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Monday, September 2, 2013

NY Jets #67 - Part 1

According to Bucpower, which navigates the 37 year-old history of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Darrell Austin played mostly on special teams in #69 for the Bucs from 1979-80, which means that he enjoyed the glorious 1979 season, when the team made it to the NFC Championship, only then to somehow lose at home 9-0 to the Los Angeles Rams. In the matchup that got them there, the 24-17 win over the Eagles in the Divisional Playoffs, Austin played almost the entire game at guard. Before he ended up in Tampa, Darrell Austin played at guard in #67 for the Jets from 1975-78. 

According to the site, Austin was nicknamed the "Colonel" because that was the military rank of the Six Million Dollar Man, the bionic Steve Austin. Apparently, Darrell had "an artificial small finger," which might mean he had small part of a finger, or maybe an artificial pinky finger, hence the name. Regardless, the idea that somebody's artificial finger could be used to compare to a man barely alive, entirely rebuilt by science is as humorous now as it must have been in the locker room the day someone first discovered Darrell Austin's artificial digit and put it all together. 

You can get a nickname in a millisecond, and it will stick with you. One of my college roommates, named Dave, instantly became "Phil Simms" for almost his four years after someone at a party noticed their resemblance. Eventually Dave had to make an all-out public relations assault on the name each time he heard it. I was watching a game of craps in the back of my school bus in middle school when one of its players satirically referred to me as "Bruno, the enforcer," which was my name for several years of my childhood. The speed with which it happens can be amazing. Since the Six Million Dollar Man ran from 1974-78, it's conceivable that someone in the Jets' locker room gave Darrell Austin his nickname, and if that's true, I'd really like to know who it was. 

This is the 1977 Topps Darrell Austin, which I have somewhere. This is the Jets' guard on the sideline looking lonely during 1976, easily one of the worst seasons in Jets' history. If you've been keeping score of late, that suggests some truly bad football.

I've been thinking about bad Jets seasons lately because, apparently, 2013 is supposed to be one of them. It will be, I suppose. People are predicting it with the same tone they use to forecast another terrible hurricane season, or a forest fire, or a stretch of impending tornadoes, or Lindsay Lohan's latest foray into rehab. Since we are, as a nation, addicted to bad news, the Jets' 2013 season - which will not be the only losing season for a football team this year - is predicted by the sports world with an anticipation and relish that defies all considerations of reason. It makes me realize how many people love storms, fires, crashes, mass destruction, or at best, displays of abject failure, hubris, and bloopers. But nothing sells like self-destruction, and everybody sees the Jets as a self-destructive team.

But back in 1976, when the photograph for Darrell Austin's card was taken, I used to thrill at any level of coverage directed toward my pathetic little football team from Shea Stadium. And while I have lots of bile about where the team is headed right now, I'm more disgusted by the entertainment quality surrounding the struggles of our club. It's as if in some way the Jets promised the cure for esophageal cancer this summer, and the media of Bristol and the metropolitan tri-state area are now expressing their subsequently righteous outrage at their failure to deliver. I understand that Rex Ryan has promised much over the years and delivered only just a slice of it, but methinks everyone just doth freaking protest too much.

Where in hell is Gerald Eskanazi when you need him? It's absurd. The Jets are our team. The fact is we have been through these kinds of seasons before, and while Jets fans are routinely cast as knuckle draggers, we remain, for whatever reason, loyal. Sean Newell of Deadspin scornfully suggests that Jets fans will turn on Geno Smith after a few games, and sadly I guess that's true. Jets fans can't be blamed for feeling manipulated about the quarterback position over the past six seasons. But - and it pains me to say it - it's just another bad Jets season. We have been here before, even if no one else in football reportage has, and we'll continue to be here (most of us decent human beings who don't feel deep hatred or bitterness in our hearts) when no one in the media cares about us anymore. We know what we're about.

As several people have pointed out, the fallout from Ryan's starting Sanchez late in the Giants exhibition game was also insane. Actually, it was more enjoyable than any circus I've attended, comparable with the wild outrage accompanying Miley Cyrus' VMA performance the very same weekend. As Miley danced horribly in a diaper, waving a foam finger as a substitute phallus, baring her tongue to the audience like a goat from behind the fence at a petting zoo, Mark Sanchez was hit late and left rolling around, holding his shoulder. The next morning, with synchronized precision, I was able to jump back and forth between replays of this young woman, barely out of her teens, slapping the asses of giant, oddly depressed-looking teddy bears and then images of Mark Sanchez getting hit in the Giants game, again and again. Each one was narrated in equal tones of hysteria. Miley, Mark. Mark, Miley. I got to feel as Lewis Black did about the TV coverage the day after Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction:

"I awoke...and watched...as my beloved country....lost its goddamned mind."

This unhappy obsession the sports world currently has with our team is making everybody angry, especially non-Jets fans. At work, near Philadelphia, friends of mine hold me responsible for the volume of coverage my doomed team gets on ESPN. Who cares about your team? they ask. Why do I have to see another story about Mark Sanchez? 

I want to tell them that when Darrell Austin played guard for the Jets in 1976, the team merited little more than a small column at the bottom of the Times sports page, which I would ask my mother for as she sat hovered over the paper in the morning, cigarette in hand. She would deftly tear the little scrap of paper about the Jets off the sports section without even so much as breaking her concentration. Back then, the Giants of Doug Kotar, Joe Pisarcik, John McVay, and Larry Csonka, who were nearly just as bad, got so much more print than we did. Now, much to Giants fans' dismay (though not Eli Manning's) the Jets get so much more. Back then, in sports at least, our Fourth Estate still believed that you should give more coverage to teams with the greatest potential for winning because success actually sold more papers than stories that rooted against losers did. How times have changed.

"Times being what they," the Player repeats again and again about the decay of theater to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as he trots out a hapless, homeless teenage boy named Alfred from his acting troupe to perform as a promiscuous woman in a sex show:

GUILDENSTERN: (regards ALFRED sadly.) Was it for this?
PLAYER: It's the best we've got.
GUILDENSTERN: (looking up and around): Then the times are bad indeed.

Indeed. Sure enough, at lunchtime this week, a couple of my co-workers and I went to a local pub, where a big screen TV with the sound down was showing ESPN's interview with Curtis Martin, discussing the Jets' "catastrophic" preseason.

"What the hell?" one of my companions said, pointing to the TV, his voice filled with indignation. "This what I'm talking about, Marty."

So I looked up and saw, to my delight, that while that was going on, another onetime winner that ESPN was now rooting to lose  - Johnny Manziel - was featured in the crawl below. I pointed it out.

"It's all in the game," I said. "All in the game."

"Thanks, Omar," he said, sitting down, looking over at the specials. "But I want my football season back."

"Well," I said. "You can have mine."

"No, thank you," he said. "No way."

I nodded solemnly, needing to eat my feelings. I ordered the corn beef special, and, despite our better judgment, the two of us waited for our food by staring back up at the TV, trying to decipher what Curtis Martin was saying.

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