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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NY Jets #58 - Part 3

The other day I found my second grade class class photo, taken sometime in January 1977. It's been a very, very long time since I've seen this. I vaguely recall seeing occasionally unearthed among other photos as I grew up. I remember almost all of the kids in the picture. There's Mrs. Saperstein, with her cat's eye glasses. There's my best friend John who works in Hollywood now. There's JT, whose Dad was a fireman; Jose, the class clown; Sean, a psychotic who spat in my face; Colin, whose Dad was my Aunt's boss; Vinny, who ended up on Riker's Island; Annie, Miss Perfect; Jennifer, who could beat up Sean. And then there's me. It took a few seconds to find me. Everybody else jumped right out.

What do you expect to find when you look back to find yourself? I don't know what I expected. What I found was a little boy in the front row sitting next to two girls, his arms wedged in slightly. He has his hands folded almost prayerfully in his lap, his striped shirt buttoned to the top contrasting against the bright patterns of the girls' blouses and skirts. He looks a little tired and a little frightened; or is that the way I feel lately? His smile seems forced. In a strange way, I want to go back and tell him a joke, tell him to lighten up a little when he's on his own. Or maybe I want to tell him not to try so hard to make other people laugh, and that it will get him into some bad habits. Don't try so hard. Watch out for bullies.

The older one gets, the less one looks back to find assurances or understanding. At a certain age, one tends to look forward, to stare at people older than yourself; you stop looking backward to see what you have become and to start to wonder what you will become someday if you play your cards right or, conversely, what you will turn into if you don't take better care of yourself.

Which brings us to Wilber Marshall #58, the longtime fearsome middle linebacker who played for the Jets for one season - 1995, a cruel punishment (3-13) in and of itself. If you look back and regret, what kind of life can you lead? If you look back in anger, where can you find comfort? As with many retired NFL players, Marshall is looking forward by looking back. He refuses to be sentimental or attached to his pro career because he knows that his career is at the root of his current problems. A recent article coming out of a Redskins blog talks about the physical and mental toll the game took on him, the worst thing being that he believes the Chicago Bears swindling him out of his pay. He says they re-negged on a promise of a long term payout after he agreed to not take a salary up front, all in order to help the team financially. He was also denied disability by the NFL for a long time. Marshall has been angry enough to say that he won't even watch NFL football games.

Are these the circumstances that Drew Brees blithely talks about when he says that current players shouldn't be forced to help pay for former players' financial mistakes? As the blogger above writes, Marshall believes the only decent lesson he should have learned was that you shouldn't do the organization any favors, that you should always take the lump sum. Is that the moral? I just hope Brees has some sense of what's waiting for him when it's all over. Perhaps he will be lucky enough to still have medical insurance.

The only other regret Marshall can have is that he made the mistake of playing football to begin with. This is one of the ironies of modern football. The player is a gladiator, a star in the arena, and as with all stars his worth is only as significant as his duration of play. He thinks of nothing else but what he is. We've seen many players whose life after football has been significantly positive. I can at least amuse myself with the notion that many of the players I've written about have become teachers. But when I was in second grade, I wanted to be like the big men who played the game. I wanted to be like Randy Rasmussen, Carl Barzilauskus and Winston Hill. When I look at my frail little self in my school picture, taken at the end of a football season, it seems humorous, but little children do dream of becoming big men, not knowing that their own lives will be just beginning with hopes and dreams just as the lives of the big men are already, prematurely coming to an end.

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What are the odds? Three guys in #58 at linebacker with alliterative names beginning with "M?" There's Mark Merrill #58, and no, he's NOT the guy who opposes gay marriage with his organization Family First. And Mike Merriweather #58 who finished his career with the Jets after accumulating as many as 18 interceptions. Matt Monger #58 is now a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch after playing a few seasons and a handful of games for the Jets and Bills. Apparently in 2002 he was in partnership with ex-Dolphin Howard Twilley. He advocated - when the market still somewhat stronger - the age-old philosophy of chance: "...be patient. Time will determine the risk and the return." It sounds hopeful. Or does it? Time will determine it all. Be patient. It will come for you.

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Marty Wetzel #58 suited up for five games at linebacker in 1981. There is nothing available that I can see other than a discussion of his exploits at the Wikipedia site for East Jefferson High School. Adding this one note: "An interesting fun note: The current principal of East Jefferson High School James Kytle was Marty's position coach!" Perhaps as we look back without anger we can find any number of different things - however remote they are from our persons - that give our lives their permanent definition.

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