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Sunday, August 5, 2012

NY Jets #62 - Part 2

Sports fans are often torn as to how to answer the question, "Does everything happen for a reason?" On the one hand, everything in sports happens for a reason. Every play, every action on the field has a consequence that directly or indirectly determines the outcome of a game, the "everything" of the question. Last night's Mets game was largely determined by the successful pitching of Chris Young over seven innings and also by the five RBI's by Ronnie Cedeno. But even three of those five runs came as  a result of a shabby play in left field by the Giants' Melky Cabrera. Performance determines a measurable outcome, reflected in either a win or a loss.

But sports are once again not at all like life. Unlike the outcome of a game, the "everything" of life is an ongoing struggle that is never quite complete. We go through each day having completed a generally routine experience and so therefore seem at an end, but that distinction is an illusion. An end is not the end; it's the conclusion of what appears to be a "day," a mere completion of the Earth's rotation while hurtling through space on its measurable, endless revolutionary orbit around our Sun. Sleep is only the imaginary measure of an end, and that's only because we go into an unconscious, nurturing dream state available to most Earthbound, sentient creatures when the Sun appears to vanish over the horizon. There are no winners and losers. We create narratives to help us understand, but these are mostly comforting, or discomforting, illusions.

My co-worker, fellow sports fan and friend Patrick ends his days at work by asking me, "Did you win or lose today?"

I begin by equivocating on the issue, much as I do above: what does it mean to win or lose at anything, other than in a game? I ask.

"I'm asking you," he says, insistent, standing at least three inches above me, "did you win or lose?"

I answer again by offering some indicators. I thought my lesson on paragraphing went well, but the ensuing peer review writing workshop exercise seemed to fall pretty flat, with the students feeling mostly confused. "I have to do better next time," I say. "I see where I went wrong. I'll win next time, but I have to say that at the end of today, I feel like I didn't do as well as I could have for the kids. So, I don't know, I feel like today, yeah, I lost."

Almost like Olivier's insistent dentist in Marathon Man, he approaches me more closely and merely repeats the question, "Did you win or lose today?"

"I lost."

He shakes his head, unhappily. "That's not what I want to hear. You got through your day. You won."

"I won?"

He nods. "You got through your day."

"I won."

"You won."

****

Todd Burger #62, clearing the lane for Leon Johnson
Todd Burger #62 shows up in a bit of research and from memory. He had originally been brought in by Parcells in 1998 because he was a "rough and tumble" guard who brought "toughness" to the Jets' front line. I remember that front line, with Elliott and Mawae, and sometimes I think I'm still rooting for Parcells' team to go to the Super Bowl in 1999, just as I'm still waiting for the 1983 Jets to do it; just I'll always be waiting for last year's group to go there, too. Burger was cut at the end of 1998, his last season in the NFL.

He was arrested in 2007 as part of an illegal gambling ring in New Jersey. It was only when I came across a 2008 article by Matt Taibbi in the Phoenix that I discovered that Burger wasn't the mastermind of the organization, but rather, one of its "enforcers," one of its bruisers, the shakedown guy. He's the guy who's hired to beat up the guy who owes another guy money. He's the guy who rings your front door bell and convinces you he's there to repair a visible problem with your satellite dish, and the next minute, he's in your kitchen, eating some cold leftover pizza from your refrigerator in one hand and pressing your face into your kitchen counter with the other.

As Taibbi points out, "Give Burger a few added points for sentimentality... At least he wasn’t coking up and braining strippers like some ex-football players do." And that's true. Questions remain with me, though. Why was he was cut in the first place, and before the 1999 NFL Draft? Is the fine line between "rough and tumble" and being an enforcer for the mob discernible at the very start? I'm having a hard time believing that Parcells ever objected to Burger's propensity for that kind of guy whose paw, having now finished with the cold pizza in his left, has now commenced to take you by the scruff of your neck with and swat your helpless, regretful face with his right.

****

Does everything happen in life for a reason? We ask ourselves this question most often when coincidences occur. It's a coincidence that I was just thinking about that vacation I took with you, about how fun and regretful it was at the same time, and all of the sudden you just happened to be visiting town, walking into the very same deli that I'm in right now, waiting for my cold cuts. What were the odds? The odds were pretty steep. But it happened, anyway. Either that, or you're following me. What does it mean?

Joe Pellegrini #62
Between 1978 and 1979, Joe Pellegrini #62 played for the New York Jets. He played defensive tackle for the University of Idaho and then for the New York Jets for two seasons. There was nothing strange at all about it.
Joe Pellegrini #62

Then Joe Pellegrini #62 graduated from Harvard in 1982 and played two seasons on the offensive line for the Jets, from 1982-83.

In other words, two men with the same name played in the same number for the same team at different times over a period of seven seasons. You can see this for yourself on the All-Time Jets roster page. You can read about the elder Pellegrini's (above, left) celebrated play while playing for Idaho in the late 70's; you can find his NFL statistics, limited though they are, on his seasons with the Jets, here. You can find out about the other Pellegrini (right) from his recent success as an investment banker and you can see that he spent several seasons with both the Jets and the Atlanta Falcons.

How did this happen? How could this be? What does it mean? There are a considerable number of people throughout the United States with this name, but the odds remain somewhat stacked against this occurring anywhere in the NFL since or again, unless they have the names of Robert Smith and Michael Davis. As a kid, I used to babysit for a family named Pelligrini down the road from my house. They were nice people. There used to be a bakery in Hawthorne called Pelligrino's where we'd go after Mass every Sunday. But that's it. I've known a lot of Josephs in my life, but I've never met anyone named Joe Pelligrini, and the odds of doing so in my life remain bleak.

There is one possible explanation for this - that the organization may have been too cheap to use anything other than a stored #62 jersey for a guy named Pelligrini for another guy named Pelligrini. If that's not it, then we are left in the realm of mystery, wondering, as one does when a coincidence is in evidence, whether or not it all happened for a cosmic reason that none of us are evolved enough to understand.

****

But then, like a firm believer who always thought was an artificially created "face" on Mars, I am forced to accept a simpler, less exotic, less enjoyable explanation of what I see with my own eyes. The simple truth is that I have been tricked into an illusion. From 1978-79, defensive tackle Joe Pelligrini, born in Aberdeen, Washington, graduate of the University of Idaho - the man you see in the blurred picture above - actually wore #77 on the Jets; the team's All-Time Roster has made a simple mistake, certainly not the first one we've ever located. What do you expect from a web page that no longer offers specific data on its former and active players, other than an error message that depicts a referee who looks almost exactly like Steve Carrell?

We create narratives to help us understand the outrageous and confounding mysteries of our lives. It was comforting to believe that two men had the same number and name, because such serendipity hints at a world of greater magic, and who knows what other wonders this magic could yield? But there really isn't much magic in the world. If there were, our teams would win against the odds more often than they do and leave us to bask in the presence of their unexpected glory. Instead, we are left with the logical explanations of why our teams do not do as well as we hope, mostly because they could never be as good as we imagine they might be.

3 comments:

davidvill said...

That conversation about winning or losing felt like some kind of Vonnegut novel.

Slimbo said...

I always leave work like Boxer in Animal Farm, 'I will work harder'.

Martin Roche said...

davidill: It felt like one too. Slimbo: I think I've become like Mollie.