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Sunday, October 23, 2016

NY Jets #70 - Part 5

The Jets won today. That's not a phrase I use lightly or, for that matter, often. They won in Jetsy fashion. Todd Bowles benched Ryan Fitzpatrick against the Ravens, started Geno Smith, who managed to get a touchdown pass to Quincy Enunwa before getting injured in the first half, perhaps badly. I don't know why the gods have such a thing about Geno. He is probably not a bad person, and he is, statistically speaking, not a talented enough quarterback for the gods to treat him with such feckless jealousy.

I have a former student who's now in the tenth grade, originally from Lithuania, who's a Jets fan. I don't know how it happened. I don't know what the basis was for his choice. Did he happen to catch one football game in his new country, a Jets game, sort of like the one the Jets played today - one where they benefited mostly from the opponents' miscues? Did he suddenly and misguidedly tell himself, That's my team? It's too late now, and he knows it. His loyalty is branded on his brain. Win or lose, he wears his Jets swag each Monday, but he's lately taken to walking into my classroom when I'm not teaching, and look at me with incredulity. Five times this year he's come to see me after five losses.

"Mr. Roche...," he says. Nothing else. He shakes his head.

"I know, kid," I say. "I know."

He says nothing.

"We're in for the long haul," I say encouragingly.

But he speaks frankly. "That doesn't help me."

"No. They'll probably win a Super Bowl in your lifetime, not in mine."

"That's even more depressing."

"Not for you, though," I try to salvage as we walks away. "Not for you!"

****
The blog is back. I don't know why. Why was this Sunday different from any other? Maybe I'm just avoiding the 90 freshman papers I need to grade. For a long time, I forgot my password to the blog, and I just let it slide. When I recently figured it out and returned, I found a handful of kind email messages from people wondering if I was okay, wondering when I would write again. I appreciate that. It's been almost two years since I last wrote, and some things in my life have really stabilized since then, while other things just keep me up at night. I'm probably just like you. It's been so long since I've written that I would visit the blog just to see if it was still there (why wouldn't be?) but after a fashion, the Google search for "Infinite Jets" would return with Did you mean Infinite Jest? No I did not, but never mind.

I did get a number of comments on past entries from family members and friends of players, some of whom had recently died. One guy wanted me to know that his mother was one of the original Jets cheerleaders from the late 1960's, and I managed to find some film I had somewhere of some of those gals cheering on the sideline and asked him if maybe one of them might have been his mom, who had passed away sometime earlier. He opened the link I sent him, on Easter, with all his family gathered, and indeed, one of the images was his mom. It was emotional moment, he told me. That was pretty cool.

I hope you're still out there. Hope you're doing better than our football team. I need to write more and at the very least finish number 70. There have been a lot of new players who've gone in and out of numbers that we already covered; I can't say I'll be able to backtrack and revise those entries. Maybe I'll try. Otherwise, I'll just keep moving forward by looking backward and hope that I'll serve you well. If you're reading this, thanks.

****

Between 1978 and 1984 there wasn't much to be concerned about. I was nine on the front end of those years, and 15 at the end. If he's lucky, a boy's life between those ages can be simply summed up as playing late outside with his friends until, to turn a Joycean phrase, his body glows, until it's too dark out to see the ball. When he goes home, there's a reliable meal on the table. When he needs to be somewhere, he rides his bike with abandon. When my dad came home from work at night, I hugged him, and his trench coat smelled of the city and of the train car's cigarette smoke. I was not always a happy kid, but most of the time there was nothing really outside of my own mind to make it unhappy. During the years I taught at a high school right outside West Philadelphia, I had already seen more than enough children who did not have the slightest glimpse of such a simple, contented life as the one I had known.

And then there was the Jets. In those years, they offered lots of promise, chances at what appeared to be greatness, but always, always in the end, an early exit. There are few things in life that I have loved with such unrepentant emotion as I did my football team between the ages of nine and 15. What else is there?

And so say the name Stan Waldemore #70, and I can immediately picture his face, his uniform. I can hear Marty Glickman or Spencer Ross naming him on the play. He didn't always start, though he started pretty regularly late in his career. He is a regular at retired player meet-ups. When I mentioned that I was writing about him, my wife noted that his last name is similar to the notorious villain of the Harry Potter novels. I think he replaced Randy Rasmussen, who was a Jet forever, a player who was invariably blocking in front of Matt Snell in all of the childhood stories I read about Super Bowl III. That must have been a bit of a challenge to follow after Randy Rasmussen.

He had a good career. This is about all I can say about him, though in his book The View from the Bench, former offensive lineman George Mills talks about losing his job on the Nebraska Cornhusker line to Waldemore when the latter was just a freshman in 1974. He makes sure we know that Stan Waldemore was a good guy. Mills had to constantly petition line coach Monte Kiffin that he was better than Waldemore, all the while acknowledging that injuries were prohibiting him from really competing with Waldemore. It was nothing personal, though. It was a career at stake, masking as a boy's game.

As for Dakota Dozier #70, our current wearer of the number, I do not see any record that he has started a game on the offensive line this season, but he might take comfort from Mills' book about being an unused football player, or perhaps he might be reminded that he is earning good money without having to worry as much about permanent brain damage as Sunday's starters will. As a former consensus All-American, that probably doesn't mean much to him.

****
Woods (at left) and teammates from Tennessee State University, before he was drafted by the Lions. I did not know I could want anything as much as I want the jacket worn by Alvin Coleman in the middle. At the right is Robert Woods, another future Jet, and Larry's brother.
Larry Woods #70 played for the 1973 Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins and then signed with the Jets, playing for us from 1974-75. I do not remember seeing him play, but I remember his face among the player pictures in the game program. He has the distinction too of being a member of the original 1976 Seattle Seahawks. He started only three games for the Dolphins and was able to play considerably more for the Jets. In a Times article during the 1974 preseason, Woods admitted that the prospect of playing more often was more meaningful than being guaranteed a chance to go to the playoffs on the bench. By the end of the 1975 season, the year I first saw his face in the program, I was happy rooting for the Jets, so the experience was branded on me, even as they lost, over and over. By the time I was 16, like my Lithuanian immigrant student, out of the glow of an ordinary little boy's life, I realized I had made a terrible mistake. But it was too late.

2 comments:

davidvill said...

Welcome back! So glad to know you're all right!

Martin Roche said...

Thanks, David. Thanks so much.