There’s a plan, right? I mean, these are the New York Football Jets, so of course there is. Cue the hysterical laughter. Yes, Sam Darnold’s holding out. Apparently over language in his rookie contract that won’t become relevant until his third or fourth year, and then only if he’s become a bust.
Yeah, let’s draw a line in the sand over that one, boys. I don’t know which side to fault more, so I’ll simply let it play out. It’s not like a rookie QB needs that many training camp reps anyway, right? Cue more of the hyena-like laughter.
Then maybe this explains why we signed Teddy Bridgewater in the offseason? Right after we had resigned Josh McCown? While knowing full well we’d be taking a QB at three in the draft? Am I the only one who feels as though the Knicks, Mets and Jets are caught in some bizarro continuum where they all try to outdo each other with shocking and absurd examples of franchise mismanagement? What makes this all so particularly hard to take, is that the Jets had become my beacon of light in the distance (yup, more laughter), as the Mets dig deeper and deeper into their “laughingstock of the league” hole this summer.
So in an effort to forget about the rocky start at Jets camp, I decided to go back in time and think about some of the historical heroes of NFL seasons past — the backup QB’s we grew up with who achieved glory, notoriety and occasional infamy in my youth. Sometimes in the very same year.
Thus, on this lazy Sunday afternoon, we’ll begin in the old NFL and wind our way through various unrelated thoughts on my two other favorite sporting leagues — MLB and the NBA.
*Was Earl Morral the greatest backup QB ever? I’m pretty sure he was. Think about this for a second — when Unitas got hurt in the preseason of 1968, all Morral did was come in and win the league MVP, going 13-1 and taking the Colts all the way to the Super Bowl (where they lost to the Jets – okay, yes, a self-serving parenthetical footnote). Two years later he became the only backup QB to ever take over in a Super Bowl (for Unitas again in Super Bowl V) and come from behind to lead his team to victory.
Then in 1972, he only went 9-0 relieving Bob Griese in the Dolphins perfect season. Griese came back to reclaim his job and win the Super Bowl (gotta like square-jawed Don Shula adhering to that old adage that a player never loses his starting job to injury), but if you are counting, Morral was 22-1 in his two years at the helm of Super Bowl teams (plus the come from behind win over the Cowboys in V). That’s pretty darn unreal. Here’s hoping Teddy Bridgewater’s got a little Morral in him this year should Darnold’s holdout drag on.
*Who remembers Clint Longley? He had the good fortune to experience his defining moment in front of a national TV audience on Thanksgiving Day 1974, leading the Cowboys to a dramatic, comeback victory over the hated Redskins. The ‘Boys were down 16-3 in the third quarter when starter Roger Staubach got sandwiched and had to be helped to the sidelines where smelling salts awaited. Enter Longley. The young gun had nothing to lose and started slinging it downfield on what seemed like every play. He ultimately put them over the top with a bomb to Drew Pearson (of course) and was the hero of the day (once again underscoring the fact that the backup QB is always a fan favorite). Unfortunately for Longley, based on his 15 minutes of fame, he decided he should be the man in Dallas, and not some bum named Roger Staubach. The young backup actually snuck up on and sucker-punched the sainted Staubach in a subsequent practice, earning himself a one-way ticket to San Diego. Career over one year later.
As good as the Cowboys were in the early-’70’s on their way to becoming America’s Team, they were no stranger to QB controversies. First there was the Craig Morton/Roger Staubach debate (Really??? Landry actually struggled over that one?). Then Longley inserted himself into the argument with his Turkey Day heroics, only to let his hubris derail him, and ultimately Danny White assumed the mantle of most popular backup in Big D, as Roger the Dodger’s days wound down. In case you are wondering, these are considered “good problems to have” if you are the fan of a professional football team. Unfortunately I cheer for the New York Jets.
*While Cowboys fans got to delight over which QB would lead them to that year’s Super Bowl back in the ’70’s, I grew up getting to know the names of those who backed up the deified, yet brittle, Joe Namath. First among them and worth a shoutout is Al Woodall. Woodall was one of the primary relievers employed by head coach Weeb Ewbank and the Jets when Namath would suffer yet another injury. No Zeke Bratkowski (Bart Starr’s long-time caddy in Green Bay and well-respected, veteran signal caller, who also happens to have a really cool football name), Woodall amassed a record of 5-14 between 1970 and 1973 as the starter for the Jets. Joe Willie actually held together and started 13 games in 1972 (and even went 7-6 and made the Pro Bowl), but for the seasons of 1970, 1971 and 1973, us Jets fans got to see more Woodall (19 starts) than Broadway Joe (13 starts).
