Saturday, April 28, 2012

NY Jets #61 - Part 1

Is there anyone out there who's interested in New York Titans cuff links? I don't have any to sell, but that's not the point. The question is rhetorical. In Islam, conspicuous consumption and greed are defined by having so many possessions that you cannot stand upright. Of course, Ben Franklin also rightly said that an empty bag can't stand upright, either. But is a man at the upper levels of society likely to buy Titans cuff links? Would Titans cuff links be a good addition to the board room? Isn't it too ironic to impress anyone? Irony doesn't impress anyone the way cuff links are supposed to. Irony is the refuge of those who will never know what it means to win - those who will never stand upright because they have nothing.

What can any of this can tell us about Dan Callahan #61, who played for Titans at guard from 1960-61? Twelve men walked on the moon between 1969 and 1973; roughly 150 men played for the New York Titans, an AFL organization run by a former sportscaster who drank himself to death. Some men are in the right place at the right time; how you want to define "right" in this instance is irrelevant. If anything, Callahan was unique because of his time and place. Rich or poor, or somewhere in between, if he's still alive, Dan Callahan may be the right person to buy cuff links that commemorate his specific time in a specific place. So there's your answer.

Frank D'Agostino may have been the first Titan to wear the number 61, before Callahan. Other than that, I only see that he played for the Eagles in 1956. Or maybe it was Leon Dombrowski #61 who wore it first. All three men are listed as starting in 1960. I'm not sure the cuff links will mean anything to them, but I might be wrong. Just keep in mind, they cost $60. Cuff links could hardly be said to encumber anyone, but whether I made such an investment for myself or received them as a gift, I know I would be psychologically burdened by what a rip-off they are.

Dan Ficca's 1965 helmet
On the other hand, would you like to buy Dan Ficca's (#61) helmet? That's also a rhetorical question because the bidding is over, and now the auction is just an online memory. It sold for $940, which is pretty cool. Check it out here, and you'll see how rudimentary a football helmet was in 1965, Ficca's last year with the Jets. A mere pad at the top of the head and canvas straps on the side protect the head from the outside blows. It's almost quaint to imagine something like this protecting anyone from anything, and whether they meant to be humorous or not, the sellers put quotes around the word padding, possibly to suggest that its structural protection was always purely symbolic.

The truth is that while wearing a helmet like this, Dan Ficca had to reckon with people like the legendary behemoth defensive lineman Ernie Ladd of San Diego. In Ed Gruver's American Football League, Ficca says the following about Ladd:

He broke my nose, and then he broke my cheekbone. Then he broke the cheekbone on the other side, but by then, my head was numb.  

(On the same page, Gruver writes that apparently the only way to soften Ladd's imperious power was to "compliment" him, as former Patriots guard Charley Long did. "What could we do?" Long says, sounding like a helpless member of an animist tribe about the wrath of a god, "I told him how great he was - just praying that he wouldn't get mad and hit any harder.")

Against a 6'9" monster like Ladd, the helmet above stood very little chance. The industrial-gray face mask looks like a relic from the late 50's, but this must have been Ficca's preference. The white-on-green football logo is slanted decidedly upwards, as it was throughout the 1960's, headed toward the sky like so many things optimistically were - jets, satellites, space capsules. Click on one of the images at the link, and you can happily magnify each one to needlessly large dimensions - the old Riddell tags and the handwritten "61" in blue ink inside. It's old, but back then it must have looked as fragile as the delicate human head it is meant to protect, and since we now know that no helmet is adequate against head trauma, the one we see above is testimony to the carefree optimism of its time.

Apparently Dan Ficca was traded to the Jets from Oakland at the beginning of the 1963 training camp, and, in a move that may have started the antipathy between the two clubs that decade, Al Davis apparently neglected to tell the Jets that their new guard still had six months of military service to perform. The Jets should probably have checked that out ahead of time. Ficca played at guard for the Jets for three seasons, from 1963-65. There are bits and pieces of contemporary news about his whereabouts in his native Pennsylvania, in what is known as the Lower Anthracite Region, most specifically Mt. Carmel, which sits near the center of the commonwealth. As a local boy done good, he seemed to have been feted in newspapers in the years after leaving town, even having the birth of his first child mentioned as a news event in 1966. In 2009, he is back in his home town, where he has probably lived since retiring from the game. We see him hosting the Mount Carmel Area Athletic Alumni Association's scholarship awards for high school seniors. In 2011, his face is shown among residents at town meeting that addressed the community's fears about people using bath salts to get high. Such is small town life.

This was apparently one of two helmets that Ficca auctioned off. The other, auctioned on Ebay at some point, was probably more valuable - the 1964 helmet with the green-on-white logo that the Jets had for just one season. I suppose when I look at the one at left, my eye is drawn to its outdated shape and the slight bulge at the ears, but I can't help staring at the little football resting beneath the streamlined JETS. The little football at the base of the current logo has large laces pointing outward. Here the laces point up. The old logo was also a brighter green than the current one.

But what always gets me is ghostly "NY" behind the team's name. When I was four, my parents gave me a little kid's Jets football helmet with the logo, and I used to just stare at it. The logo on top of the initials made me think about infinity, about layers and layers of things ad infinitum and about how nothing is ever quite known without knowing what's behind it. I once had a Giants fan tell me that the Jets logo looks like a bad high school art project, but that's no matter. That has no bearing on the things to which you attach yourself as a child, when all you desperately want is to belong to something greater than yourself. Obviously, as an adult, I see myself as being greater than my own fandom, but then such realizations belongs to the realm of adulthood, a place where ideas are less permanent, less stable, less certain and always more malleable than they were when you were a child, when everything pointed optimistically upward.


Slimbo said...

That helmet looks to be scant protection from a Deacon Jones headslap.

Martin Roche said...

"I'm a Baptist, but I'm also a quarterback killer, and I ain't praying with you. But I will give you 30 seconds to ask your Lord and master to keep me from killing you."

- Something to think about from Deacon Jones