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Monday, March 25, 2013

NY Jets #64 - Part 2

My searches through the world of Infinite Jets usually yields five things, one more than the Godfathers' song suggests - birthplaces, education, football statistics, retirement life after football, and sometimes mortality. It has all made me not a little philosophical about life, and given me a sense of the ephemeral quality of everything. I feel that if you're a Jets fan, you're inclined to think this way, anyway. How else can you explain a football team that goes from two consecutive AFC Championship appearances to being the laughingstock of the league two seasons later? Have I introduced you to the team that is the permanent object of Bill Belichick's personal curse?

If you're a Jets fan, you see cycles and patterns to everything, the way oppressed peoples sometimes derive a sense of edification from being cursed by suffering. Or maybe being a Jets fan simply makes you more cognizant of the cycles of the human experience. Birth, school, work, death. There is no success without failure, or without what might be eons of mediocrity. Such is life.

Martin Cornelson wore #64 for the Jets for three games in 1987, which means that he was a replacement player, otherwise known as a scab, during the work stoppage of 1987, also known as a strike. He graduated from NC State in 1983 and played linebacker at college, I think. For three weeks or so in a season no one remembers, Martin Cornelson played professional football. Then, ten years later, JR Conrad #64 played the entirety of his professional career for the Jets in 1997. He was drafted out of Oklahoma in the seventh round by Pete Carroll's Patriots and then presumably cut and taken on by Parcells' Jets. He is listed as playing center, tackle and guard for 12 games.

Birth, school, work, death. I have three of the four for each man. Each was born in a city approximately 200 miles from where he went to college (Cornelson, born in Clinton, SC, some 284 miles from Raleigh; Conrad born in Fairland, OK, a little over 200 miles from Norman, OK). Their work was brief. They are each still alive, and by virtue of what they did, they are, Infinites. Are we anyone's Infinite?

Tom Budrewicz, future Titan, leading the way.
Then, here is a lone image I found of Tom Budrewicz, an offensive lineman who was the first man to wear #64 in our franchise's history. Like Martin Cornelson he played three games for us (or, in this case, for the New York Titans) and during 1961, the year that Martin Cornelson was born.

Budrewicz is seen above as a member of Brown University's football squad, leading the way for running back Paul Choquette in 1960. The staged photograph should not be seen as a commentary on the Brown Bears' absence of fans or players. These two are here depicted as the standout offensive stars of that season, both doing what they do, one man running behind another. But taken out of the context of an actual game or play, Tom Budrewicz looks almost like the personal detail of another man's life. Wouldn't we all like to have a Tom Budrewicz running in front of us, blocking us from false dreams, illusions, and bad decisions?

Playing as he did for just three weeks for the Titans, Budrewicz could have been offered something better by the Fates, like three games with the Green Bay Packers, or even three games with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Though Art Rooney's team won one game less than the Titans that season, he probably managed to make good on all the paychecks he issued to his players. If I didn't know any better, I would actually say that the above photo appears to be taken from an actual Titans game, although the field does look like it's in too good a condition. No, Tom Budrewicz probably deserved better than three games with Harry Wismer's misbegotten club, but then we go where we go in this life. Even with a Tom Budrewicz in front of him, Tom Budrewicz might have ended up where he did. An offensive guard doesn't lead you to daylight on every play.

It got me to thinking about another player from Brown who was originally a standout running back at my high school when I was a freshman in the early 1980's. This one guy wore my favorite number 44 on our football team, and as a senior, he ran through offenses with a terrifying grace. He was the top player in the region. He would practically score on every drive kick, or kick field goals and point afters. This was the one time in my life that I was witness to the manifestation of a Golden Boy in my own backyard, a Paul Hornung - the one of a kind of player who seems to float through the hallways, existing in an ethereal realm that transcends normal high school life, one filled with the awe and adoration of others. Midway through his senior year, the New York Times actually did a small feature story on him, and in the accompanying photograph, he can be seen sitting on a bench, lacing up his shoes with one of his teammates, not knowing that he is actually leaning against my gym locker. I don't think I was ever so proud.

Paul Hornung was the only player to successfully navigate Vince Lombardi's melancholia, simply by being himself. Our Golden Boy was also the only one who could bring a smile our perniciously mean-spirited high school football coach, a man frequently compared in his sallow-eyed darkness to the Dark Lord of the Sith. Our Golden Boy was handsome, powerful, pensive-looking and brilliant. It was as if the Fates had granted him as many Tom Budrewiczs as he needed to navigate the complexity of a world that otherwise seemed so completely overwhelming to a thin, wispy little boy like me. The Golden Boy went to Brown, which, I believe, does not give out athletic scholarships.

And yet, with Google, there are no more masks and no more mythologies. This past week, I typed his name with "Brown University" into the computer, and within a second, Google Images produced a slight man, probably as tall as I, staring back at me through designer eyeglasses, looking strangely humble at the bottom of a list of investment strategists working in a small office in Connecticut. Now obviously there's nothing wrong with that. He certainly makes more money than I, and he probably enjoys a good life for all I know. But the curled Athenian locks of old are gone, and his hair is shaved closely and has receded. I had always assumed that since I never heard his name again after his graduation that he had committed some terrible transgression or had suffered some kind of calamity that had somehow kept him from being as great in the larger world as he was to us schoolkids, when the waves parted for him in the hallways of my little high school. But instead, with or without a thousand Tom Budrewiczs, our Golden Boy simply graduated from college and became a normal person. No more masks. No more mythologies.

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