America's Team?

Alan Grant
National Football Post

When asked if he would prefer a Mitt Romney win to a Jets winning season, Jets owner Woody Johnsons says he hopes Romney wins because of future generations. “I think it's very, very important that for — not only us — but in particular for our kids and grandkids,” said Johnson, “that this election come off with Mitt Romney and Ryan as president and vice president.”

Man, the political parallels are just too delicious to ignore.

Johnson’s team is in dire straits and the ongoing discussion is about its leadership. At present they are led by a charismatic young man of ethnic heritage who has gained enviable favor with the Hollywood elite. But even though common wisdom knows this once immensely popular young man cannot do it by himself, and is hardly to blame for all of its many ills, there’s constant murmuring to replace him with just about anyone else.

Sports fans and politicos are one in the same these days. Just change quarterbacks and all your problems are instantly solved, right?

The would be successor? He’s a young man whose claims to fame are a limited skill set, a squeaky clean image, and a preternaturally upbeat response to anything negative uttered about said squeaky clean image. Should he actually take over there seems to be no real plan in place, and any significant improvement wouldn’t materialize anytime soon, if at all.

But the politico/sports fans cry in unison: "It happened with America’s Team! No, not the Cowboys, the Patriots. Drew Bledsoe went down, Tom Brady came in and boom: Dynasty!"

Problem is there’s only one Tom Brady. Tim Tebow is not Tom Brady. And the 2012 Jets are not the 2001 Patriots. Nor are they America’s team. They’re Woody Johnson’s team.

Now that Johnson has proclaimed his priorities within a sporting context, I’ll do the same. I love football. I love football because of the part that isn’t like "real life." On the field you’re part of a united front. You never had to worry about political divisions, or the corrosive socio-economic subtext that goes along with it.

US PRESSWIREThe Jets' problems are bigger than Sanchez and Tebow.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I remember a long snapper for the Redskins who liked to stir things up by citing views from the conservative handbook. There were all these platitudes about wealth, and poverty, and such. Once the television set in the training room was tuned to the Jerry Springer Show which prompted this guy to ask his black teammates if we were ashamed to see black women (whom he called our “sisters”) behaving in such a poor manner. I think he did this to make himself seem interesting. Either that or he was bored. So we just ignored him.

But other than that, the locker room, the field, the bus, the plane, or any other team gathering place was free from division. There were differences, of course. But those differences weren’t debilitating. Our shared cause was winning a game each week. Nothing could interfere with that. And because of that shared struggle, you could form lasting friendships with people who were nothing like you, whose life experience was nothing like yours.

At times like these, I’m always moved to reference the book North Dallas Forty. Pete Gent, the former Dallas Cowboys player who penned the book, captured just about every essence of the inner workings of the NFL. In the tricky business of art’s imitation of life, Gent’s effort was astonishing. The movie version is just as effective.

In the movie’s final scene, Phil Elliott, the troubled receiver whose introspective nature and good sense make him an outsider, is called into the owner’s office for a meeting.

The general manger doesn’t like Elliott and because of that the head coach doesn’t like him either. The coach says to Elliott, “it’s about the team,” to which Elliott replies “We’re not the team.” Then, pointing to the owner and general manager, Elliot screams “They’re the team! We’re the equipment!”

Anyone who has ever played knows there’s some truth to this, though you dare not give it utterance. The healthy thing to do is to just embrace the group that’s in the locker room. Those guys are your team. Those who inhabit the front office are the suits, the over seers, or perhaps even future business partners—however your perspective shapes them.

Johnson’s proclamation seems oddly timed, given his team’s turmoil. But it’s not odd. He’s fabulously wealthy and the fabulously wealthy exist on a different plane, where there are no consequences or repercussions. Family wealth is an incurable condition.

People will wonder how Mr. Johnson’s comments will affect the Jets performance. I doubt that they will. The Jets’ issues are so many that the only way to alter their state is through a bye week. They need time to re-evaluate things without the weight of a game.

Perhaps in that time they’ll reach the conclusion that Mark Sanchez hasn’t forgotten how to play quarterback. Perhaps it will occur to them that he’s the same guy who led them to consecutive championship game appearances in his first two years and what he most needs is a one solid group of offensive linemen and a consistent group of receivers who’ll run disciplined routes.

Or perhaps they’ll conclude that Tim Tebow can indeed provide the proverbial “spark.” Sparks are nice. They're shiny.

But a spark is a temporary thing, a fleeting occurrence. Tebow’s appearance against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week two—a quarterback draw for 22 yards, was just that. For a moment there was a buzz, hell, there was even hope. Then the Steelers defense returned to the business of wrecking the flow.

Perhaps during the bye week, Rex Ryan, Tony Sparano and the gang can rebrand their offense, so that they get more than a momentary burst. They can use Tebow exclusively in “heavy” personnel, with two tight end sets. They can become a power team. But the Jets aren’t really built for that. Besides, that ultra conservative model only works for a team with a truly dominant defense. As you know the Jets just lost their best defensive player in Darrelle Revis.

But hey, who knows? The power game might prove to be an immediate solution, though I’m not sure how much fun it will be to watch.

Lucky for us we can choose not to.

It’s Woody Johnson’s team. Not ours.

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