Sunday, June 10, 2012

NY Jets #61 - Part 4

I was dwelling on the significance of John Roman #61, who played at tackle for the Jets from 1976-82,  when I received a phone call from my mother. I didn't get to the phone in time; I should say that I usually don't answer my land line because it's usually a telemarketer, or rather I should say that it's usually a recording of a telemarketer because, apparently, selling something to someone these days doesn't even require an actual beating heart. My mother's message was:

What's wrong with you? Don't tell me you're not home watching this. How can you not watch the Mets' first no-hitter in their entire history!? Are you insane? Don't you know what's happening right now? Aren't you watching this?

Johann Santana's no-hitter came at the right time for the New York Mets, who are still above .500, a few games out of first place, and still using people's doubts and disparagement as fuel for the fire. It crashed and effectively ended the existence of a beloved blog devoted to the drought. For a franchise in need of good news, Santana delivered the news that no one ever thought would come, like a Buccaneer kickoff return, or a Saints Super Bowl victory.

The next day, I called Mom and spoke to Dad first, who told me that he had never seen Mom act the way she did. "She lost control," he said. "She became this other person. I think I've seen her like that when she's mad, sure, but this was when she was happy. I just couldn't get her to calm down. She was a maniac."

I remember her like that. I remember when the US beat the Soviets during the 1980 Winter Olympics - an event whose significance has been lost on generations of Americans who never had to grow up wondering if an international misunderstanding would someday result in the complete annihilation of the human species, or what it felt like to be outwitted by a bush league Iranian government that was groping its way toward an oppressive theocracy. Our nation was having one of its neurotic crises of identity. I don't remember the hockey game even being televised, but I do remember Frank Reynolds on ABC telling us that the US team had done it, and Mom went into an hysterical joy that scared me. I can only compare it only to a Gastineau sack dance for its fury and abandon. I explained to Dad that I had inherited this same kind of irrational, deeply emotional attachment to team and loyalty that sometimes culminated in such scenes.

My wife can attest to that. There was the brief time, between Eric Barton's late hit on Drew Brees and Nate Kaeding's 40-yard miss in the first round of the 2005 NFL Playoffs, when I quit the Jets, a period of approximately 20 actual minutes. After Barton laid the hit, I hurled the remote control at the exposed brick of our apartment's living room. I'm not proud of that game. The remote was replaced, but I had forgotten the solemn truth that Lena Younger teaches her children - that the time to love someone is when their at their lowest, which, normally, with the Jets, I always do. Like a little boy, I locked myself in my bedroom and refused to come out, at least until my wife told me that the Chargers missed their overtime field goal. It was my first playoff game without beer, but that's not an excuse.

But when John Roman started, or when he stared from the sidelines when he wasn't starting, he did so during the first rush of hope and desire I felt for the team. It was a time that wove the team into the fabric of my life. The first stage of my fandom encompasses two of Roman's seasons - 1975-77, a time where the team went 9-33. The Jets' overall record for the remainder of his career was 38-38-1. As a number, the record during 1978-82 is representative of breaking even. The tie, of course, was a result of Pat Leahy's missed field goal in overtime against the Miami Dolphins in 1981. Had he made it, the Jets would have won the division.

Yet a mere .500 record over five seasons cannot quite capture the constant presence of hope a boy feels in the leaping growth between ages nine to 13, as he experiences every conceivable emotion in the team's Icarus flight, which finally culminates in the Mud Bowl in 1983. But I felt a measure of each win and loss, I remember following each game, and I can recall where I watched or listened to every game during those seasons. Girls were a vague rumor. I didn't consider my education important yet. I couldn't drive. A wider world had not yet been opened. Football was the most important thing in the world, and as a consequence, my memories of life got woven into the games.


circa 1982
According to the Database, John Roman appeared to have started about 12 of 93 games, which is not that unusual, but he had the unique statistic of receiving a pass in 1978. I wish I could say I remember it happening or that I know in what game it happened. So when I discovered that he works only about ten miles from me, I managed to contact him and ask him. As a marketing director for an investment company, he was kind enough to answer my question about where it happened and when:

Mr. Roche-
The play you referenced occurred up at Schaefer Stadium versus the Patriots in October of 1978. We were unsettled at QB heading into that game and ending up playing 2 QB's that game (Pat Ryan and my roommate Matt Robinson). Pat started the game ( think he was picked off a couple of times) but gave way to Matt later in the game. By the time Matt took over, we were trailing the Pats something like 40 to 7 (3rd Q) and were in catch up mode. Matt called a passing play...and it was batted in the air by one of the Pats d-lineman (fortunately for me it was not my assigned d-lineman that batted the ball in the air). I was in the right position at the time and caught the ball (a O-Lineman's dream!) but as soon as I caught the ball, I was mass tackled by the Pats' lineman and linebackers. I took some ribbing from my teammates who said I could have at least fallen forward to avoid the 2 yard loss! I was just happy to have caught the ball to show that O-lineman can catch. 

My thanks to John Roman for that. He also added that he came into the league with a bum left knee but was regardless considered a reliable player throughout, which I can certainly believe. I liked his memory of feeling relief when he realized that the man he guarded wasn't the one who batted down the ball.

The game, of course, was the 55-21 thrashing the Jets took at the hands of the Patriots at Foxboro, a game I remember vividly because my parents drove north of the city, ostensibly to look at the leaves that had turned golden, red and orange; in reality they were looking for a new house. The entire 1978 season is seen through the transition of house hunting, the memory of each game woven with those of my parents' first wondering and worrying about moving, then actually planning the move, and finally building a house on a hill that looked back at the city from about 30 miles. It was a psychological growth spurt, the beginning of a precise time I knew I had to record in my memory as succinctly as I had once before all the play-by-play of Jets football games:

During the second game of the season against the Bills, I am sitting with my parents, as they look through the real estate pages. For the away loss to Washington, I am at a pizzeria with my cousins Gene and Eamon, and Gene is playing Aerosmith's version of "Come Together" on the juke box, and Dad has a distracted expression. The game is on a black and white TV on the counter, and I see Richard Todd led away to the locker room after injuring his shoulder. The away win over Baltimore, I am sitting in the backseat as my parents are on a stakeout to confront the carpenter who appears to have run off with our new kitchen cabinets. By the time I am listening on the radio to the Jets lose to Dallas on the last day of the regular season, I am helping my father to tie the Christmas tree to the roof of the car in a bone-chillingly cold, gray afternoon. The season and the future have resolved themselves, and each game is not just a piece of a collective memory but now an integral part of the memory of my life. I am growing up.

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