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Friday, September 12, 2003
J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, *%#@!?

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

As Jet quarterbacks go, Joe Namath is looking better all the time -- hard to do for an ex-NFL vet pushing 60. By age 60, NFL vets often are pushing up something else. Like daisies.

But compared to shaky Vinny Testaverde and some other QBs, Joe Willie's still the Man. Mentally, I'm saying. If Vin keeps playing like that, Herm Edwards will be tempted to suit Joe up.

Especially if Joe keeps referencing Playmakers.

Joe Namath
The Jets might be wise to bring back Joe Namath as Chad Pennington's replacement.
No, not those "Playmakers."

"Santana Moss is a playmaker!" Joe Willie pled, outside the Jets locker room after he got all huggy-bearish with Road Dog, who was sporting an authentic Namath green throwback No. 12.

"Let Vin drop seven (steps) and throw it down the field some time!" said Namath. "Give Santana a chance to make a play!"

Joe is great to talk ball with. We took in the Jets' opener last Thursday night at FedEx, against the Washington Skinned Buffalo Humps. The Skinned Buff Humps were solid favorites, at least in my mind, because they'd signed four starters off the Jets' very nice playoff squad from last year -- Coles, Thomas, Hall and Morton.

The Skinned Humps were also at home, etc. Yet they still escaped only by the skin of their humps, and by one horrible third-down execution on the Jets' part. Third-and-one, their side of midfield, two minutes left, the Jets ran a counter play, replete with pulling guards and run-blitz defenders gleefully shooting the gaps they'd abandoned. Plus, Vinny turned the wrong way. No, that particular play might not be the answer.

I'd been sizing up TE Becht along the sideline all night for the right moment as I was predicting Steve Spurrier's and Paul Hackett's play sequences, and hitting about .700 doing it, more like .800 on third downs, impressing the hell out of Dog and a few of the Jets' roadies, though they didn't let on. I didn't need them to let on. I know what I know, and I know what I know is never enough. They kept coming back to me anyway.

"That last third-down shot, we called TE option route to Becht," I said. "Would've been better."

Dog said, "Couldn't they just knock 'em off the ball?" (The Jets had done just that near the goal line earlier -- Vinny had pleaded with them to. He might as well have said. "Don't put it on my back -- it's old and achy-breaky." They drove-blocked it and Lamont Jordan scored).

"Not if they bring nine and you block eight," I said.

"It's not the same, third-and-1 from midfield, as third-and-2 at their 2," Namath agreed.

"You just gotta execute the play," Solid Herm Edwards said while grabbing his belongings in the locker room. "The game was there to be won."

Solid Herm agreed with Joe, they should've taken some shots down the field toward Moss. I got the impression that such plays had been called, or suggested, but something was lost in the red mist between Vinny and Paul Hackett. Vinny had missed Moss deep in the first half on their only serious downfield try. But he did walk off the field under his own power. To Vin, that's a win.

Santana Moss
Santana Moss is a playmaker, and the Jets need to get him the ball.
The Skinned Buffalo Humps had lined up Champ Bailey against Santana, mostly, Sanny being the Jets' only stretch threat. Chrebet is a nice little quiet possession guy (as opposed to Key, a nice big talkative possession guy); but when the Jets do anything, it'll be Moss who opens it up underneath for Curtis Martin, Jordan and that Big Boy Becht. Vin had Sanny streaking up the right hash, shaving to the post, second quarter. Took a quarter-and-a-half for Moss and Hackett to set up Champie for that piece, but Vinny's 40-year-old, long windup release won't do in today's NFL. (Neither will fear, so close to the surface.) You've got to let that ball go. If you drop back and pat that ball once -- it's too late. Too fast out there now for a 40-year-old, self-doubting fossil to sit back and pat the ball first. You nuts? Ain't got time when a player like Moss is going deep and a player like Bailey is on his tail like the latest MIG. You've got to throw deep almost before Moss comes out of his break. Not to mention the pass rush is fleeter and more bestial than ever. We are going to discuss QBs today, but let this be said: It ain't easy. Not that it ever was, but it's very hard back there now.

So Vin patted the seed once. Elway could do it, but he patted the ball once -- one pat only -- before his receivers came out of their break. Now they've gotten faster. Vin patted it after Santana came out of his break; so by the time Vin got around to actually throwing the seed, it was too late. Santana ran out of field and end zone after starting from the Skins' 40; he'd had a step-and-a-half on them if Vin let it go on time. After the pat, a single pat by Vin, Bailey and an eminently-burnable safety named Ifeanyi Ohalete (rhymes with "If He Hollers, Over The Side With Him") recovered, Iffy making a play on the ball. Santana had to wait on it like it was the midnight D train.

