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Sunday, September 8, 2013

NY Jets #67 - Part 2

The conversation, somewhere in Queens in 1975 or '76, must have gone something like this:

ME:     "Dad, what's wrong with his voice?"

DAD:  "Well, I think he has an accent, Marty."

The voice on the radio about which I was speaking belonged to Dave Herman #67, former tackle and guard for the Jets from 1964-73, who was now the color commentator for WOR-AM's coverage of the Jets. Our conversation reveals something about the way I viewed the world at a very early age. First, without knowing any better, I think I came to assume that most things in the world were essentially flawed. It may have been that rooting for the Jets had already enabled this sense in me or maybe this way of being was merely the perfect breeding ground for a Jets' fandom. Regardless, when I heard Dave Herman's voice on the radio, I assumed that something was wrong.

To further complicate my understanding of the world, this is how I actually understood the conversation:

ME:     "Dad, what's wrong with his voice?"

DAD:  "Well, I think he had an accident, Marty."

To a sheltered South Shore Long Island boy, Dave Herman's voice sounded different from anything I had heard before, and while I didn't know what an accent was, I knew what an "accident" was. It was a blanket term for a variety of things that had happened or could happen to me. An accident was what you claimed when you spilled orange juice across the kitchen table, but it was also something that you heard had caused the death of a neighbor down the road who drove into traffic coming home from work one evening. Without knowing any better, it seemed to me that if something was wrong with Dave Herman's voice - and to me there was - then it made sense that something happened to him - an accident - something that had disabled his voice.

Dave Herman was actually born and raised in northwestern Ohio, in the town of Bryan, and he attended Michigan State. So what was I hearing? Well, according to Rick Aschmann's mind-blowing map of American dialects, Herman's hometown is an area of the Midwest located at the crossroads of a variety of intersecting dialects - the basic "Inland North" dialect that is also heard in upstate New York, the "General American" accent found throughout the US, the "Midland" accent and the unique "Indiana North" accent. Where Dave Herman fits in any of that, I don't know, so I will leave it to you to figure it out. I'm just glad I could hear him speak again.

Other than the linguistic confusion that Herman's accent offered, it was his "accident" that somehow made me believe that if even of the world were flawed, it was still could be a good place, offering compassion, opportunity, and a chance at recovery. It seemed as unrealistic back then as it does today that a man injured in some kind of accident such that his speech was affected would land a place on the radio, and yet apparently, in my impressionable mind, WOR did just that, and that was nice to know, albeit erroneously.

***

Super Bowl III is seen as Joe Namath's moment, an apotheosis of one man's will. Jets fans are unique in seeing the game of football this way. We have this basic belief that a quarterback will save us, just as he did that seemingly hopeless day in 1969. But their victory that night relied on a monumental team effort that seems sadly missing from our ranks in 2013, and that's the essential problem. We buy into this false myth that the charismatic quarterback we either bring in or draft - Richard Todd, Ken O'Brien (not you-know-who), Browning Nagle, Neil O'Donnell, Chad Pennington, Kellen Clemens, Brett Favre, Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith - will save us from ourselves.

In 2009, Jeff Miller did a fair service to the legend of Super Bowl III by suggesting a new wrinkle - that its MVP should have been Dave Herman, not Joe Namath. Herman was put on the right side for the latter part of the '68 season, which meant that he was in charge of guarding Ike Lassiter in the AFL Title Game and, most importantly, the taller and faster Bubba Smith in the Super Bowl. That Smith only got to Namath once for a sack in the third quarter was a testimony to the game plan itself.

Dave Herman #67 in front of Bubba Smith #78

The Colts were a machine that ran rather unimaginatively on a series of assumptions that the Jets were able to exploit. One of these was that Bubba Smith could get past anyone to Namath, while the other was that Smith would neutralize the running game. The Jets took care of the latter by running Snell left. Dave Herman took care of Smith because he was an excellent, experienced lineman who knew how to stop a second-year player from his own alma mater.

