Friday, March 15, 2013

NY Jets #64 - Part 1

Guy Bingham #64 (image from Spokeo)
Several things have kept me away. One is the depressing state of our team. The second is my job, which pays me more than ever but keeps me busier than ever, too. And the other is the work on the Infinite Jets book, which is about a third of the way done. Meanwhile it's been nice to know that black marketeers selling knockoff handbags and cheap auto insurance spam are both keeping the Internet hits to the site high. Thanks for that! 

Leisure and time are such that only a few players at a time can be discussed. So here we go:

Guy Bingham #64 was a center for the Jets, starting on and off for nine seasons, 1980-88. For much of that time, Joe Fields was the regular starting center. He grew up in Aberdeen, Washington and attended JM Weatherwax High School. I mention this for two reasons: one is that the name "Weatherwax" is wonderful to say. It sounds like the surname of a medicine show doctor who has claims to provide the antidote, my friend, to balding, the croup, and flakiness of the skin. But Weatherwax was a real high school in a real place, and just to make it real enough for you, here is the most detailed note of Bingham's life on Wikipedia. Charming and poignant all the same:

"On September 25, 2009 (Bingham) donated back a football to J.M. Weatherwax High School during half time at the high school's football game. The football was signed by him and his team mates (sic) when he played with the New York Jets. He signed this football during a game against the Seattle Seahawks. Bingham and former NFL Pittsburgh Steelers player Mark Bruener who also graduated from J.M. Weatherwax High School were made honorary captains at this game.

Why do I feel as I do about this? In truth, that signed football may have meant something to him, seeing as it was a single object left over from his most active years in the NFL. Or maybe not. Guy Bingham didn't sell it on Ebay; it's hard to tell what it would have been worth there if it had been signed by the Jets squad in 1987, the year Bingham saw the most starts for us, the year of football's worst work stoppage. But then it could have been a ball from 1985, 1986, or better yet 1981 or 1982, and to a Jet fan that would actually be highly valuable. I could probably name everybody who signed it in either season, provided they were starters. But Guy Bingham gave the ball to Weatherwax, or Aberdeen High School as it is known. In truth, much of the Weatherwax that Bingham knew from his schooling days burned to the ground in a fire in 2002. He was made a co-honorary captain in exchange for the ball.

But it's the methodical, detailed quality of what's written above that gets to me. Written with care, it presents the events of that day in the context of a larger time. It gives us a date, and a specific moment during a game, at halftime when the exchange was made. Where did the ball come from? From his days with the Jets. The writer even goes so far as to name the game itself, a game against the Seahawks, which could have happened during any season in the 1980's because as we know, the Jets played Seattle every season except 1982, so there you go. Why we need to know who the Jets were playing seems not at all significant unless we consider that the Seahawks are Aberdeen's professional home team. The ball has more symbolic resonance then, I guess.

In fact, the ball's magic might likely be greater if it had been signed before or after an away game at the Kingdome, which means that it was signed by the 1981 team, or by the 1986 club. I'm going to guess the latter - a year when Bingham saw more action as center - the year the Jets were 7-1 going into Seattle, and we promptly trounced them, 38-7. Consider how often the Jets lost to Seattle from 1977-84; we were sometimes forced to play them twice in a season ('81) for reasons that escape me, and we dropped seven in a row before finally beating them at home in 1985. That the ball might have been signed amid a victory makes it that much more magical to someone like me. Weatherwax and Aberdeen should treasure that ball. I certainly would.

But one little note to consider is that Guy Bingham was born in Japan, which probably means he lived in an army family. Specifically, he was born in the Gunma Prefecture, near the Soumagahara Army Training Base. Bingham was born in 1958, a period of enormous controversy for the training base because of the "Girard Incident" in 1957, when an enlisted man in the US Army evidently shot and killed a middle aged woman who was collecting brass shell casings around the base for scrap. If Bingham's father had been stationed there he would have known of William Girard, the man who shot and killed a mother of six, Naka Sakai, apparently out of fun. The report from 1957 is harrowing:

"Maybe as a warning, maybe out of boredom, Girard had his companion, Spc. 3rd Class Victor N. Nickel, throw some empty cartridges out on the firing range. As Sakai and the other scavengers scrambled to pick up the precious brass, Girard fired a warning shot: a spent casing from a grenade launcher mounted on a borrowed M-1 rifle. But the casing struck Sakai, killing her...

He claimed to have been told to clear away any Japanese in the nearby vicinity who might have interfered with range shooting, but apparently no evidence of any such order existed. Though sentenced to only three years in prison, Girard returned home to the United States a mostly disgraced man with a Formosan-born Japanese wife. A link here goes into greater detail about the "incident," including reports from writer John Hersey about the trial and its aftermath. As much as I malign the laptops that my students can barely tear themselves away from, I have to admit that being only three clicks away in either direction between the life an an army brat turned professional football player and a meaningless death of an innocent, hungry woman now long ago forgotten is abundantly strange. Does this speed of information make the connection that we all share as creatures in the universe more precious, as it should, or does it make it our lives and deaths that much more mundane, ordinary and forgettable? I have no idea.

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