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Monday, July 16, 2012

NY Jets #62 - Part 1

Roger Duffy, C
Roger Duffy #62 was born 45 years ago today in Canton, Ohio, the place where, in a couple of weeks, Curtis Martin will celebrate a high point in his storied career - his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Duffy played at center for the Jets from 1990-97, which means that he missed the Curtis Martin years at the Meadowlands. 

By the mid-1990's, Duffy was a starting center. This means that (with the exception of the 1974-5 season, when it was primarily Wayne Mulligan, and of 1986-87, when it was mostly Guy Bingham) the starting centers for the Jets were primarily Mike Hudock (1963-66), John Schmitt (1967-73), Joe Fields (1975-85), Jim Sweeney (1988-1994), and then Roger Duffy. After Duffy left for Pittsburgh in 1998, the incomparable Kevin Mawae became center.

Duffy's Wikipedia page is one of those unnoticed Internet gems that are allowed to persist without correction. It's like watching a scratchy public access TV advertisement. It reads as follows: 

Roger Duffy (born July 16, 1967 in Canton, Ohio) was a center and guard who played twelve seasons in the National Football League.Duffy just got back from an aninversary (sic) party where he re-met his cousins David Phillips, Chritopher Romano, Caroline Phillips, Olivia Romano and Regina Phillips. David and Christopher were very excited to see their football star cousin 

That's it. 

Duffy probably came back from this party - which seems like a family reunion - and either added the information above (which was last updated February 14, 2012), or maybe someone else in the family did. Had the Phillips and Romanos not seen Duffy in a long while? Why were David and Christopher only excited? Why is this all we know of Roger Duffy?

As always, it doesn't matter. What piques my interest, though, is that Duffy was drafted in 1990 by the Jets out of Penn State, which means as a sophomore he suited up for the 1986 National Champion Penn State Nittany Lions. I remember Penn State winning the Fiesta Bowl that season, just a day before the Jets would lose the AFC Divisional Playoff game in double overtime to the Browns. What a truly insane weekend of football that was. Look at the names at the bottom of the page and consider the legacy of that one Penn State team alone; look at the other future NFL players: Andre Collins, Shane Conlon, DJ Dozier, Tim Johnson, Steve Smith, Dave Szott (who finished his career with the Jets) and Steve Wisniewski. Of course Blair Thomas was drafted by the Jets the same year as Duffy. A backup quarterback on that team was Joseph Paterno, Jr., also known as Jay. The most infamous name is the last, and he's listed rather innocuously under "Assistant Coaches."

I've mentioned before that here in Philadelphia, among people from that place with that fabricated name of Happy Valley, there is an almost impossibly persistent denial - not of Jerry Sandusky's guilt, but of the culpability of administrators and faculty in enabling hero worship at a publicly-funded university. One former Penn State graduate I know recently wrote me an emotional e-mail characterizing the media's handling of Sandusky's conviction and the subsequent investigation by Louis Freeh as a "vilification" of PSU and a "witch hunt," which of course it's not. Still, if I can bring myself to have sympathetic feelings for Tim Tebow, I suppose my team's importance to me is as much a sign of my own broken compass as is my friend's insistence that Paterno's halo be restored to the Penn State mural. I grasp this. Still, the New York Jets are not an institution that purports to educate and enrich good values in people. If it were, my college degree would probably be worth about as much as Blair Thomas' rookie card on Ebay.

As it happens, I've just come back from driving across the long, long state of Pennsylvania to attend a Steelers fan's wedding just outside Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania is a quiet, rural, Evangelical Christian commonwealth, and it is welcoming. The first truly unfriendly person I experienced all weekend was after I returned from my road trip - that twerpy blonde haired creep who waited on me at Han Dynasty last night on Manayunk's Main Street in Philadelphia. By contrast, the rural people of the rest of the state are awfully nice. They're happy, even when a closer glance you see that many of its people are living in a broken-down poverty. 

Cloistered in majestic, misty mountains, Happy Valley is the real capital of this mostly rural state, but it harbors a myth. To me, the real world is represented by that creepy kid at Han Dynasty, with his little black earring, his possibly Russian accent, his mean little affectation, his absurd nastiness and indifference to conventional politeness. In the real world, there are no halos; the guy behind the counter doesn't even want to take the bagel you bought out of the toaster yet because "I don't wanna burn my fingers" (actually, that was from a South Philadelphia diner.) Yes, the world is peppered with profound iniquity, like Assad's regime in Syria, but mostly we human beings are mostly just short-sighted, small-minded, unambitious, petty, vulgar, and ignorant in a pathetic sort of way. There really aren't many real halos around. A desperate population demands them, though, and no one is more desperate for the belief in saints than the 18-22 year olds, the ones who make such good cult recruits. 

The legacy of those college years, those years of manufactured innocence, never quite leaves the people of Happy Valley, even as they go out into the world as alumni and get waited on by some guy who doesn't like you because you ordered take-out and you're not going to tip. They think they can contrast the nasty world in which we all live to the perfect one that they believe they once knew. They want to believe that a university that holds classes in ice cream manufacturing is the best place on Earth, and unfortunately, because they believe it, a predator was then allowed to fall between the cracks, and the university's own janitors were too afraid to report his acts of repulsive sexual abuse for fear of being fired by Saint Joe. I'm glad Roger Duffy had good things to report from a reunion with a family outside his Penn State one. I don't envy people who feel dedicated to a Penn State ideal that had already died  the first time Jerry Sandusky was allowed to walk away from his crimes without such much as threat of prison.

****

Sid Fournet with the LA Rams (1955)
Sid Fournet #62's last season of pro football was the first season for the renamed New York AFL franchise in 1963. The fabulously detailed 1995 Coffin's Corner history of the "First New York Jets Training Camp" by John Hogrogian mentions him several times. Fournet played a career in the NFL from 1955-59, then went to the Dallas Texans in 1960 and arrived in time for the Titans' last season in 1962. He passed away in 2011.

His LSU obituary reminds us that Fournet belonged to an entirely different age where you played both offense and defense in a game of football: 

The versatile Fournet played both guard and tackle in his All-American season and was credited with seeing action in 83 percent of LSU's total plays.

The only advantage to playing 83% of the time is that you avoid tightening up on the sideline; you stay loose. For workers in the contemporary office culture, or maybe for those of you working at home, laboring away for 83% of your day means less time reading Deadspin, checking out major league baseball statistics, downloading poorly written podcasts, Skyping (which is a word), or writing blog entries about people who worked harder than you and for much less money. Whom then should we pity most?

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