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Sunday, March 25, 2012

NY Jets #15 - Part 2

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

My birthday just recently passed, and an inordinate number of people sent me pictures on Facebook of Tim Tebow #15, mostly to annoy me. My brother sent me a wordless image of Tebow at his press conference. One friend sent me a picture of himself Tebowing on his lawn for me. All of these had the purpose of reminding me what all middle-aged people are conditioned to remember when they turn another year - that life is futile, fleeting, and that if something can get worse, it will. This was apparently my birthday present - the gift of a man who appears to win week by week by virtue of his sheer will, though of course the irony is that deluded people like Tebow himself - people who probably vote for Rick Santorum - believe it is solely the will of God.

The will of God. Growing up, I guess I never thought of God being particularly interested in the New York Jets doing well. I could see how God preferred the 1970's Cowboys, as He was apparently in regular communication with Tom Landry. God didn't particularly love the Steelers, but He gambled away his lifetime grudge against the franchise to the Rooney family in a 1969 poker game - a true story. The Raiders of that era were part of God's experiment with self-dominion, and He was eventually horrified what He saw happen at Alameda Coliseum, no doubt just as He probably was horrified by Lucifer's fall, but by the time the Raiders had moved to Los Angeles, God decided to let them burn themselves out like a bunch of washed out Hollywood porn stars. The 49ers of the 80's and 90's did so well because God was an enormous fan of the West Coast Offense. Growing up, the Jets seemed the way I always judged myself to be in God's eyes - not as particularly important and not terribly fortunate, but appreciated for the effort. 

Anyway, our subject of late has been backups, probably because we’re revising all those typically "quarterback" jersey numbers. But nothing gets to heart of football's mythology quite like a quarterback controversy. American football is a game that sets a tremendous pressure on the signal caller. Obviously defense wins championships, but the quarterback is the titular leader, the model of the team itself. He is the figure with the greatest symbolic resonance for a franchise. So the pairings of two generals on the same team always seems like stars crossed in the same endeavor: Unitas-Morrall, Morton-Staubach, Montana-Young,....and Sanchez-Tebow? (Sigh.) That last one doesn't quite fit. Perhaps it's of little surprise that John Elway disposed of his team’s most inconveniently nettlesome symbol by sending Tim Tebow to the Jets, for Elway never had to share the spotlight with anyone, and he certainly didn't want to allow a cartoon character to occupy the sacred quarterback position.

Will Tebow accept the role of a backup? Does he demand equal billing with Mark Sanchez, the way Steve McQueen needed to be on a vaguely equal credit billing with Paul Newman in The Towering Inferno? The analogy is a poor one, for neither quarterback can lead their team to the Super Bowl the way that Newman and McQueen enabled Fred Astaire and OJ Simpson to reach safety. Maybe it’s like imagining who deserves equal billing between child actors, like Kirk Cameron and Fred Savage - the squeaky-clean Fundamentalist cyborg and the modern day Beaver Cleaver who's got a history of female trouble.

The Jets might be a towering inferno, though. They may be a full-on disaster film next year, a hellish catastrophe. Inferno, for Tebow, is also the literal hell, the place bad people go when they die, perhaps even the place where non-born-again Christians go when they die – and that might make up a great deal of the Jets fanbase. It might be said that the Jets themselves play in the belly of the Beast, the New York tri-state area, the Sodom of America. Certainly all of that includes me.

I’ve examined this topic more fully in my piece on the Lunch Break. I use an extravagant number of metaphors, similes, and analogies. I even make reference to 1836.

Richard Sandomir tallied up all the #15’s recently (I wonder if he had a little help), and among others he mentions Bob Davis and Babe Parilli, and we’d like to devote the rest of this entry to these two, both of whom were Namath’s backups.

According to the Wikipedia entry for #15 Bob Davis, backup quarterback to Joe Namath in 1970 and 1971: "I was actually a much better basketball player in high school than I was a football player." If you are a Jets fan and a connoisseur of Jets history, you can recognize the humor in that. The Jets had the jewel in the sport's crown as their QB, yet Namath was fragile and prone to all kinds of injuries - knees, shoulders, elbows all going wrong. Bob Davis stepped in during the 1971 and '72 seasons.

Among the names of Namath's ragtag backups, New Jersey native Bob Davis ranks as the best, probably. He started half the games of the 1971 season, replaced in the famous loss to the Niners when Namath nearly brought the team back from a 24-7 deficit. As 70's seasons went, the Jets went a respectable 6-8 in 1971 when Bob Davis lead them on the field, with rookie John Riggins and Emerson Boozer splitting nearly 1400 yards between them. As recently as 2007 he was the President of Rumson-Fair Haven Bank and was quoted in a Monmouth County newspaper about a branch being opened in Asbury Park.

Babe Parilli, doing his best Joe Willie
Sandomir focuses his article about #15's on Babe Parilli, the backup to Namath on the 1968 championship team. He points out that had Namath gone through with his threat top retire at the beginning of the following season, Parilli would have been the starter for the defending Super Bowl champions. This obviously did not occur. Sandomir quotes Parilli as having returned to training camp that season and, assured of Namath's own return, was quoted as saying, "It's a relief to the whole club."

I forget which book it came from, but I recall reading a 1968 story about a couple of girls seeing Joe Namath at an airport or bus station as the team was traveling together. They approached him, looking to get his autograph. Namath said, "Sorry ladies, but you've got the wrong guy." He pointed at Parilli standing nearby and said, "That's Joe Namath right over there." When the girls approached Babe, the backup quarterback rightly pointed back at Joe Willie, who then sent them back to Babe. And so on.

Was it easy to confuse them? Obviously, no. But Parilli did hold the Patriots' passing record for a season (1964), broken later by Tom Brady in 2007. His nickname was "Goldfinger," apparently for being one of the best placekicking holders in the game. He threw early and often to Gino Cappelletti as a starting QB for Boston, but Cappelletti was also the team's placekicker kicker, with Parilli the hold. Parilli then held for Jim Turner on the Jets; a backup must often needs be the holder, the one who can make or break a kick based on his ability to catch the ball, place the ball, turn the ball and move your hand away. Simple? No. 

Get close to the details of his life, and Parilli resembles Namath, somewhat. Both men started for Bear Bryant at Alabama. Both men came from Beaver County, Pennsylvania, an area of the country that bred quarterbacks.

With an iPhone, two otherwise unknowing teenage girls would probably be able to figure out the difference between Tebow and Sanchez, though comparatively speaking, I have it on an otherwise completely independent female authority that Sanchez's dark looks and curly hair are the winner. (We'll put aside the easy jokes about Sanchez's appreciation for young women.) I have no idea how each man would handle a real confusion of identity, though they have in common an essential characteristic - they have each been to the conference championship, yet neither may actually be that good. Can two wrongs make a right? We have no choice in deciding the matter. We are fans. We must rely on the will of God.  

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