones was highly touted, and rightly so. (He wore #54 until 1997, after Bobby Houston left) It did not work that way. He had the burden of people whispering Lawrence Taylor's name when he first walked into the room. He had the burden of replacing the popular leader Kyle Clifton in the longstanding tandem with Mo Lewis and Bobby Houston. He also had the burden of early injuries that make fans particularly impatient with first rounders. His hip injury, so early in his career in 1994, made him vulnerable to being called a waste of money, a lazy player, a player who cannot handle pain, and I recently encountered a Jets fan who still felt that way, and that fan was wrong.

Aside from his respectable statistics, Jones had a good career in terms of duration, and the fact that he managed the stats he did in the midst of the most absurd 11 years that a pro team can imagine makes it all the more impressive. What effect do years of consistent, almost insurmountable losing have on the mind of someone who was, at least in premise, as talented as Jones? He certainly found more comfort in his friendship with Mo Lewis #57 than he did in the hopes and aspirations of the many head coaches he played for - Coslet, Carroll, Kotite, Parcells, Groh, and Edwards. This article from the Times late in his career illustrates exactly what happened: both he and Mo Lewis, the defensive leaders, had been so conditioned to the yearly false promises that they had both lost their own veteran leaders' voices - the hectoring, driving, motivating voices so available to team leaders (and manslaughter accomplices) like Ray Lewis, to whom both men are unfairly compared in the article.

Imagine playing under six coaches in your career, each time having to shift gears, listening to the same opening speeches from training camp to training camp. The money helps add salve to the wounds, but aside from the amount they made in their time, Jones and Mo Lewis (for they go together in my mind) played late afternoons on cold days at the dawning of winter some time in 1995 or '96, in a cavernously empty Meadowlands stadium named for another team, at a time when the Jets were the laughingstock of professional sports. The two might as well have been sea-faring characters from a Joseph Conrad novel, sitting on the bow of a docked merchant ship, recounting tales of battling their enemies with nothing more than their own existential grief.


Actually, how did any of us who love our team survive those miserable years, when the Jets went from laughable doormat to playing in the 1999 AFC Championship Game to being the team for whom Bill Belichick wouldn't work to ending up as Al Groh's sloppy seconds? How did we get through it, other than with _____________ ? (alcohol/grass/religion/junk food/xanax) At least Marvin Jones had his money. What did I have? Old Smuggler. Back then, "if things don't work out this year" meant another losing season. Now it means something different. And I forget this sometimes. If we end up there again, and stakes is high, then I need to file those experiences away for future use.

And, back:

Finally, I always loved Marvin Jones for maybe the single most evocative nickname I have found in all of sports - "Shade Tree." Ed Jones was "Too Tall." Nate Newton was "The Kitchen" to William Perry's "Refrigerator." But "Shade Tree" is Southern Gothic. It's almost Native American, or maybe like a wise character in a Toni Morrison novel. It's great. And because I like it, I added it to Wikipedia's page for Sportspeople By Nickname. I hope it turns up soon, and I hope Marvin doesn't mind.


Brad Kassell #55 arrived with the Jets in 2006 after a good career in special teams with the Tennessee Titans. At North Texas University, Denton, TX, home of Midlake, he was a star running back. He was a special teams leader with the Jets in 2007. A year later JetsBlog documented the manner in which Kassell's re-signing was meant to be a patching up at linebacker after Jonathan Vilma left the Jets for the Saints. In reality, the team probably had no long term interest in Kassell, and that's no way to run an organization. No offense to Brad Kassell. If you look at the comments, several people point out how Eric Mangini's hard lines in negotiations, and his reluctance to deal with players, were harmful to the team. This is something that Ryan and Tannenbaum have clearly learned to manage differently, and at the very least, I'm glad that Rex Ryan is not, if you'll excuse me, a dick in this particular way. As a result, his players want to play for him, even taking pay cuts to do so. See what happens when you let the green flow? And this is why Eric Mangini is today employed by ESPN, and not by a professional football team in any capacity whatsoever.

Jamaal Westerman
And yet, I worry that Ryan's high opinion of Jamaal Westerman #55 is a false optimism inspired by the loss of Shaun Ellis to the Patriots. Like a Dad who is trying to convince the kids that a round of miniature golf makes the vacation just as good as it would have been had Wally World been open, Ryan says, without provocation, that Westerman has exceeded his expectations. He said the same of Vernon Gholsten. Westerman is an interesting guy, having played in Ontario and then at Rutgers, where he excelled. Is he the kind of player who can fill the gap left behind by Ellis, who is now with New England? The real question we all should ask is whether or not Ellis is merely just a psychological ploy to get at Ryan and his impressionable crew. Maybe Shaun Ellis is just another toy Jet that Belichick has added to his collection, just as Charles Foster Kane bought all the Chronicle's men. Isn't it possible that all of this will lead someday down the road to Bill Belichick aimlessly pacing the corridors of his Kubla Khan, counting the days until his death, foundering from room to room, confronted by limitless reflections of himself, all while his trophy wife is chewing gum and assembling a vast puzzle in his mansion's great hall? One can only hope. That or Jamaal Westerman is every bit as good or Ellis, or better as Ryan hopefully suggests. I would take that too. 

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