Later, the Jets tried a slip-screen on a big third down with Santana, who cut back and reversed field; all between him and success in this maneuver was LaVar Arrington. Obstacle enough. Got drug.

R-Dub: "Anybody else, Santana outruns him ..."

Subdued Herm Edwards: "Absolutely ..."

Moss had a punt return of 28 yards. That's about it. He should get 10 or 12 touches every game. Jets fans will immediately lay siege to Paul Hackett in the upstairs box, but actually it's Vinny who's making pained faces, going "Geez," when Hackett sends in deep drop plays. "I don't want to run that," Vinny's body language says. Can't be judgmental, though, not unless we've stood in and felt the head-rattling, bone-breaking wrath of the NFL blitzkrieg.

Let's just say a 40-year-old QB in the NFL can definitely feel his mortality out there. Hell, Mike Vick can feel his, so you know ...

Should the Jets have gotten Brunell after Pennington was injured, while the getting was good? I think so, but it's not my $6.5 million, as the pointed look on Woody Johnson's face made clear.

Can Vinny still get the ball in there? I think so, with max protect. But you can't always be in max protect; sometimes you have to go empty. In Vinny's mind, he's trying to survive, unless you think surgeries, rehab and concussions are good times. Nobody was more immobile at the end than Namath, yet he never quit trying to throw deep down field, as appropriate. As Joe says, those plays must be called, playmakers must be fed. The game must be played right.

That's what I like about Namath. His purity. He saw only the beautiful parameters and geometry of the game. He was a great guy with other guys, a guy's guy, but he knew the game occupied its own space. It's pure.

There's an awful lot of bull being written and said about quarterbacks these days, college and pro. After the University of Miami beat the University of Florida the other night, for some reason there was this instant canonization of one Brock Berlin. "It's his team now!" and all that stuff. Yeah? I remember when the Rams were Kurt Warner's team now, and I think Warner did a bit more than lead a superior team to one collegiate win. I'm sure Brock Berlin is a sweet kid. For the NFL, I don't see it. I see a glorified Gino Toretta, maybe. Maybe a Steve Walsh.

Vinny Testaverde
Vinny Testaverde's better days are definitely behind him.
So just for the hell of it, to check Namath out, after the Jets' loss (not that bad of a loss, only by three on the road; wasn't like they'd been physically whipped, outschemed, or outsped), I asked Joe if he was happy with Chad Pennington's year, last year. Joe seemed a little impatient with me just then, for the first and only time.

"I don't live in the past," Joe said simply.

I looked at him differently after that. Joe is not overly tall, but he was a super athlete in Beaver Falls, Pa., disinclined toward the books or the SAT. Kind of ... just like today's super athletes. But Namath was cunning, and his secret was in his hands. Like Pedro Martinez, his long fingers meant total ball control -- he could throw any kind of ball any distance you liked. Lives down in North Palm Beach County now with his two daughters, and says he loves it.

There's a lot of argument, a lot of revisionist history about what kind of Cube Joe Namath was. Many out in the hinterlands never cared for his game, being prejudiced against anything New York. Too bad. He threw, as far as my eyes saw, the original Beautiful Ball. But he had something more. He had a sense of the moment, and the kind of courage that comes out of deep knowledge of the purity of the game -- an "I did what I had to do" kind of pre-determinism that makes heroes of us all, just as fatigue makes cowards of us all.

Joe wasn't trying to prop anybody up out there. You do play to win the game. Not to win the game some certain kind of way, with certain chosen heroes. This athletic NFL purity of Namath's, the necessary color-blindness, and his ability to throw that beautiful ball, helped make Joe a real hero who played many heroic games in the Wild, Wild West that was the old AFL.

In Super Bowl III, he threw as needed; that game, not the 1958 Colts-Giants game, was precursor to the modern game in terms of game tactics. Even Spurrier learned: In the NFL, you don't throw to set up the run, or just throw, or just run. You do what the D doesn't expect you to do, or you do what the defense is not set up to defend. Somebody ought to wake up Mike Martz and tell him.

(Frankly, I think Martz has the concussion, not Kurt Warner.)

Joe had all that duende stuff going, too.

Down in the bowels of FedEx Field, as the Buffalo Hump Skins cheerleaders went by, Namath said, smiling, "I hate all of you."

They smiled back, not in that gooey way young Joe was used to, but in that "Wonder who this old coot is -- he must be somebody, if he's back here ... can he help me get on American Idol, uh, duh-ruh" way of today. It was just a small thing, and probably an irrelevant thing for a guy on the other side of 50. But at the same time, that very, very old Italian guy dancing and singing a ribald sex song at Connie Corleone's wedding makes me smile, too.

