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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

NY Jets #70 - Part 2

Like a lot of people who love professional football in the United States, I actually know very little beyond the most obvious statistical evidence as to what makes its player good or crap. I know little or nothing about what makes for a good defensive lineman. Does he have a good rate of sacks? Maybe, but can he stop the run? It's nice that a player in the secondary has a lot of interceptions, but can he cover worth anything at all? While my roommates in college were taking miserably difficult classes in Statistics, I was an English major. Perhaps this explains their present-day, comfortable distance from sports altogether, enjoying its numerical ebbs and flows in several different fantasy football leagues, while looking like happy fathers and busy men with real lives. They're all Giants and Patriots fans.

To be a Jets fan is to be a student of Jacobean Tragedy. Take The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster, a play that my old roommates in a rickety tri-level house in Providence might recall only because I obsessed over it while making it as the subject of my senior thesis. I don't even really remember if in my senior thesis had an actual thesis. I doubt it, in fact. The experience prepared me to be a blogger. I don't think a single thing I ever wrote back then had a main idea; it's a requirement I didn't make of myself as a writer until I had to teach writing for the first time to incoming college freshmen. The only way to truly know something is to be forced to teach it to someone else.

The Duchess of the Duchess of Malfi is a widowed noblewoman who has decided to remarry, this time with her new boyfriend, a handsome and devoted younger man of a lower caste. The only difficulty is that it's 1623 in the renaissance city of the title, and a woman has no right to marry for love, particularly when her two brothers feel they have the right to decide for her. Her oldest brother is the city's Cardinal, while the younger brother is the Duke, who clearly feels a jealous and incestuous desire for his sister. The brothers end up putting her into confinement through their henchman Bosola, who is reluctantly blackmailed into working for them. Everyone ends painfully and badly. It is tragic drama, after all. That's what the audience came for.

Statistics provide a cold picture of reality, but their lessons are also strangely comforting; after all, to see what went right or wrong in the exact light of day is to know what we believe is the truth, however ambiguously it may make you feel. But the experience of literature is subjective to the reader or the audience. I had a professor once who had to leave the theater in which she saw a performance of Duchess of Malfi because the Duchess' fate was portrayed onstage so honestly that she could not bear to watch. Imagine that. A performance so real that the suspension of disbelief is itself is so suspended that you feel that what you're watching is actually real.

Somewhere in the manner of sports' imitation of theater the fan finds himself contemplating the relationship he has with the drama unfolding in front of him. Are you like the fan who follows the statistical ticks and notches, keeping track of his ever-changing assortment of players on his fantasy team across the league each Sunday? If so...then you are the manor-less man, the one whose emotions are owned by no one, whose devotion to recently successful teams allows you some distance from the essential truth: that this tragic drama, like everything else, ends painfully and badly.

You are not a Jets fan.

My professor was a chain-smoking, chocoholic Englishwoman who looked like John Cleese's Anne Elk, and she had no interest in English football, let alone the American game. But she understood that the essence of drama is to mirror our powerlessness in the face of life's misfortune, miscalculation, hubris, misplaced hope, and its promise of certain death. In spirit, she was a Jets fan. I cannot imagine her rooting for a consistently winning team, an experience so numbing to the basic experience of human life that the only real refuge from its banality are the bare bones of statistical gatherings week in and out, as are the fantasy football trades up and down, like a market investor searching for an imaginary perfect team for a fantasy world. For me, the drama is so true to something that feels real that, a times, I cannot watch. I have to leave the theater.

*

I don't know if Mike DeVito #70 is a good defensive lineman. I do know that he started most of last season for Kansas City and that fans were happy to get him from us at the start of last year. Prior to that he played six seasons for us. When things were good for us, they were good for him. When things went bad for us, they went bad for him. The greatest complaint against him is that he has able to stop the run, but he is not as effective as a pass rusher. Does this make him any different or worse on defense than anyone in the NFL? I will leave that to you.

But on his Twitter account, he has been "building the tank," which I think is part of his desire to grow stronger as a pass rusher. He is a part of a defense that is living with the legacy of giving up a four-touchdown lead in the third quarter against the Colts in the playoffs last year. He is also a born-again Christian. As for recently, he was hampered by an injured hand at the beginning of the month, and only five hours before writing this, he tweeted, "The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent."