*And while on the subject of Jets backup QB’s, who can forget the Matt Robinson era? Robinson was an eminently forgettable talent who in his second year in the league (1978) inexplicably put together a 6-5 record subbing for the injured Richard Todd. Todd had been drafted out of Alabama in 1976 as the heir apparent to Namath, but following Robinson’s success in ’78, Jets head man Walt Michaels decided on a QB competition the following season, which culminated in Robinson being named as starter.
However, in typical Jets fashion, Robinson hurt his thumb trying to open his hotel door the Thursday before the opener (he said it was the door, although many insist it was sprained in a barroom “discussion”). Todd returned as the top guy (nobody ever confused Walt Michaels with Shula when it came to honoring unwritten league rules) and Robinson was traded to Denver to end locker room dissension over who was the most deserving starter at QB. It should be noted that Todd managed to go 8-7 as starter in that 1979 season, and two years later he actually led the Jets to the AFC Title Game (where the Dolphins and A.J. Duhe ruined his career).
*And yes, I know Josh McCown is technically the current Jets starter. I also know he’s 39. And signed for one year. Assuming Darnold does sign at some point, we know he’ll be starting behind center before the year’s out, so the only mystery is which veteran starts Game 1. I’m going with Bridgewater right now, simply because he’s more fun to root for given his battle back from that horrific knee injury. And since this is the Jets we are talking about, there’s an enormous chance they bungle the handoff to Sam if Teddy is behind center when the time comes, rather than the one-foot-out-the-door, caretaker McCown. Just wait Jets fans, this one is not going to go smoothly.
Onto random MLB thoughts:
*The Mets won today. I was looking at the standings this morning, and if we win our next 25 games we’re right back in it!
*Speaking of the NL East. Doesn’t anyone want this? Over the last 10 games the division’s best record belongs to the Miami Marlins (6-4). Yikes! Atlanta is 4-6 in that time frame and the others all sit at .500. By default, I suppose someone has to be in first place, and right now that’s the Phillies, but c’mon! I still have an uneasy feeling that the Expos may actually pull this one out. They sit six games out as I type this, so one hot streak over a couple of weeks and all bets are off. And as much as it pains me to say it, they are built to be a tough out in the playoffs. Daniel Murphy is starting to heat up at the plate and Harper will be contract-motivated, and that lineup is easily the east’s best. Should they sneak in with the division title, at something like 86-76, they’d probably be the third seed, heading to either L.A. or Chicago (Milwaukee?) for Round 1. And out comes Mad Max Scherzer for Game 1. Hmmm. Stay tuned. It’s felt like the Braves and Phils were at least a year ahead of themselves all season, so let’s see how the Dog Days of August treat the upstarts.
*What do we make of the Mariners? They certainly don’t scare the big three in the A.L., but to me the interesting piece to watch up in Seattle is the return of Robinson Cano. Sure, he’s not playoff eligible, but that’s a big bat to add as your team is staggering toward the finish line desperately trying to preserve it’s spot in the one-game crap shoot known as the Wild Card Game.
It’s hard for me to imagine the A’s sustaining their recent run of success, but they are definitely the team with nothing to lose in this race, so I will continue to ride that bandwagon. Billy Beane has to feel good about how he took the Mets lunch money in the Familia trade. Dare he go back again and try to steal Zack Wheeler from them, too? Oakland needs another starter, and the Mets have starters. Beane would be crazy not to try and make off with Wheeler from the Three Incompetent Tenors for another subpar package.
*How is Tampa Bay playing .500 ball? As soon as I can remember who their manager is I’ll start promoting him for Manager of the Year honors (JK — Kevin Cash). Speaking of Tampa Bay, wouldn’t Chris Archer look good in an A’s uni? C’mon Billy Beane, go get him AND Wheeler! Let’s make a run at this thing!
*I like the Cubs and Brewers trading blows at the trade deadline with meaningful deals. Moustakas was a terrific pickup in Milwaukee and Hamels will get to show us if he has anything left in Chicago. Game on.
*Am I the only one that has trouble distinguishing the Rockies from the Diamondbacks? I know Arenado is in Colorado, and Greinke in Arizona. And both clubs have a bunch of guys with long hair and bushy beards, correct? Could we maybe merge the two teams, let them play in Salt Lake City, and see what happens? They still probably wouldn’t have enough pitching to emerge from the N.L., but it would make it easier for me to keep track of who’s who. Just a thought.
