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Sunday, November 17, 2013

NY Jets #68 - Part Two

Last week was the Bye, and frankly in this season of stirring ups and heavy downs, a break from the Jets was a chance to rejuvenate oneself, to take a look at the last of the changing leaves and find solace in nature. I walked my dog Mike up near the campus of the nearby college. It was wonderful.

So I decided to repeat the experience today, even if I could already feel the agita developing in my chest, a burning feeling in my stomach, which I really hoped was nothing more than an ulcer. If the pattern of this season continued, the Jets running game would be shut down, Geno Smith would throw three picks, and the Jets would lose to a team they should beat rather than, say, beat a team like the Saints.

And that's what happened, though Geno also fumbled an additional turnover. But at this point it was still the morning, and I could maybe tell myself that by understanding and respecting the pattern of this ridiculous season, maybe the pattern would change. So I bundled up instinctively and took Mike outside, wearing my Dad's old woolen Jets hat from the late 70's.

But autumn in Philadelphia is tricky and, frankly, a little insincere. Is it so much to ask for the weather in November to be crispy and clear, the way it was when I was a boy? Indian Summer is all there is in Philly's Fall until Christmas comes, and whatever sense of transition you thought would come from C to D is instead met by a balmy wind that strips the trees of their final color of the season. So when I walked Mike up the hills of the campus, I realized it was too hot for the wool hat. So I took it off and jammed it into the side pocket of my coat.

***

Roger Bernhardt #68 came out of Kansas, probably a little too late to block for John Riggins, and was initially drafted by the Steelers in 1973. He ended up with the Jets. The sense of what could have been as opposed to the way it ended up was probably helped by collecting a paycheck and starting at least some of the time. The two seasons he played with the Jets and in the NFL were spent blocking for a declining quarterback, while the Steelers were beginning the greatest run of success a team has ever known in the post-merger era. Maybe I'm just a resentful, bitter and regretful person (i.e., a Jets fan) and unable to look at a life experience without injecting my own ennui, my own sense that things could have been better, if only just this or this had or had not occurred.

I wasn't able to find anything about Bernhardt's life after he left football before the 1975 season. There is a property lawyer with the same name who operates out of San Francisco and teaches at Golden Gate University. But that's not him.

***

I told myself when I put it in my pocket to be careful. Gradually the hat flops out of my pocket and falls to the ground as I walk.

Usually somebody walking behind me lets me know it's happened.

"Hey - you've dropped your hat."

I pick it up, thanking him or her, a little embarrassed that I'm still wearing a hat that belongs to a football team I've been following since I was a little boy. I'm supposed to be caring about other things more important than that by now. I'm supposed to be caring about something larger - money, a house, children, or maybe a better idea for a happier life. I'm supposed to be a more responsible person than this. I pick it up, hoping that no one notices the crude little helmet stitched onto the brim, the one with the silly oval logo I was always grateful the Jets returned to in 1998. I could explain it all to anyone who wondered what I was talking about, walking Mike up on the campus, but they're art students up there, and I don't think any of them even care about the Philadelphia Eagles, a team whose fans have suffered as much (and disposed of themselves just as badly) as the fans of my team.

"Thanks," I usually mumble, while moving briskly along.

***

John Bock #68 played two seasons with us at offensive line. He was one of four undrafted free agents to start for the team, which can mean only one thing - the two seasons he played for us were Richie Kotite's brief reign of error. Bock played at the University of Louisville before then and eventually went on after the Jets to play a more solid role for the Dolphins, who at that point had one of the best offensive lines that an aging Dan Marino (and Damon Huard) could ask for. A few years later, he was hired to coach the offensive line at Florida Atlantic University for Howard Schnellenberger, who also coached him at Louisville. Schnellenberger coached at FAU until 2011 and may now be playing golf somewhere in South Florida. Bock's current whereabouts are unknown.

***

Anthony Clement #68 played every game in his two seasons for the Jets. As I journey through the Interwebs looking for things about him, I see that the Jets are losing badly to Buffalo, and suddenly the reminders of Anthony Clement are intertwined with all of our past and present failures as a franchise.

In 2007, the Jets let Pete Kendall and his unhappiness go, and they were left with Adrian Clarke and Anthony Clement on the front line, and neither unfortunately could do anything to prevent defenses from getting to Kellen Clemens. Whether it is an old fan forum found amid the detritus of the past, or Joe Caproso's reflections on past failures compared with last season's misadventure, Anthony Clement remains another object example of the Tannenbaum era's mistakes. One has to expect that even if your place on the team is the result of an historically bad GM's judgment, you will still be maligned on the Internet for all time. You will still be considered a symbol of a team's failure. That's why I was hoping to find something about Clement's whereabouts today. It hardly seems fair.

Even as I write this, there are demands from all around #JetsTwitter for the end of Rex Ryan, the end of Dee Milliner, Geno and a front line that has ceased to exist, at least for today. The foaming at the collective mouth has begun:
  1. in meltdown mode right now. Fire Rex. Bench Geno. Shut the stadium down!

This is the week when we don't remember our tradition as a brave and enduring underdog. This is the week we remember Wayne Hunter, Vernon Gholsten and Anthony Clement. If our season ends on a worse note than 8-8 (which I predicted we would finish at best) then who will play the role of embodying this year's blunders, the way Anthony Clement unfairly did in his own time?

One more note: after playing every game of his final season starting in the NFL, Anthony Clement was brought in by Bill Belichick's practice squad in New England the following summer, possibly to only collect information on the New York Jets, the club that remains that coach's private, obsessive object of hatred. Whether we lose or win, we can console ourselves that we will remain a permanent fixture in his mind - a bugaboo in the brain of that singularly pernicious and nasty little man. On this dreary Sunday, I will take what little consolation I can from that.

***

Sure enough, the wool hat fell out of my pocket. Mike stared into the horizon for squirrels. I didn't see the hat's green and white on the ground amid the autumnal colors anywhere.

I could have gone home and declared it a loss, or tried to find it by retracing my steps. I encouraged Mike to help me find it, ignoring the fact that by merely speaking to my dog you're not actually communicating with him, unless you're using the words walk or dinner. So I led him in the direction we came from, hoping he'd pick something up with his incredible nose.

But Mike's primary job as a middle-aged male dog is to find things on which to urinate. That's his thrill in life. As writing a blog is for a middle aged human, it's his way of letting the world know that he's here, that he exists, that his life has meaning, and although I thought he'd be game for retracing our steps, he was just the opposite. We've been there, already, he seemed to say. I've pissed on everything that way. What's the point? So it was up to me to find it with my own eyes, thinking that as I got further and further back to where I came from that it would eventually show itself.

Eventually, it did. The hat's been through the wash enough that the sharply white brim showed against the leaves lining the path between the quad and dormitory houses and the caretaker's house. If it had been a Redskins hat from the 70's, it wouldn't have stood out and would have been lost to the ages. Dad wore the hat when I would rake leaves with him in the front and back yards of our house in North Merrick, and he wore it to the last home games he attended before giving up the season tickets for good. There are worse places to be forgotten - amid the splendor of nature, in football's best time of year - but I don't think I would have felt good about leaving it behind.

I took a picture of it - with Mike's right leg and feathery shepherd tail making a barely perceptible appearance in the upper right hand of the frame - and put it back in my pocket. I made sure to keep the green and white pom-pom top snugly inside so as to prevent it from falling out again, and I went back to my house to watch the Jets get thumped. 

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