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Monday, August 12, 2013

NY Jets #66 - Part 3

When my wife and I went to training camp at Hofstra in 2007, we had some high hopes. The Jets had pulled off an inspiring playoff the year before, and whatever doubts we had about the club at the time, we all thought there was some magic somewhere in the bottle, or at least a Mangenius at the helm. 


Pete Kendall #66, hanging back.

I took this picture of Pete Kendall #66 from the stands behind the bench at Hofstra that year. I might have kidded myself that I was capturing something metaphorical about that particular summer for the Jets, but Kendall himself was ensuring it was an apt image that would speak for itself. He was in the middle of what some Jets fans still consider a fairly notorious contract dispute that left him standing apart. When the offensive line was off the field, Kendall stood apart from his teammates, signaling to Eric Mangini and everybody watching - the management, the press, us - that he was unhappy. 

"Kendall went to Boston College," my wife said, noting the program.

Yes indeed, I said.

"I grew up with a bunch of Kendalls in Weymouth," she said, speaking of the town outside Boston. 

"Really?" 

"Yeah."

We both stared at Pete Kendall's posture of resistance, his quiet hanging back that was not so quiet when he got in front of microphones and spoke about how he felt cheated by Mangini and management. Kendall did live in Weymouth, and also grew up in Braintree where my Dad is from. 

"What were they like, the Kendalls?" I asked.

She looked up a moment, then at me and made a face.

"Hmm," I said.

A lot of us had unpleasant feelings about Pete Kendall in the summer of 2007. Maybe we felt he was being overly dramatic, perhaps even selfish. Fans can buy into the notion of the team because it's the team, not the player's career, that they're rooting for. We didn't care about Pete Kendall's disagreement with management because we wanted the Jets - not Pete Kendall - to go back to the playoffs.


Pete Kendall, standing apart
But in real life we know that you really can't trust management to keep their word. You really must get everything regarding salary, compensation, and benefits in writingKendall's main grievance was that he had verbally agreed with the Jets to a better deal in his base salary. He had also mentored two of the Jets' present day offensive linemen (pictured the picture at right) D'Brickashaw Ferguson #60 and Nick Mangold #74. When it didn't happen, Kendall went public with his grievances, and New York's media followed his drama almost exclusive to anything else because it was more interesting than training camp. 

And when the season actually began, Pete Kendall signed a different deal with Washington, and the ensuing weaknesses in the Jets' offense seemed to be everywhere. Pennington was injured early on, and Kellen Clemens did nothing to improve our chances. Kendall's eventual absence left a hole in an uncertain front line. Our offense was in 25th in production in 2007. 

If anything, Pete Kendall represented a nasty piece of truth about how tenuous a winning football season really is. Some teams have disputes and troubles that embolden the club, that energize them and help feed their fire. I think of the turbulent Cowboys of the 90's, a vessel fueled by cocaine, strippers, and hot tubs built into the back of limousines. Or consider the current Patriots squad, most likely fine-tuning their cold and blandly efficient machine to adjust to the absence of Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez. Great teams don't get thrown off track by such distractions, while more fragile teams tend to show their weaknesses even when a player like Pete Kendall gets unhappy. 

When, at the start of the 2008 training camp, tight end Chris Baker claimed to have a similar dispute over a verbal agreement he made with the team - even going so far to suggest that the problem with Kendall "tanked" the 2007 season - it became clear that Mangini was a large part of the problem as well. The whole affair was a window into the nature of Eric Mangini. He came to resemble a small-minded man with a narrow view of doing business in the sport. Suddenly, he had all of Bill Belichick's sneering pettiness, and none of his mentor's actual genius. As Greg Bishop said in 2008, "The Patriots can get away with treating players like pieces of meat because they are proven winners. The Jets don’t have that credibility..."

That word "credibility" is a key one here. It is "credible" for a team to treat its players like they're nothing special when the team consistently wins (which our club never has) because that's business. Winning the Super Bowl, the biggest prize of all, puts players' names on the backs of jerseys for sale at Modell's, but management ultimately collects on all the key benefits to championships, including getting away with cheesing a player out of deal made over a handshake. We the fans are ultimately not troubled by such things so long as the team keeps winning. The Jets didn't have that kind of pull in 2007 or 2008, and they don't now, and we ordinary working stiffs - who might look skeptically at the honesty of own bosses - are left in the ironic position of rooting for a time when the management of the Jets will have that kind of "credibility," too.

***

After a couple of seasons with the Steelers, Lonnie Palelei #66 played a single season on the offensive line with the Jets in 1997, Parcells' first year with us. He started 14 games. He played for the Eagles in 1999, and then went to the XFL's Las Vegas Outlaws. His player page on the Outlaws is as detailed a document as a person could possibly want without having an FBI file on him. 

Palelei was born in American Samoa, and while playing for the Eagles he extolled the virtues of Kava root in helping to ease the swelling around a particularly gruesome looking ankle he had tourble with during that season. In Phil Sheridan's November 20, 1999 article in the Inquirer, Palelei says, "In Samoa, the men drink it when they have work to do or they just want to relax." 

The nature of "working" and "relaxing" in our culture is so alien to another that I had to read that statement several times. Still, the muscles around Palelei's ankles needed to relax while he worked, and they did, such that Andy Reid marveled in the article about how quickly Palelei had healed up. 

Palelei says:

"What it does is relax the muscles around the ligament," Palelei said. "Those are the muscles that make you limp. That allows you to heal faster. It also takes the edge off the pain."

Again, I had to read that twice to recognize the divergent ideas of healing and also "taking the edge off." In our culture, it seems unlikely that those two elements could co-exist, except maybe in morphine.

Sheridan quotes from author Tom Harrison, who wrote about Kava in his book about travels in Samoa:

"You feel friendly, never cross. You cannot hate with kava in you." 

I'm only mentioning this because I've always had a fascination with kava. As a longtime craver of anything that will ease the psychic pain and depressive anxiety surrounding human existence - in much the same way that a player must find something to help him work with pain - I've always walked sheepishly into health food stores and supermarkets, looking for kava kava, kava root, all the while thinking ominously about the various warnings I have sometimes read about its side effects, acting like I'm doing something wrong. Our culture has so many ways of numbing ourselves to reality, yet at some level we're not supposed to do so because we are defined by our work, such that working and relaxing seem separate existences altogether. Sheridan's article suggests that something in the tea is magical, yet, sadly, I've never felt anything off of kava to relax as I wish I could, at work or at play. So, back to work.

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