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Monday, October 1, 2012

NY Jets #63 - Part 2

The last two weeks have been reminders of seasons past where we've gone 4-12, or maybe even 3-13. A Pyrrhic victory over Miami has been followed by a shutout against San Francisco that not only proves how badly prepared we are for this season, but also how much better the NFC is than the AFC. I know the San Francisco game was a torrent of fail, but at least one of the two teams played well, and in the presence of actual NFL referees. As for me, I was spared the pain of witnessing it because I was driving back from my parents' place in Virginia, and the carnage was reduced to an occasional update during the Carolina-Atlanta game or to a mere refresh of the game tracker on my iTouch, propped on my dashboard. When you just watch the numbers increase in a shutout without having to experience it in any sensory manner, it remains a cold, emotionless series of numbers, one big, one a zero. Just ordinary numbers.

The third week Miami game was one of the very worst football games I have ever witnessed, just short of the 7-6 mid-season loss by the St. Pat's Little Knight's to the Whipporwill Peewee Warriors at Crittenden Middle School in 1980. Nothing - not coaching, not player performance, not (of course) officiating - was unaffected by the stink of human incompetence. In the midst of this meaningless struggle, our star player - a Jets' star who has that rare distinction of being a living NFL legend - was felled by an ACL tear. Darrelle Revis was untouched when he went down. He plays and falls, as his own island.

If Poseiden Adventure were an existentially desolate experience where there was no hope for anyone surviving - imagine a universe where Gene Hackman actually died mid-movie, leaving everybody in the clownish leadership of Ernest Borgnine - well, I guess that's what the Miami game was like; that's what watching Revis limp off was like. Things were so bad that when he was helped to the sidelines, I experienced an eerie, dead calm understanding that he was surely gone for the year. The next day, my co-worker, a virulent Jet fan, walked across the hall to my room and informed me that Revis would need season-ending surgery; I said I knew it already. She asked if I had read the news, too. No, I said. I had already accepted it as an unpleasant truth without actually knowing it for sure. I am a Jets fan, of course.

At any rate, I found inspiration for today's entry in one of Mark Sanchez's 24 incompletions against Miami. About seven minutes into the second quarter, at the beginning of a long drive, with the Jets trailing 10-0, Sanchez threw out-of-bounds, and the ball landed in the hands of offensive tackle Jason Smith #63, who was standing on the sidelines. I instantly knew that I was witnessing a moment that might eventually crystallize the entire Jets season. Smith was traded to the Jets for Wayne Hunter, whose name filled all our hearts with fear and loathing throughout the preseason. If we wanted to believe it, I suppose we could have lied to ourselves that we were trading up. After all, if we just got rid of Wayne Hunter then we'd be OK. Or maybe you felt it, too - that eerie calm that I mentioned above; maybe it namelessly descended upon you too. It can be easily dispelled for the moment by a convincing victory, like our opener against Buffalo, but it creeps right behind your heels again, a bit like my neighbor's black cat, which she refers to simply as "Stealth." You leave him behind in one room, but suddenly you look down and with a start you see that he is at your feet again, looking ominously up at you, his tail twirling ever so slightly, almost appearing to see right through you.

Though the NFL game recap indicates no such thing occurring, somewhere in the second quarter of the game in Miami, feeling the heat of the defensive rush, Mark Sanchez threw the ball away, and it landed in the hands of Wayne Hunter's replacement. A strange completion, yes - technically an incompletion - yet with it, the season seems prematurely complete.

****

Roy Kirksey #63
Here we can speak of premature endings in another way. Sometimes an injury is the true ending of a career that moves on past the injury, but never with the same high expectations. In 1971, Roy Kirksey #63 was a promising rookie offensive guard whom the Jets drafted in 1971 and were using on kickoffs and punts. According to a curiously vague PDF on his career, Kirksey's promise was cut short that rookie year when he tore ligaments in his right ankle during the second preseason game.

The story takes a curious turn when we go back to the actual origins of the injury, to an allegedly dirty hit by Apollo Creed himself, Carl Weathers, who played in #49 for the Oakland Raiders in 1971. Later in his career, Weathers would also play for the British Columbia Lions, and in his CFL Scrapbook bio, which quotes from a 1979 article by Jim Proudfoot in the Toronto Star, the matter of his "cruel elimination of Roy Kirksey" is taken up.

Sounding almost like a mounty, the writer insists that Kirksey "was one of those reckless chaps who dashes madly downfield under punts and kickoffs." Indeed, my good man. However, in a rookie season not yet even formed, Kirksey had already caught the attention of the Raiders, who played the Jets in the second preseason game. There's enough evidence in the article to suggest that the Raiders - those paragons of fair play and human decency - had put their special teams on notice that Kirksey showed speed and good pursuit on kickoffs and would be singled out for punishment because of it. Drafted in 1971, in the eighth round, Roy Kirksey was about to have his dream cut short. As he went after the man with the ball, Kirksey was hunted from behind by Carl Weathers, who hit him low to the ground and wrecked Kirksey's ankle.

Proudfoot says:

Weathers never denied that he’d deserved a clipping penalty (for the hit), though none was imposed. He’s also admitted he’d been costing Raiders so much yardage, game in and game out, for clips that coach John Madden had threatened to fine him for his next offence. And he finally confirms that Raiders had decided, after watching films of Jets at work, that Kirksey would have to be singled out for special treatment.

Does a bounty need to be formal to be real, or is football just a game that necessitates that "somebody stop that guy," regardless of how he is stopped? The fact that Weathers did what he did would be typical of the way the Raiders did business back in those days, but it also smacks of what football is - a war of attrition, a game of elimination.

The "cruel" part of the elimination is that because of the ankle injury Kirksey never saw his potential realized. He played sporadically for the Jets and the Eagles afterwards. What does it mean to know that everything you have heretofore worked for can be eliminated in a single moment that was, in many ways, brought about because your opponents actually recognized your talent? "I think about Weathers every day when the weather turns cold and that ankle starts hurting," Kirksey is quoted as saying. "I think about how that one play messed up my whole career. I saw the films on it and how No. 49 followed me all the way and went for my legs." He might have been reminded of the pain of it again if he ever watched Action Jackson, or maybe if he ever watches the four Rocky films in which Apollo Creed appears. I cannot help but feel that if he ever sees Rocky Balboa going to work on Creed in I and II, or when Drago finishes him off in IV, that Roy Kirksey may have a special desire to see Carl Weathers brought low, if only in a fiction, as Shakespeare puts it, in a dream of passion.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello, I. Am Roy Kirksey's daughter Wynyki Kirksey it does my heart joy to see a post about my father after all of these years. It is the absolute truth, he told me the story word for word...He did get a chance to see the first Rocky with Carl Weathers playing...it was bitter sweet! He always referred to him as the dirty blank who ended his career.lol feel free to contact me 864-346-9705

Martin Roche said...

Thanks very much for writing! For a period of time that preseason game was available to watch on YouTube, though only parts of it. The part with Weathers' hit on him was not included, which was a shame. I appreciate your words, and give my best to Mr. Kirksey.

Anonymous said...

I wish that we could give him your best. My uncle Roy passed away in 1981.

Martin Roche said...

I should have known that from my research. My apologies. He sounded like a good guy.