Tuesday, June 26, 2012

NY Jets #61 - Part 5

When I was about eight, I was walking out of the Toys R Us in Hempstead with Mom and my little brother Charlie, and I found exactly what I wanted. I don't know why we were there. We might have been shopping for someone's birthday.

Do people do that? Do they bring their children to a toy store with the idea of buying a gift for someone else's kid? Is that even possible? It sounds like an alcoholic's trip to a crowded cocktail party. It starts out with a well-coached discipline and a commitment to control that has to finally give way. The sheer volume of surrounding happiness makes you think that you can ask for something just this one time, just this once. Please.

I spied something wholly unexpected in the book section of the store. It was John Devaney's Super Bowl!a Punt, Pass and Kick narrative of the first five Super Bowls. I was dumbstruck. I had lots of the Random House books, and poured through each one of them as often as I could, reading and re-reading any chapters about Joe Namath and the 1968 Jets. But I couldn't believe it. I hadn't known about this one. I must have broken down and begun pleading with Mom, but I didn't get it until the following Christmas, which was probably derived from a promise made to me in the store and a part of the continuing lessons in the value of patience and waiting.

I was a pretty well disciplined child. Mom rightly helped us to understand that life was not all about us, about our needs and wants. I've seen parents in stores who haven't taught their children about patience. It's an ugly sight. Mom might read what I'm writing here and say that she shouldn't have been that way, that she should have been nicer and given us whatever we asked for at Toys R Us. I find that lots of parents look at their happy grown-up children and wonder why they were so tough on them when they were young. Toward the end of the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon, about the 12 men who landed on the lunar surface, one of the things Charles Duke (who landed in 1972) looks back upon are his children, whose images he left on the moon. The voyage to the moon, he said, gradually changed him into a better, less unreasonably angry man. His sons were good boys, he says. "I didn't need to be so hard on them all the time." I suppose Mom might imagine something like that. Still, I've taught students who think they should have everything in the proverbial toy store, and they're not really nice people. I don't know.

In the section of the book about Super Bowl III, the narrative thread is Namath's guarantee, but on the last page of the chapter is an image of Bob Talamini #61, kissing his little son in the the celebratory locker room, after the game is over. Talamini, a key offensive lineman throughout that season, is covered in sweat and dirt and the grime of a long day. His son gives a smiling grimace as the old man holds his little face in the thumb and index finger of his left hand, the way I'd squirm gleefully when I was little and Dad would kiss me on the cheek with a heavy beard, just to make me laugh.

Bob Talamini #61, leading the way in Super Bowl III
Whenever I think of Bob Talamini, I think about that image, about a giant man and a little boy too young to truly understand the significance of what his father has been a part of. To the left is a New York Times image of Talamini, probably late in the game, leading the way for Bill Mathis #31, while Joe Namath is doing what he did for a surprising amount of the game - that is, handing off the ball. This image is also in my Great Moments in Football History Punt, Pass and Kick book, the one I got for my birthday when I turned seven.

As a kid, I imagined that, with that Italian name and face, which could easily have belonged to one of my neighbors on Little Whaleneck in North Merrick, Bob Talamini was probably returning home when he came to the Jets in 1968. But that's not true. He was recently inducted into the Kentucky Football Hall of Fame because he went to the University of Kentucky, and he actually grew up in Louisville. So there you are.

Houston's All-Pro Bob Talamini...
...redone in 1968 as a NY Jet
Talamini played only the 1968 season with the Jets; beforehand, he played eight good seasons at left guard for the Houston Oilers - 1960-67, which probably amount to the franchise's best run in Houston. It seemed he still had good seasons ahead of him beyond Super Bowl III, but according to Gerald Eskanazi in Gang Green, Weeb Ewbank did not have an interest in offering anyone a raise after the Super Bowl. The second issue, though, was that Talamini's wife and kids still resided where Charles Duke and his family lived, in Houston, and apparently the constant trip back and forth between the two cities was taking its toll on all the Talaminis. Talamini's yearly salary in 1968 amounted to (deep breath here) $17,000, which was actually better than what he earned from the Oilers' owner Bud Adams, who also refused to offer him a raise after the successful 1967 season. So after the Super Bowl, Bob Talamini retired. 

If he had been playing in today's age of inflated salaries, instant messaging and Skype, would it have made a difference? I want the time traveling Craig Morton/Mark Brunell to bring all four - Randy Rasmussen, Dave Herman, Winston Hill and Bob Talamini - through the black hole portals of the past to Florham Park this summer. I want them to start on the front line this season. They were big men for their time, all four well over 250 lbs, which I grant you would be considered well undersized today. Still, they were probably smarter, as aggressive, and quicker than most of the present-day lineman. In the Super Bowl they effectively handled what was back then considered one of the best defensive front lines of the time - Baltimore's Billy Ray Smith, Bubba Smith, Fred Miller and Ordell Braase. 

Both Hill and Talamini belong to that purgatorial world of AFL heroes whose work in a reputedly inferior league has probably kept them from being inducted into the Hall of Fame. They should be in Canton, especially Hill, who is championed by Namath nearly every time Joe opens his mouth, which is still quite often. Thus I cannot help but feel that the '68 offensive line would have fared better than last year's wounded and baffled front line. Put them in, Rex.

But what are the rules in the No Fun League about recruiting past pros through time portals? You'd have to consider that if Bob Talamini hated traveling back and forth to Houston as often as he did, how would he endure being separated from his family by an impossible stretch of elastic time? Would he end up meeting his grown up son, whom I believe is, in the present day, a fairly successful physical trainer at the Houstonian Club in Houston? Would Bob the son be who he is today if Bob the father took that trip forward to our time? I can't help but wonder if the personal trainer named Bob Talamini in present day Houston is the little boy who happily received his father's celebratory, grizzled kiss at the end of one of professional football's most important championships.


Since I know Slimbo is a Syracuse grad of roughly the right era, I wonder if he can shed light on anything inspirational about Terrence Wisdom #61, who graduated around the same time. He had the dubious distinction of playing about half a season for Kotite's Jets in 1995 (3-13). I hope life has been kinder to Terrence Wisdom since then. I don't know how it could have been any meaner.


Slimbo said...

I've no specific memory of Wisdom, but the team he played for was a fun, free-for-all of explosive offense led by Marvin Graves, MacNabb's wonderful predecessor, unfortunately too small for the NFL.

Martin Roche said...

I remember Marvin. He was fun to watch.

Anonymous said...

I grew up with the Talaminis and most of his children are involved with training and sports. Yes that personal trainer is his son. His last child Tony was born in 1967 and had probably just turned one near the time of the Superbowl. Here is a link to his business. http://www.atcpp.com/?id=248

Martin Roche said...

Terrific. Thanks so much!