In his memories from the buildup to the Super Bowl, Joe Namath remembers that it was Dave Herman who spoke up (in what he describes as a country drawl) during the hours of preparatory film and said something to the effect that they should stop watching so much of it because it was making everyone over-confident. While in Countdown to Super Bowl, Dave Anderson writes that Herman was in and out of a state of agitation throughout the time leading up to the game. On the morning of the game itself, Herman apparently sat at team breakfast, staring into space, repeating to himself over and over that he was going to kill Bubba Smith. During the weeks waiting, Herman seems alternately buoyant and anxious, reading only the Wall Street Journal for reports on the stock market. Now that the game itself is on the horizon, he seems uncertain, more afraid, or simply trying to visualize what he needs to do in order to stop one of the most feared players of his day.

When I took my six-hour Master's comprehensive exams years ago, I got our of my car, approached the department building on campus and thought about Dave Herman barely touching his breakfast, psyching himself up to kill Bubba Smith. Perhaps we love sports so much because our life is filled with little contests whose magnitude we can represent to ourselves as resembling the ones our teams play - contests over which, ironically, we have no control and which have no actual meaning to our lives, except in terms of the strange feelings they evoke in us. A job interview, a certification test, a meeting with someone to resolve a dispute, or a first date - we suddenly realize we are just an hour away, and we must now come to grips with the fact that this thing that we had thought about only abstractly is now very close at hand. It must be because it has to be. It has to be because it must be. It's an elliptical syntax that doesn't allow any doubt to enter.

In 2009, when Jeff Miller told Herman that he made him the MVP that should have been, Herman "didn't seem surprised or overwhelmed." Instead, he seems to know what the Jets' front office has lost sight of - that a true championship is not the miraculous work of one charismatic individual. Such things are only the property of myth. A quarterback solution is not a team solution, and while many of us await the second coming of a Namath, returning on a fiery chariot to vanquish our enemies, the truth is we could use more Dave Hermans, Randy Rasmussens, Winston Hills, Jon Schmitts, and Bob Talaminis. They kept Namath safe and kept the holes open for Snell to run. And we had Snell, too. And Maynard, Lammons and Sauer. And a relentless defense that forced turnovers. So many puzzle pieces that seem to be missing today.

***

Mike Gisler #67 was one of two other vital pieces of the New England Patriots' offense that came to the Jets, courtesy of Bill Parcells' influence in 1998. The other two were Keith Byars and Curtis Martin. Byars retired at the end of the season, and Martin is in the Hall of Fame. Mike Gisler played two seasons with the Jets, and then retired. I have no way of knowing if he continued his playing career somewhere else.

Where else could he play? Well, professional football began in the United States on Thursday with Denver's dismantling of Baltimore, but it's also important to remember that some degree of professional and amateur football is played everywhere, by teams like the Silver State Assassins, the Wenatchee Valley Rams, the Braintree Cowboys, and the Middle Tennessee Honey Badgers. My favorite is the Midwest Nightmare.

These are all teams in the American Football Association (AFA), a league promoting semi-pro and minor league football. For players whose dreams of NFL play are dashed, there is always a game somewhere in pads and helmets. One of their mottos is Ernie Banks' own - "It's a great day. Let's play two." As their site points out, players must play for the love of the game. What other reason would there be? Money seems scarce in the AFA.

Anthony Corvino #67, replacement player-scab for the Jets during the 1987 strike, went on in years to come as a second team All-American with the Marlboro Shamrocks, a good team to play for in the Eastern Football League, especially from about 1983 to 2004, when the Shamrocks won 15 Eastern League titles. However, the team doesn't appear to be on the league's current list. All periods of dominance must ultimately come to an end, and with them even the team itself, whether out of mediocrity, which I trust it will soon for the Patriots, or financially, as it did for Rangers FC. More than one fan of the Middleboro Cobras is today enjoying the absence of the Shamrocks from the standings, especially since the Cobras dropped six title games to the Marlboro club over a period of 14 seasons, acting as Wilt Chamberlin to the Shamrocks' Bill Russell. But last year, the Cobras beat the Worcester Mass Fury (my new favorite name; sorry, Nightmare) 39-6 for the EFL title. Perhaps Jets fans of many types can take comfort from that news, though not fans of the Broome County Jets, whose team doesn't seem to exist anymore, either.

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