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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

NY Jets #2

We are in the process of updating all previously discussed numbers up to 61. We are also revising some of the previous entries themselves, making them, we hope, more palatable. More readable. Less unreadable.

Is it Mata Hari? Is it a safety?
Two is a strange number in football. You don't see it all alone on a football uniform that often. Who's the greatest #2 in football history? It certainly looks weird on the scoreboard, the way halftime at Super Bowl IX was locked at a 2-0 yawn after Fran Tarkenton landed on his own fumble on the Vikings' end of the field. A safety is signified by the ref with that odd joining of hands over the head. The defense gathers round the grounded, embarrassed offensive player, and they all put their own hands up like so, as if to influence the call. The official agrees or disagrees; if he goes along with it and makes the safety signal, he seems to be hearkening back to some vague, ancient motion, one made by men throughout the ages who've been placed in extraordinary circumstances and haven't an idea of what to do. An extraordinary moment requires an exotic symbol. (Plus, there's really is no limit to the confusion football imposes on us when a Safety can score a safety.)

But we're really here to talk about Nick Folk #2, the Jets' kicker for two seasons at our writing. After this season, he averaged 76% field goals made, which more or less matched last year's rate, though the Jets themselves attempted 14 fewer field goals this year. It was a busier year for punters.

Nick Folk, 1/8/11
Folk is often invoked as the "former Cowboy" who hit 90% of his kicks until a injury reduced his production for Dallas such that he became available to the Jets. His return from injury required a recuperation that revealed to him some of the great medical achievements of his own ancestors. As it's mentioned in the link above, in the tough old days of rudimentary heart surgery, where surgeons needed "nerves of steel," his grandparents (both surgeons) apparently performed pioneering heart procedures that were at the time quite risky and had a high mortality rate.

It made Folk wonder about the nerves needed to be a placekicker. Failure cannot be an option, but it happens all the time. There are no substitutes for the man who can kick the ball 56 yards when we need him to, as Folk did in Denver in 2009. His picture above is taken at the moment he realized that his last second field goal against Indianapolis in the January 2011 playoffs would send the Jets into the second round of the playoffs against New England.

Watch the video below. As Folk lines up for the kick, the arena is filled with the plain white noise of the crowd's anxiety. When Folk sees his kick go through the uprights, you can actually hear him make what Whitman would call his "barbaric yawp." It's a spontaneous, instinctive, guttural cry of satisfaction more than relief. It's one of my favorite Jet moments of all time, and it's a sad reminder of what a disappointment the 2011 season has been.


Just before the Christmas Eve 2012 game with the Giants, the Post predicted that Folk was looking to have a "key role" in the game, one that, according to his coach, would be a true 50-50 matchup. "It's going to be a fun game on Saturday," Folk is quoted as saying. All indications were by then that the Jets had a decent chance at a Wild Card spot if only they could just play reasonably well. I actually thought that the vaguely flagging Giants would win the game, but of course, like the old fool that I am, a Jets fan, I had no idea how outmatched they really would be. None of us knew the deep decline the Jets were in nor how much worse things would get. There would be no playoffs, no barbaric yawp. And Nick Folk would play no major role.

Yet the kicker endures; he goes on elsewhere if need be. The Jets will hold onto him for next year, or they won't. He will have to win a spot in the summer, or he won't. But in my mind, and on a pirated video, he will always be there in memory, providing the aural punctuation to a favorite moment at a much happier time in our beloved team's long, troubled history.

If you need more on the trials of the placekicker, on how all his need for precision, repetition, and consistency can still go for naught, consider the Times' graphic that suggests that Folk is "terrible." He's not even nearly terrible, though every season is a long season. Things can always get worse.

****

The 1991 season was the first in my life where I literally unplugged from football. I attribute this mostly to my own desire at the end of college to seek out something that would make me useful to someone other than myself. I thought I would make my life interesting. Of course, the waywardness and vanities of youth were probably to blame as well, but back then I was adventurous enough to believe that I would live in a different city every year of my life. At this time, I lived in a commune in St. Louis, Missouri. It was what was called a "social justice community;" I was living with three other men and four women, and each one of us worked in a social work job in a city that had been gutted by white flight, vanished industry, and crack. I traded my Fridays at college house parties where floors were sticky with stale beer for Friday nights in a candlelight circle with my roommates, talking about socialist revolution taking hold in the United States.

I went to meetings of the Socialist Workers Party and believed that even in the year of the failed coup in Moscow the United States was still ripe for economic revolution. We were told the fall of the Soviets happened because it had been corrupted by Stalinism, whereas Castro's Cuba was still the hope for the future. There were pictures of Che Guevera and Oscar Romero in our house, without the slightest concern for their various ideological contradictions. I suppose there is no razor idealism quite like the kind you find in a person between the ages of 17 and 25. At that age, you're old enough to digest complex ideas but still not in possession of a fully grown frontal lobe. I put away childish things like working for money, owning things, and, most importantly, monogamy - all of which I cherish today - in order to be a revolutionary.

Most especially, I didn't care about football anymore. I'm not even sure what happened, but it turned September, and I just wasn't watching games on Sundays. "Football's so chauvinistically exploitative and imperialist," I would say to the pretty roommate on my floor while I mixed beans over the stove. I may even have said such things at our Friday group meetings. I couldn't have really believed it, any more than I could have actually believed that a radical redistribution of wealth would appeal to the mostly conservative people of my own country. It wasn't even a gradual change, which may explain why I went back to it when things became interesting for the Jets at the end of another dim season under Bruce Coslet.

There were cracks developing in my newfound worldview. The Miami-Jets game at the very end of the season was being shown on the local NBC, and, as if awakening from a fever dream, I suddenly knew I had to watch. While my housemates were out clearing an empty lot somewhere in North St. Louis, I found a way to stay home and watch the Jets' last game of the season. Both teams were hoping to finish with a dinky Wild Card spot; the Dolphins' season had been a disappointment, while the Jets managed through their Coslet-era blandness and injury to get to 7-8. I told my unsuspecting roommates that I would work on the compost in the back yard while they went to the north side to pull out weeds, glass and brush from yet another spot of urban blight.

I don't remember much of the game; a Jets game can make you feel the same whether they win or lose, conjuring in the Jets fan all a childhood's feelings of powerlessness, anxiety, fear. And of course, the Jets blew a lead late when Dan Marino led the Dolphins to the end zone with a fourth and goal touchdown. What could possibly be more familiar? At that very instant, Marty Glickman's swan song as Jets' radio announcer was, "Folks, in all my years of broadcasting, I've never said this, but there is no way the New York Jets can come back and win this game. There is just no way it can happen." (I didn't hear him all the way in the Midwest; you can hear them on the Jets' history DVD.) And given all the things that Marty had seen in all his years with the Jets, can you really blame him? It made sense for him to say it. And yet, come back the Jets did. They tied the game with a no-huddle at under a minute to play. Placekicker Raul Allegre #2 hit a 44 yarder to send the game into overtime, and then he won it with a 30-yard field goal.

Today Raul Allegre is a Spanish language broadcaster of the NFL. Until Nick Folk, he was the most famous #2 the Jets ever had, which is galling. Like many of the Jets of the late 80's early 90's, Raul Allegre made himself originally famous with someone else, in this case with the 1986 New York Football Giants. He ended his career with the flagging Jets that season.

And what did his heroics get them? A whimpering 17-10 Wild Card Game loss to the Houston Oilers the following week. Raul Allegre's field goals against the Dolphins were the singular highlight of the Bruce Coslet era. I left the commune the following year, I gave up socialism, and the Jets gave up their briefly winning ways.

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