Sunday, October 28, 2012

NY Jets #63 - Part 4

The position of offensive lineman is often staffed by stoic, thoughtful, cerebral men who spend their careers getting their cerebrum bashed. JP Machado #63 played three seasons mostly in a supporting role with the Jets. I came across a Times article about the sober season of 2001, when Machado got a chance to start: the Jets' offensive line is having its usual health problems, requiring some stitching and patching to keep it together. Machado is called to fill in for Randy Thomas, who has a bad ankle.

As Gerald Eskanazi writes that year on Machado's being called up, offensive linemen "regard themselves as tough guys who like to think." There is a paradox to the position - linemen defend a line of attack. They are defensive in an offensive effort, protecting what the offense has in an effort to take what's not theirs. You get the idea. Or else, as Kevin Mawae put it in the article, "We are the only unit on the entire team that has to rely on the guy on either side of you." Mawae says in the article that it puts extra pressure on Machado who had only been in two or three games his entire career up to that point. I'm not suggesting Mawae was a professor of philosophy when he said that, but it shows a level of metacognition that usually just gets bashed out of a player's head by the time he's 30.

More interesting to Eskanazi than Machado himself is the level of accountability to which lineman hold themselves as a result of this interdependence. Just because Machado is relatively inexperienced does not mean he can have any leeway. He must perform as effectively as Mawae, the Pro Bowler. In order to police themselves, Eskanazi asserts, the line has their own kangaroo court, which meets at a local restaurant but is otherwise supposed to remain a secret.

When asked about it, Mawae says,"gruffly, 'What kangaroo court?'"

When I arrived at college in the late 80's, I belonged to the last wave of freshmen to still be without the Internet, the World Wide Web, cell phones, texting, and cable TV in the dorms. The concept of these things did not yet even exist in ordinary peoples' minds. An ex-girlfriend went to Dartmouth while I was in my senior year of high school and reported that each student was given a Macintosh computer. A friend of mine at Harvard, in his senior year, mentioned to me something about e-mail, and I hadn't the foggiest idea of what he was talking about. Neither did most people. When I first got a Hotmail account some years later, my father thought I had joined some kind of gay porn network.

The world to which I belonged back then is entirely different from the world of my current students, and it was really only a quarter of a century ago. I sometimes feel today as though I am a different middle aged man, born in the age of Model T, walking around at the 1964 World's Fair, trying to ascertain what exactly has transpired. My father started the car with a crank. Now I see that Bell Telephone is suggesting I will someday be able to make a phone call through a television screen. Now I'm wandering into the Saarinen's IBM Pavilion at Flushing Meadow; I write my name on a television screen, and a computer correctly reads my handwritten birth date: May, 25, 1925. Now the computer is printing out a New York Times article from that date for me:

John T. Scopes indicted in Tennessee for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution.

When I arrived at college, I had three roommates - Michael, who wore all Ralph Lauren Polo all the time, right down to his underwear; Will, who plastered the walls with posters of sweaty women in thong bikinis, and Dennis, who stood at 5'6", red-faced and impish. Dennis was a wrestler in high school, and whenever he had the chance, he would grab someone in the crudely paneled study lounge in the basement and put them in a near-arm/far-ankle breakdown. The first night of school, Will found a party and then came back to the room so drunk in the wee hours that he fumbled blindly to the bathroom, only to be awakened by a piercing scream which belonged to Michael, whose bed Will had mistaken for a urinal. I, fortunately, had arrived too late on the first day to claim the bottom bunk and slept safely sat up top.

Michael spent most of his time at the college radio station, while I spent most of mine at the library, searching for research through the card catalog or on the shelves, book by book, in a building that was finished the year I was born and, I recently see, has already been replaced by a new library. Will and Dennis both joined the rugby team, and most of their first months of school were spent there. At night they stumbled back to the room, either beaten to a pulp or legless drunk after a rugby party. They talked about people named Gonzo and Ash, Bleedy and Fingers. They drank and vomited at the matches they played in. They traveled to colleges like Villanova and Notre Dame and were summarily banned from ever returning because the moment they stepped off the bus, the entire squad would go on a plundering campaign of property destruction and public nudity. They were among the least talented and most reviled squads on the east coast. Along the brick on I-95 exit ramp to the college itself, you can still see parts of a spray-painted graffiti, impossibly large:


Will and Dennis had this compulsion to run into walls drunk, which was apparently a pastime of the team itself. Dennis ran into a wall when his first college girlfriend broke up with him. Will ran into a wall as a punishment from the team's kangaroo court for some kind of offense for which he was found guilty. He happily complied, and after sixteen stitches to his scalp, he lay bleeding in his bed back in our dorm room, out cold.

