Wednesday, December 19, 2012

NY Jets #63 - Part 5

Dewayne Robertson, DE
I've always wondered about that look on a first round draft choice's face when he is chosen. He's ushered to the stage to be awkwardly embraced by the Commissioner (can you imagine Pete Rozelle embracing anyone?). He places the team's hat on his head, and he stares out into the Radio City crowd, wondering if they put all the Jets fans in the balcony to keep everyone else safe. He is usually 22 years old, solid and strong, and by all expectations, despite all historical precedent, able to leap tall buildings at a single bound. Such was Darrelle Revis. Such was John Abraham. Such was Jonathan Vilma. But such too was Vernon Gholsten; such too was Dewayne Robertson #63.

By definition, most players in any league are failures because they can never quite meet the potential and hope built into the long preparation for a professional life. So we choose not to think of it that way, just as we choose not to think of a single life as a failure because it ends. But a first round draft choice is a cursed spot, and the expectations placed on a first rounder are absurd to the point of cruel. Failure in school is anywhere between 0-69%, so the definition of one's failure can vary. Still, an "F" is an F. You failed. Can you honestly suggest that Dewayne Robertson is a bust in the same way as Vernon Gholsten? No, I don't think you can. But here we are in Wikipedia:

Robertson's career with the Jets was labeled as a bust, considering the high expectations and the Jets efforts to trade up to draft him.

Who writes such a thing? Certainly not Robertson himself. Who, then? It's a fair statement, to be sure, in light of all the expectations that are placed on a first rounder. But I want to know about the life and experiences of the person who awakes one morning and says that, among all the other things he needs to do with his day, he feels he must make note of the fact on Wikipedia that Dewayne Robertson "was labeled as a bust." That's what boggles my mind.

Amassing 278 tackles and 16 sacks over five seasons in the NFL might be the average for the average player, and the plain truth is we know that most first rounders are remarkably average. So why the need for this lie of an idea, these high expectations that seethe inside of us and then energize into a rage when we think of how we've been cheated by the player, by his supposed failures, by a team that can't win the big one, by circumstance, by life - all when we label someone a "bust?" It's as if these are our own children whom we've raised, cheered on, nurtured, on whom we've placed the only collateral the fan can bring - hope - only to be abandoned and forgotten by them. Do any of these people deserve that much misplaced devotion, or pressure? I don't think so.

...And now the heart is filled with gold
As if it was a purse  
But, oh, what kind of love is this
Which goes from bad to worse?

Travis Roach 1950-88
I think this is a picture of Travis Roach #63, a guard who suited up for one season in 1974, which was probably the most exciting of all the Jets seasons that decade. I have very limited information on him, except that he attended the University of Texas in the early 70's and also died in 1988. According to his obituary in the Houston Chronicle, he played the 1973 season with the CFL Vancouver Lions and then 1974 with us. After receiving a law degree from Baylor, he moved to Austin, became a sports agent and, apparently, authored a bill in the Texas Legislature that intended to protect young athletes from "unscrupulous sports agents." He died of a brain tumor at the age of 38.

I've always been curious about the differences in spellings between Roches and Roaches, about what they signify. What does it have to tell us about where we all came from and who we all have in common? We Ro(a)ches all tend to have our origins in the southeast of Ireland, and apparently we got our status from the medieval establishment of Norman villages on that coast. So maybe we're all originally French, too. Travis found himself a Roach, born in Texas. I became a Roche, born in New York City. Stretched across the vast republic, we are each subject to the business of history and the finality of death. Yet amid all my recent cautionary words about the devolution of our national culture, I guess Travis Roach lived the version of the American adventure, one that suggests that we are formed by nothing else other than the power of our own will. Before he passed so very young, he made his mark. From the very limited vantage point, from a great distance in time and space, I somehow sense his short life was active and vibrant.

Two years after Roach died, Dave Zawatson #63 was playing guard and tackle for the Jets in the battered season of 1990, one of those years where injuries basically rendered the team inoperable, and we went 6-10 while the Giants won their second Super Bowl. Zawatson was signed on to replace some empty spots. He played just that one season and then went on to Miami the following year. A fun article in the Times by Al Harvin from that year mentions a fight in practice in which Zawatson was involved. "It was a fair fight," Bruce Coslet said back then, mostly because while Zawatson had three inches and 50 pounds on Demetrious Douglas (#?), Zawatson was fighting with a broken hand. He narrates the fight as follows:

I already knew that the hand was broken. The X-rays were just a formality, but since he pushed me in the back on the previous play, I felt obligated in that situation to do something, so I just grabbed his face mask and kind of swung him. I went back out and finished working. 

"I finished working." I like that. Lineman always have a gift for euphemism when describing something like a facemask-swinging.

Drafted by Chicago initially, Zawatson's size and strength suited the Bears of Ditka's time. But the thing that intrigues me is the bit of information at the very beginning of the article. Zawatson had broken his right hand before the practice, but as he shrugs it off by saying he is "ambidextrous." He was a born lefty, but while going to parochial school in Cleveland, "the teachers at St. Angela's Catholic School insisted that everybody do everything right-handed." One broken hand didn't keep him from anything. Perhaps even when the world seeks to thwart us, we can both adapt to the world's roadblocks and transcend the original vision. This year's Jets were as about as successful as the 1990 squad in following that example.

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