We are officially less than a month before the start of the NFL season, so it's probably time to start previewing the monster. The key to the NFL's success — other than fantasy football and gambling, of course — is the rabid nature of its fans. That is to say: You don't see a lot of people painting their faces for their favorite golfer.
We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, even a TV guy or two, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, why My Team Is Better Than Your Team. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever. We will be running two a day until the beginning of the NFL season.
Right now: the New York Jets. Your author is David Goodwillie.
David Goodwillie is the author of Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time, a new memoir about baseball, books, women, money, the Mob, and the art of surviving one's twenties in millennial Manhattan. His words are after the jump.
It's much worse than I thought.
Those are the only words I managed to write down through four disquieting quarters of preseason football last Friday night. It wasn't for lack of effort on my part. I'd canceled my evening plans and was ready in front of the TV, pen and paper in hand, figuring the "revamped" Jets would come out gunning against the Giants, show everyone what they had. I mean, really...if you're not optimistic in August, what's the point?
I won't relate any childhood stories or teenage anecdotes here. It's enough to know I've been a Jets fan a long time, and that names like Blair Thomas, Browning Nagle and Rich Kotite still come immediately to mind every time I'm seeking a metaphor for disaster. Sure, I remember specific plays, memorable games, but there are no eureka moments for me — for any Jets fan — because the next play, the next game, is always coming, and it's bound to go badly. Never in the history of the franchise has fortune taken off its coat and made itself at home.
Let's take this past offseason. It started inauspiciously with the departure of Herm Edwards (and I use the word "departure" instead "fleeing" only because there's much more misery to come). It was handled with all the aplomb of the Bill Belichick fiasco in 1999, but hurt more, because we all fell for Herm, breathed in his energy, his endless optimism. How could we know he was football's answer to Ray Nagin — clueless in crisis but full of answers afterwards? And so another era, Eric Mangini's, began, awkwardly, as usual. Wayne Chrebet retired in a concussed fog. Ty Law found a new team to suck the life from (not a bad thing until I saw his replacements). And the mercurial Justin McCareins was deemed "physically unable to perform" for what appears to have been a bad attitude.
Then there was the draft. Having won one — literally one! — too many meaningless games at the end of last year, the Jets missed out on Vince Young and Reggie Bush. But Matt Leinart was still backstage. Sitting and waiting. Now here's the thing about the Jets: They've always been a one-man team, hit or miss, all or nothing. Think Namath. Think Gastineau. The Giants can Phil Simms and Tiki Barber you to death, but the Jets need a franchise player. They need an identity (to say nothing of a stadium), and Matt Leinart could have been that guy. Instead, we got D'Brickashaw, who, no matter how good he may become, will never be a franchise player because an offensive lineman cannot be a franchise player. By definition. But the Jets have been burned too often on draft day (see above), so here we are with Twinkle Toes Ferguson (see below), and Arizona has Leinart, who'll most certainly become the next Brett Favre now, because that's the way it goes for the team in green.
Of course, the real problems are more easily defined. The Jets — an NFL team, remember — currently have no viable quarterback or running back, and it is this small issue that I focused my attentions on last Friday night. Chad Pennington, the Cliff Floyd of football, is slowly making a comeback from his 17th shoulder surgery (after being lightly guided out of bounds almost a year ago), and as such, hasn't been named the starter yet — despite the other quarterbacks in camp, an underwhelming trio named Bollinger, Ramsey and the rookie Kellen Clemens (no relation, believe me: I saw his arm). The knock on Pennington, besides his speed, mobility, health, play-calling and...well ... his main problem is his arm strength, and so on one of the few occasions (it was the third quarter by now) when he actually dropped back to pass the ball downfield, I leaned forward and stared hopefully at the screen as he released the ball. It was in the air a long time, even if it didn't travel that far, and when the 20-yard Hail Mary came down in the arms of the patient Laveranues Coles*, said receiver was hit so hard it's a wonder he didn't limp back to the huddle and end Pennington's season there and then with a quick slap on the shoulder.
No matter, I'd seen all I needed to see: The guy can't throw downfield. And that's where the running game comes in, or doesn't, since the rehabbing Curtis Martin** has suddenly become as elusive around camp as Sidd Finch. But the Jets are no dummies. They saw this coming, which is why they signed Lee Suggs, who was promptly returned to the Browns for "failing a physical" (i.e.: The Jets changed their minds), and then Kevan Barlow, who promptly compared his ex-coach Mike Nolan to Adolph Hitler. All told, the team rushed for 74 yards against the Giants. Which actually seems like a highlight, now that I think about it.
But I'm too harsh. So the offense didn't score. So the defense wasn't dominating. So our man D'Brickashaw likes to go to work a hut too soon. So there were interceptions and fumbles and penalties galore. It may be much worse than I thought, but I do have good news. I've found the team's savior. He's a former Australian Rules Football star named Ben Graham. Sure he's still learning the rules stateside (last year was his rookie season), but he may just be the best punter in the NFL. And the way this season is shaping up, he'll be seeing a lot of action.
* It's spelled right, I triple-checked.
** Is it just me, or is Curtis Martin endlessly overrated? Yes, yes, I know the stats are impressive (shocking actually: He's fourth all time in career yards), but when the hell did he gain all of them? Every time I was watching, he ran into the line for a gain of two. And yes, my memory's fine. It's how I make my living.