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Thursday, September 29, 2011

NY Jets #57 - Part 2

Mo Lewis #57 (ranked #142)
To give Mo Lewis #57 a tribute higher than simply being the man who inadvertently changed the modern game of football with a single devastating hit on Drew Bledsoe, I think it's important to mention something which should both elevate Lewis to a place of genuine respect and also shed light on a sad truth about the way the franchise has played defense over the past 51 years.

Pro-football-reference.com offers a comprehensive list of the 1000 best players on offense and on defense using the Elo system, "a method for calculating the relative skill levels of players in two-player games" based on the calculation system for chess ratings made by Arpad Elo. I don't claim to understand it, except that the list is a set of matches, one player against another statistically, in order to determine who is better than whom. The overall list puts Jerry Rice as the best overall offensive player who won the most statistical matchups out of 720 possible players, and Reggie White as the overall best defensive player out of a possible 815. Mo Lewis is at a rather high ranking - #142. Whether any of this has any validity at all is questionable. But putting Lewis there is no fluke, especially when you take into account his high rate of tackles early in his career, forced fumbles and interceptions.

The comparably rated offensive player is Grady Alderman, the longtime Vikings lineman. Above Alderman there are eight offensive players who spent a considerable time with the Jets, notably Curtis Martin (80), Vinny Testaverde (90), Joe Namath (102), Kevin Mawae (114), John Riggins (126), Don Maynard (137), with present-day Jet LaDainian Tomlinson #21 at number 18. Not many, but what can you do? Those ratings are themselves a little absurd. I would put Martin above Riggins, but I would put Riggins above Namath. But the really striking point is that above Mo Lewis there are no Jets defensive players. No one. This point cannot be emphasized enough, and to be honest, I think this is reasonable. It is only very recently that the Jets have been considered a strong defense, though after Sunday's game against Oakland, there is reason to believe that they may be rated lower this year. The Sack Exchange ranks lower (Gastineau at 188, Klecko at 247, Lyons sadly not at all) while Larry Grantham #60 ranks just below Lewis. So there is at least one argument here that Mo Lewis is statistically the best defensive player in New York Jets history. True? False? Perhaps it was appropriate that in 2001 the "best defensive player" in our history helped create a seismic shift in the AFC, for who else could be capable of such a thing? James Farrior #51, whose best statistics have come with the Steelers? Maybe. He is ranked overall at 140.

***

Jim Jerome #57 played special teams for the Jets during the latter part of the 1977 season, when the sky was darkening on an increasingly poor season. After starting the year 2-2, the Jets dropped seven in a row before they managed to barely squeeze past the equally poor New Orleans Saints. When Jerome joined the ride, the season had long lost its momentum, and the young team had probably fallen into the ennui that infects a late failed football season. When a new player enters the locker room he must feel like the new teacher in our disgruntled faculty who tries to save her inspiration for new ideas from the veteran colleague's compulsion to stay attached to old ways, whether tried and true or not. But regardless, when you play a few hours or weeks in the NFL, you are always known as someone who played in the pros. The Watertown Daily Times of Connecticut mentions Jim Jerome as a standout for Syracuse football when their program was at a low and then as a a special teams man for an NFL team on the slide.

Whether the Jets of 1977 (3-11) were really pros in the sense that, say, the 1977 Oakland Raiders (11-3) were is hard to say. The Jets might even have done as well as 7-7 in '77 if you take into account how close the games were that season. Four losses alone were within four or fewer points. But on the last day of what appears to Jim Jerome's career, the Jets fell 27-0 to the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that managed only a 5-9 record.

***

On July 12, 1997, the Seattle Times published the following about John Little #57:

Former NFL lineman John Little died of a heart attack in Hot Coffee, Miss., earlier this week. The two-time All-Big Eight selection at Oklahoma State spent seven years in the NFL, with the New York Jets, Houston Oilers and Buffalo Bills.

Apparently he was born in Tallulah, Louisiana, but he died in Hot Coffee, as rural a community as one could possibly imagine - even rural by the definition of a rural state; according to Wikipedia: "about halfway between Jackson and Hattiesburg ... Hot Coffee isn't a quaint little town; it's not even a town. Instead it's a tiny community of farms, homes, and businesses scattered along two-lane Highway 532...According to local lore, a resident [J.J. Davis] opened an inn in 1870 and sold coffee to passersby. Apparently the drink was the only memorable thing about the place."

The "only thing." Is that all there is? Hot Coffee, Mississippi is a non-census municipality without a zip code. This is where John Little's life came to an end, far from the northern cities where he once played, distanced from suburbs, freeways or malls.

I suppose one of his last games in a uniform was playing for the Buffalo Bills, and probably against the Jets in that middling season of 1977. This was a cold, gray, poorly played December game at Shea that I listened to on the radio with my Dad as we drove around Roosevelt Field, doing Christmas errands. I remember feeling what I felt last week as the Jets fell to Oakland. They can still win. They will, won't they? Is that all there is? Dad suggested that it was. "This is why I gave the season tickets away," he said. They trailed in the fourth quarter 7-3 before Wesley Walker caught a touchdown pass from Richard Todd, raising our expectations for two wins in a row, a feat they hadn't achieved since October. And then the Bills scored, and I slumped across the back of the bench seat, staring at Dad's shoulder and then beyond it, out into the vast, flat cold slate color landscape of the Long Island Expressway. That's all there was.

***

Hubert Bobo #57 has the best name for any season. In a new magazine called Sports Illustrated in 1954, he is included in their preview of the upcoming Rose Bowl between Ohio State and USC. SI noted the formidable backfield of the Buckeyes, which included Bobo, Bobby Watkins and "Hopalong" Cassaday. Bobo had been a Ohio high school football star, and at Ohio State, he helped win a National Championship for a team that also included future Hall of Famer Jim Parker. He would then go on to play as a pro in Canada and then eventually begin a professional career in the States with the Los Angeles Chargers, and then at linebacker with the New York Titans for two seasons. His Wikipedia page thoughtfully outlines his statistics as a pro.

But at one time in our history, during Christmas season in 1954, a marvelous moment of synchronicity occurred. In that 1954 issue of SI, Hubert Bobo is mentioned as one of the keys to the Buckeyes' offense, but on page 24, a story can be found on middleweight champion Carl "Bobo" Olsen. In the midst of the holidays, readers were given a Christmas gift of two Bobos. Would that we were so lucky.

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