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Saturday, December 14, 2013

NY Jets #68 - Part 4

I had been building up with some expectation to writing about Reggie McElroy #68 with remembrances of his playing for the Jets throughout much of the ups and downs of the 80's. He also had a career well into the 90's with Kansas City, Minnesota and the Raiders. Drafted in the second round out of West Texas A&M in 1982, he missed his first season due to a knee injury, but then came back to start consistently the next few seasons, missing half of 1986 with injury, then returning, then missing a season again, and then returning. For better or for worse, that's how many linemen live their football lives, yet his was technically as long a career as Winston Hill's. But as soon as I went looking into the Interwebs, I found really nothing more than a note on his Wikipedia page that adds that he is now a defensive line coach for the Rolla High School Bulldogs, of Rolla, Missouri. He's been everywhere, and yet he is nowhere else to be found, except in teaching young people how to attack the very position he used to play.

Here is his Pro Set card to the left. He looks very different from the monsters in charge of the offensive lines of today's game. He's 6'6" - big, but tall and fit. He looks like a modern tight end, more like Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates, rather than a Vladimir Ducasse. He doesn't look so much like a man who would be able to stop William Perry from reaching Ken O'Brien or Pat Ryan by merely standing still, as he might have been asked to in 1985. Instead he looks like a player with size and speed, someone athletic who might run the sweep in front of Freeman McNeil. That's probably what he did, but my uneven memory from adolescence doesn't have anything specific in the bank. All I remember is John Brodie, in one of his last years of broadcasting games for NBC, pronouncing the tackle's name with his central California accent as Mackle-Roy, rather than Mac-El-Roy, which is how I thought it would be said.

And why did he end up in Rolla, a town far from his boyhood home of Texas? Kansas City was one of his last professional stops, but Rolla is a little bit closer to St. Louis, along Route 44. I once lived in St. Louis a long time ago and would travel along Route 70 to Kansas City to visit a girl I knew there. It seemed like the longest three hours of my life to get there, if only because the sky and the Earth seemed joined in equal halves that never seem to change in appearance. The landscape was so flat and wide that it became a hypnotic drive. There were very few unique landmarks that differed from town to town, from the last place you saw to the next thing coming on the horizon. I wouldn't be able to live there for long. I needed to live in a place where I wouldn't always be able to see from so far away what was coming.

But if so little physically changes year to year in the world where you live, are you ever inclined to think of life itself as a shifting thing, where change is the constant norm of life? If by living in a city that has changed so much in the last 20 years, am I mistaken in thinking that every day can bring the chance of experiencing something genuinely new? Or is that belief just simply one more delusion - the kind that we all tell ourselves in order to believe that we are more than just a particle, a piece of something lost in the larger something that a band that named itself after a flat and wide midwestern place once sang about many years ago?

In the picture above taken at the Meadowlands (back probably in 1985 when the Jets still wore white at home) Reggie McElroy stands tall and ready, his knees for the moment working well enough, looking straight ahead for what's coming at him. And how does he look at life now? Does he still stand in position? Does he want the men he trains on defense to attack their opponents just as he was once attacked? Has he now taken the position of the object on the horizon, having switched from playing offense to coaching defense?

Rolla is a town that calls itself "the middle of everywhere," a phrase that cleverly anticipates what you're already tempted to say. Reggie McElroy's switch in allegiances reminds us that our distinctions among things are often just illusions. Like the earth and sky in equal parts, like offense to the defense, perhaps everywhere and nowhere - so many things are two merely sides of the same coin.

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John McMullen was the first #68 in franchise history, playing in the Jets' first season as well.

Dave Middendorf #68 closed out the decade playing guard for the Jets in 1970 after two seasons with the Bengals. Middendorf settled in the Seattle area, where he currently resides as a physician with a private family chiropractic practice. As with Reggie McElroy, the knees were the constant source of his pain, and apparently Middendorf ended his career after serious knee surgery. However, his pain and the chiropractic help he received afterwards inspired him to go into the field. His views on vaccinations aside, if you live in Puget Sound area and are concerned about the possibility of suffering vertebral subluxation, then by all means look him up.

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