*How are the Pirates three games over .500? Tampa Bay North? I thought they waved the white flag back in March? Now they are the team no one wants to face in the N.L. — along with the Reds and Marlins. How is it that in this year of “the tank” it seems like it is only the Mets who’ve successfully assembled a pushover? And they were trying to win! Who’d a thunk it?
*Hall of Fame Weekend — Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman, Larry Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Alan Trammell and Jack Morris gave their acceptance speeches today. I’m still railing against the HOF becoming the Hall of Very Good, and I see a lot of that in this year’s group. Thome’s stats are monstrous, and somehow he avoided the steroid whispers of so many of the sluggers of his time (despite a nagging back injury that ultimately ended his career, hmmm). He gets my vote. Guerrero, too. Unreal stats, plus a cannon for an arm out in right field and those signature aggressive, long strides on the base paths. Plus, for good measure, he goes in an Expo. Hoffman? I struggle with relievers, but I think he deserves it, too (barely), even though to me he’s a level below Mariano Rivera. Larry, Trammell and Morris wouldn’t have gotten my vote. All close, but I strongly believe that The Hall is sacred ground, and should be treated as such. Not easy for the voters, but if there’s a shadow of a doubt, don’t vote for the guy.
And a few thoughts on forgotten NBA heroes to wrap up this meandering Sunday ramble:
*Has a point guard ever had a more dominant year than Nate “Tiny” Archibald did in 1972-73? Tiny averaged 46 minutes a game back in the ’72-73 campaign, and when you check his stats you can see why he never came out. In just his third year in the league, he put up 34 points a game and 11.4 assists, leading the league in both categories. And he did it playing in relative anonymity for the K.C. Kings. No surprise that the burden of carrying the nomadic franchise on his back all year took it’s toll and he got hurt the following season. He never approached those mind-blowing stats again, but for one year…man!
*Speaking of relative anonymity, how about Bob McAdoo filling it up for the Buffalo Braves? Starting in his second year in the league (1973-74), McAdoo led the NBA in scoring three years running with 30.6, 34.5 and 31.1 ppg. Ohmygosh! And he rebounded, too, pulling down 15.1, 14.1 and 12.4 boards in those same three campaigns (he actually was league MVP in 1974-75, so I suppose some folks were paying attention). Yet when we think of the dominant NBA big men of the 1970’s, McAdoo rarely gets a mention.
*Another unsung stat-machine of the NBA back in the ’70’s was Spencer Haywood. Talk about anonymity, this guy was Shawn Kemp before Shawn Kemp was born, playing for the Sonics up in the Great Northwest. In 1971-72, Haywood went for 26.2 points and 12.7 boards, and then in 1972-73 posted 29.2 and 12.9. And if that’s not impressive enough, take a look at what he did in his lone year in the ABA. In 1969-70, Haywood played all 84 ABA games, logging a hefty 45.3 minutes a game. And he scored 30 a game, along with 19.5 rebounds. All this in his rookie year. AT AGE 20! He was the ABA MVP, Rookie of the Year and MVP of the All-Star Game, leading an otherwise unremarkable Denver squad to a 51-33 season. Despite all these incredible statistics, though, what always stood out to me about Haywood was the fact that his hands were so large that each finger boasted an extra knuckle (look closely above).
*In the interest of full disclosure, I suppose I must note that the aforementioned McAdoo and Haywood both eventually took their talents to the New York Knickerbockers, where they were unable to recapture the dominant performances of their earlier years. We’ve been doing this a loooong time in New York City, folks. The names may change, but the pattern is unmistakeable.
*Last but not least, a final shout out to Don “Slick” Watts. As a kid, was there anyone cooler (outside Clyde Frazier, who was in a class of his own when it came to cool) than Slick Watts of the Seattle Supersonics? With that green headband tilted across his shiny, bald head, and his big smile and lightning quick hands, this guy was BAD ASS. And he posted some stats, too. He led the league in steals with 3.2 per game, and assists with 8.1 in 1975-76, while also chipping in with 13 points a night. The following year he put up 13 and 8 once again, while swiping 2.7 per contest. The Sonics traded him the following season and he never got back to that premier performance level he had once shown in Seattle, but what a memorable part of the league he was during those two campaigns.
That’s it for now. Let’s hope the Rockets sign ‘Melo this week and provide me some new offseason NBA material before the NFL comes front and center. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday everyone!