Football has become the national game because it mirrors how we look at ourselves as a nation of extremes. I have to say that although I have no real affection for the kind of contradictory absolutes that persist in religions, I do understand a little bit better why football players like DeVito are drawn so deeply to faith. Our media, our games, our online attachments are all marked by short-lived extremes in thought and emotion, and although a born-again person lives with absolutes, he or she is at least a believer in things that are ancient and are reputedly part of a whole tradition.

He's said some things on Twitter that I don't agree with, but at least his faith might be the extreme opposite to the abusive cruelty and violence that football players like Ray Rice and Aaron Hernandez inflict on the people they claim to love. His friend, former old teammate (and Mormon) Sione Pouha, said in a 2010 piece by John Holt on the Jets site that as teammates "we don't push each other," but that instead, "we don't let each other down." I don't know what distinction Pouha thought he was drawing when he said that, but perhaps DeVito's is a reassuring belief system is one that promises that you don't have to dominate other people in your life in order to feel empowered.

But then Pouha says this:

“If you found out that Best Buy was giving iPads out for 15 dollars, then you would want to share it with everybody, and that’s the way Mike DeVito feels and how passionate he is about it. He just wants to share it and let everybody know.”   

Which is more likely - the promise of Eternal Life, or cheap iPads at Best Buy? That, my friends, may well be the biggest question of contemporary American life.

***

Karl Henke #70 and Dave Foley #70 came the Jets, one after the other. Henke played on and off the bench for the the 1968 championship team, and then played 1969 for the Patriots, where his career ended.

Dave Foley was the first first rounder to come to us immediately after the Super Bowl, selected by the Jets in 1969 out of Ohio State. He played for Woody Hayes' national championship team of 1968. He played for us until 1971 and then went on to play six more seasons with the Bills, which meant that he belonged to the powerful brotherhood that blocked for OJ Simpson and basically enabled Buffalo to have an offense. He went to the Pro Bowl in 1973, the year that OJ broke the single season rushing record in the final game of the season, against the Jets. Today Foley heads a group that provides financial consultation in Springfield, Ohio. His brother Tim, with whom he is a partner, was a starter on the Notre Dame national champion of 1977. It must have been quite a Thanksgiving table year after year in the Foley residence.

*

I've just come back from a family reunion in Ohio, actually. I've written before about the Roche family reunion held in 2010. Enjoy, if you like.

This trip was also along Lake Erie. We gathered in a hotel in the town of Geneva, a longtime resort in the postwar era for longtime factory workers from Youngstown and Pittsburgh. Browns and Steelers fans side by side. All those jobs are gone now, and yet the area is still popular, however less crowded. There are wineries in the area that attract people. Small vacation houses dot the landscape. Our hotel was once long ago the site of a makeshift gathering of trailers that sat right on the lake. People could bring whatever they wanted to convert into a trailer.

According to the local history, the ensuring postwar blue collar oasis was off limits to teenage children, who were seen as carrying "city manners" with them. It's remarkable to think of how parents thought of their own children as a disease, when my cousins are so devoted to their kids. I was playing golf (yes, golf) with a couple of them, and my cousins preferred to stick to nine holes rather than 18 so that they could get back to their kids. Pretty much everyone I grew up with on my father's side of the family reproduced, and though I don't have kids of my own, what's wonderful is that the gaggle of the children adopt you as an uncle of sorts, as we travel down the sparsely populated main street with its hamburger places, mini golf courses and arcades.

At the arcades, my wife challenged me to a game of air hockey, which she won. Then I challenged her to a game of baskets, which I won. Arcades are places stuck in time. They always exist in a point that's at least two decades behind the time of day you enter them. I haven't seen this version of hockey to the left since playing it with my friends as a teenager. The players are still outfitted in the same uniforms worn by the Olympians of Lake Placid in 1980. The light fixtures that hang all around look like they could have come out of the earth-tone kitchens of my childhood neighborhood on Long Island.

And then, there are the pennants found inside the arcade. They're in pretty good shape. An early 1970's Chiefs.

And what must be a mid-to-late 80's Joe Walton-era pennant, next to the Falcons' red on black incarnation, probably from Reagan's America, both from a time when the extremes of our ways of being still seemed restricted to the games we followed.

And a poster on one of the rafters, almost overlooked. It's certainly dated from within at least a year of his death. He was not yet a myth, and his birth and death dates appear limit the possibility of his immortality. That would change, as all things do.

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