I asked him the next day what had happened. He told me the kangaroo court had found him guilty of some misplays in a match, but that his real punishment was as a result of losing a game of quarters and then spilling beer out of the soiled and fetid rugby shoe out of which he was told to drink, which in itself was a kangaroo court punishment for an earlier offense.

We exist within structures that themselves have unregulated checks and balances, and while most of the world doles these out in protracted gestures of passive hostility that will take years and years to manifest themselves, the kangaroo court - a covert attempt for a group to police itself in ways that may or may not be sensitive in spirit to the Eighth Amendment - gets the work done much more quickly, without allowing for lingering resentment or for protracted guilt and shame that drift in the wake of our trespasses (and those against us).

Most people I've known who've played rugby eventually experience the kangaroo court as a part of the whole deal. A 1997 video of the Golden Lions in South Africa reveals at least the degree to which odd wigs and binge drinking - albeit with some dignity for the cameras - are combined for such an event. Accept your punishment like a man and move on. Imagine the pain I could have been spared if most of my relationships in my 20's had used this model.

"But don't tell anyone I told you that," Will said about the court, as he lay in bed, trying to distinguish the pain outside his brain from the pain within. "Nobody's supposed to know about the court. It's a secret."

I sat by his bedside. "So what are you going to tell people when they ask you about, well, this?" I gestured to the blood still caked on the locks of his parted hair.

He shook his head, unconcerned. "That I was drunk and got hit by a car." He closed his eyes. "Should be fine."

Where are they now?

I don't know where Michael is today; I thought I heard his voice on a radio station somewhere in Pennsylvania. After screwing up their schoolwork with rugby, Will and Dennis each blew out their knees, gave up rugby and settled down to study. Today Will makes a recession-proof fortune on Wall Street, and Dennis is a Vice President for a food company that makes cookies that you most certainly eat. JP Machado was featured Randy's Radar during this year's tributes to new Hall of Famer, Curtis Martin #28.

John Neidert #63, LB 1968-69
I'm not interested in going to reunions, myself. It's been 21 years since I graduated from college, and it seems that the alma mater has given up on me, too. I no longer receive copies of the college magazine; I receive no more dinnertime telephone solicitations for alumni gifts from by hungry-sounding work-study students; notices of the class reunions come no more.  

John Neidert #63, linebacker for the Jets between 1968-69, does go to reunions. He's shown at left in a photograph taken by his son from 40th anniversary reunion of the 1968 squad. He's holding the award of awards for Jets fans - the Lombardi Trophy, before it was known as such, for Super Bowl III. If I held that exact trophy in my own hands I would probably cease to exist in this mortal form. I would be filled with a nameless, vibrating euphoria. I would probably instantly transform into an entirely different spiritual being, a Star-Child, or a seven-year old Brahmin Hindu boy. It would be transcendent. For John Neidert, it's just part of his history. He's an Infinite Jet.

A distant and nearer past, week 7, 2008
There's some great pictures here at the's message board, taken by Neidert's son for the 40th anniversary in 2008, an event that took place almost exactly four years from today, during the week seven Jets home game win against the Chiefs. It would be the first of five straight wins that would compel many people to suggest that the Jets were the AFC's best team. We know the rest of the story. They would go 1-4 after that.

Neidert the younger came along with his own young son to witness the reunion. At one point you see a picture he took (above right) of the old players gathering in the tunnel preparing for halftime, and in the far distance, there's Brett Favre still playing on the field in the first half. You feel this sense of hope, now lost, in that one time and place, and of the perpetuating, uneasy aspirations that accompany our history as a team, or maybe as a species.

Someone on the message board asks,

"On a side note, someone should post how many days it's been since the NYJ have won a championship." 

As of this writing and the end of this day, the answer is 15,996 days. This means that on November 1, 2012, the New York Jets will have gone 16,000 days without another Super Bowl win. You, gentle reader, can use this information any way you like. You can discard it, disregard it, and find it as useful as your own appendix. As I watch the Jets haplessly lose to the tepid Dolphins today, I find myself sentimental for a few weeks of happiness, like the ones that accompanied the autumn months of empty promise in 2008. 

John Neidert, Joe Namath, John Schmitt,
and Don Maynard's sleeve
Athletes must have interesting relationships with time. Show up for your kangaroo courts and for the days on the sidelines. Then when your career ends, life can at times seem even richer. Will's life is better now, as is Dennis', as John Neidert's probably is too, with children and grandchildren of his own.

What of the fan? John Neidert can hold the 1969 trophy, but we live with the unending hope that someone on the team that we root for might someday hold another one aloft. Until that day comes, our team's history is really told through the thousands of nameless days that have passed since January 12, 1969. It's the same story retold, always promising to end differently this time, maybe next time, or whenever, or never.


Martin Roche said...

My friend, you are welcome anytime.

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