As for Dog, he has no strong voice in this particular chapter of the Chronicles of No Fool's Land, but he's still observant as hell; and for all forwarded complaints about how he talks, well, I didn't see Woody Johnson having a problem with it, not as he offered Dog a ride back to New York with the team on a chartered Acela train.

I can speak well, and grammatically, yet received no such offer.

Maybe we'll get back to Dog, Namath, Playmakers and Jets later.


Over last weekend, we immersed ourselves in NFL games, like the sick junkies we all are. Give us multiple feeds, a phone, and a fine piece of Swedish furniture into which to sink, we're good to go.

We're all little Alexanders and little Alexanderettes, with our own private worlds to conquer; this is Our League, Our Little War, and we all like to think we know our weapons, our terrain and our generals, and we weep not when the battle is won or lost, but when it is over.

Lawyer Milloy
Lawyer Milloy came back to haunt the Patriots in Week 1.
We could all see Buffalo is the AFC East favorite now that Takeo Spikes is trying to approach the Ray Lewis/LaVar Arrington level, and therefore you'll need rabies shots should he happen to bite you. Buffalo must be answered to, if only because of him.

The Lawyer Milloy Incident, to me, did not rival the Ox-Bow Incident. I mean, it's business, Lawyer, not personal. Plus, who cares? Well, I guess the Patriots and Belly Check do now, eh?

Strange, horrible and wonderful things will happen over the next five months in the dangerous land of the NFL. Write off Dolphins? Hardly. Just be realistic. The Jets' roster is about four starters short. They still have players. If only one of them played quarterback ...

We are calling the NFL "No Fool's Land," even though fools litter its landscape. (Like moi, for one, for picking the Dolphins to show up, much less oppose the fearsome Titans in the AFC title tilt; did it out of ignorance -- from now on, no picks until after the season's first week, so that we might actually KNOW WHAT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT!! -- and also to keep from looking like a homer on the Raidess. Picked Eagles (?) to oppose Bucs in the NFC title game as well, and to persevere once there; would like to change to the New York football Giants, but instead will stand pat. For now.)

Either Dolphins or Jets will go 0-2 and work without a net after this weekend. So that's the game you want to see, the nearest thing to life and death, in the second week already. I was talking to one of my old DB consultants; he'd noticed the difference between a college crowd at full throat, and a pro crowd at full throat. That college crowd, even at its noisiest, sounds civilized somehow. The pro crowd sounds like pounding, roaring lust. They want blood.

The crowd is Rome. Rome is the crowd ...

Overstated? What isn't? It's sports. Cut anything you hear by 50 percent, then cut that by 50 percent; what's left approximates someone's opinion, or something else equally valuable and rare.


Steve McNair
The best QB in the NFL right now? The Titans' Steve McNair.
In the Year of the Dragger, Week 1, Anquan "Bad News" Boldin goes for 10 balls and 217 yards and two touches in his first game with the Cardinals, setting an NFL record. Another rookie Wide Dragger, Charlie Rogers of the Lions, wins the war with Boldin by catching two touches and getting the win in the same game. Both of them adjusted in record time to NFL game warp speed (and so, by the way, did Michael Irvin -- the man's observations have been so dead right on). Boldin was amazing at Florida State. He can also play quarterback when the situation dictates.

The Titans' Tyrone Calico was early out of the blocks as well, catching a touchdown pass, running through an old-school arm-wrap tackle by Rod Woodson like it wasn't there, then inducing Charles Woodson, the real Slim Woody, into a critical and correct pass interference call up the right sideline in the fourth quarter of the Titans' win over the Raidess. (Two very good football armies on display, right there.) Turns out Calico wasn't supposed to be in the game on the touchdown, and ran the wrong pattern on top of that! McNair adjusted. So you mean to tell me, with Mason, Calico, McCareins, Bennett, Shad Meier and Wycheck (no tread left on that tire, though), Steve McNair has weapons, and is healthy? Then, as far as the AFC is concerned, school's pretty much out.

At this moment, McNair is the best QB in ball, and I'm thinking he's the best I've seen since the Standard Known As John Elway. It's like Joe Willie said. You've got to live in the now. Actually, you don't have to; in my experience, most people prefer not to, so you may differ in your opinion here. Just be considerate and flush afterwards. Remember: A lot can happen in five months.

(Editor's Note: The Chronicles of No Fool's Land is a bi-monthly NFL column, alternating with NFL Uncensored Thought Balloons. The editorial staff of Page 2 is not responsible for its contents.)

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."