So are the kids really alright? Can the double shot brain trust of Head Coach Eric Mangini (aged 35) and first-time General Manager Mike Tannenbaum (aged 36) really follow the New England Patriots model and elevate this long-suffering franchise to a Super Bowl title sometime before the onset of the pandemic and global ruin? This key question at Jets training camp is amongst the most intriguing league-wide.
Mangini, formerly protégé and now division rival to the notoriously sour Pats coach Bill Belichick, is said to be running a demanding training camp replete with emphasis on maximum-speed hitting and lengthy, full-pad practices. All of this has left veterans accustomed to previous coach Herm Edwards light workload in a predictably ill humor. Taking a page from Belichick's book, Mangini has also been largely terse and uncooperative with the media, leaving little doubt that if it is in fact the drone-like blankness of his persona which is responsible for Belichick's overwhelming success, then the young coach is well on the way to following in his mentor's footsteps.
Mangini will not be under much pressure to win in the immediate term— certainly not in his first year and probably not in his second either— but the current offseason does pose a pivotal decision at the quarterback position, which could very likely dictate the ultimate outcome of his tenure. What has been assembled for him to choose from at the position could be charitably termed a “mixed bag,” and not even the most seasoned analyst can quite comprehend what those contents amount to.
Despite every effort by the organization to surmount this circumstance, most early returns appear to suggest that the Jets’ Opening Day starter will once again be six-year veteran Chad Pennington, a young man in an old man's body, who throughout the course of his career has combated repeated shoulder injuries in addition to a freakish wrist fracture suffered in the 2003 pre-season. Conventional wisdom holds that the fiery Pennington came back too early from a previous shoulder surgery in order to claim the job as starter last year, a theory buttressed by his diminished arm strength and accuracy prior to the season ending re-injury of the same shoulder experienced during a Week Three loss to Jacksonville. I personally have always thought of the former first-round pick from Marshall as a bit of a weirdo — his impromptu tirade against the New York media a couple years back struck me as the behavior of a man courting serious imbalance — but the ever-present fact of his toughness and moxie remains difficult to dispute. Pennington's preparation and familiarity with the offense throughout the early portions of camp have apparently elevated him to first on the depth chart even as there appears to be a widespread awareness that he has virtually no chance of finishing the season. Even following the first pre-season game, insiders had begun to intimate that damage to his shoulder had already occurred. Pennington is one in a long line of gifted and determined athletes who appear fated to a destiny that is less than they deserve.
Second stringer Patrick Ramsey has endured a career trajectory perhaps even more tortured than that of Pennington, beginning with his Dickensian "tutelage" at the hands of erstwhile "Old Ball Coach" Steve Spurrier after being drafted late in the first round of the 2002 draft by the Washington Redskins. Spurrier, who came to the NFL from the University of Florida with a sideshow barker's flamboyance and a famed reputation as an offensive innovator, was so rapidly exposed as an asinine fraud by sophisticated pro defenses that by the middle portion of the first of two catastrophic seasons as head coach he had already gotten a series of veteran quarterbacks injured, leaving an inexperienced, unprepared and all too courageous Ramsey in the crossfire. The ensuing abuse was viscerally unpleasant to behold. Spurrier's alleged 'system' ultimately proved to be something along the lines of the sort of offense employed in three-on-three street football. Every time the opposing defense called 'blitz' they were allowed an unimpeded path to the quarterback. Predictably unsparing in their brutality, teams called 'blitz' on every down and streamed through the collapsing pocket like Mongol hordes. So unprecedented was the blithe absence of pass protection that following a particularly vicious 2003 pounding administered by the Dallas Cowboys in which Ramsey was knocked from the game with internal injuries, no less a humanitarian than former Jets and current Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells was moved to express concern for Ramsey's future well-being. Ramsey shares Pennington's bravado (though not his modicum of self-preserving mobility) and endured the senseless savaging with as great a degree of strong-armed fortitude as could be expected from any young player thrust into Spurrier's Kafkan gridiron death device. Still, following two years of this rampant ugliness, league-wide sentiment seemed to settle on the notion that Spurrier had ruined the young quarterback, psychologically as much as physically. He appears congenitally uneasy in the pocket, and that is frankly understandable.
Whichever quarterback eventually ends up making the bulk of the starts this coming season will likely only end up holding the job temporarily for highly regarded rookie Kellen Clemons out of Oregon. Nevertheless, it will be telling to see how much mileage Mangini is ultimately able to get out of his two young/old veterans. If he is able to field a consistently competitive team with either of these two at the helm we may well be looking at Belichick Jr. after all.
Yankees Throttled Red Sox/PGA Recap
Tuesday morning commenced with a distraught-sounding phone call from the writer Owen King, who had spent the weekend watching, in a state of quietly escalating distress, the wretched spectacle of the Yankees demolishing the Red Sox in five straight games at Fenway. The rout all but ended the anticipated late summer race for AL East supremacy, heavily rattling Owen, as hopeful and committed a BoSox-phile as you’re likely to encounter. It must be added, in all candor, that Owen has not quite been himself since returning from his recent book tour for the paperback edition of his story collection We're All In This Together. I had heard only the faintest inklings of what befell him during this trip: apparently an early trauma had occurred when he was roundly heckled by a caustic baker in Flagstaff, and bad vibes had lingered. Anyway, from the outset of the phone call, it was quite apparent something was amiss. For one thing, he was speaking entirely in dialog from The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. He referred to himself several times as "Dobbsy" and, mumbling to the point of incoherence, demanded the safe return of his gold. I elected to humor him rather than run the risk of triggering an episode of his seismic rage — anyone who knows Owen will tell you that 99.9% of the time you could not keep company with a more genial character, but on that rare occasion when you find yourself on the business end of his righteous fury the impact can be alarming. I agreed to meet him to discuss his feelings of disappointment over the Red Sox in a central Brooklyn watering hole. Owen had been in Florida, and achieved a good tan. Attempting to lift his spirits I told him that he appeared nearly indistinguishable from a bronze bust of Ajax, and though he thanked me, the uneasiness in his voice remained unmistakable.
Everybody knows that the Yankees are a profoundly sinister and amoral operation, a veritable sporting-world equivalent to the military-industrial complex, throwing money around indiscriminately, and excelling neither through strategy nor dint of will, but merely owing to their willingness and capacity to exploit the inferior resources of their enemies. I believe Yankees fans know this most of all, which goes some way to explaining this season's ongoing, self-hating hometown pillory of Alex Rodriguez, a player of legendary ability and achievement who is nevertheless the symbol and embodiment of the grotesque excesses of this bloated American disgrace. One doesn't have to like the Boston Red Sox in order to understand what a full-fledged calamity their ignoble capitulation this past weekend was. Now instead of merely suspecting it was coming, it is a bedrock certainty that we will all be forced to tolerate the sight of Randy Johnson pulling hideous gargoyle faces all the way into October, grimacing each time his 42-year-old arm fails to illicit the sort of grim reaper dread a high and tight fastball from “The Big Unit” did a decade ago. Gary Sheffield will doubtless make it back in time to plod gloomily around the premises, taking the occasional swipe at a mouthy fan, and Derek Jeter's car commercial, the one in which he playfully reveals to a visitor his ethically unacceptable fleet of several hundred vehicles (one warily presumes this is a dramatic device) will air in sadistic heavy rotation, night after night, for each of the next several weeks.
Given their shared prominence in the constellation of American sports icons, what is it exactly about the Yankees that makes them seem so crass and unlikable, while Tiger Woods seems with each passing year to be aging into legend with the subtle grace of vintage brandy? For all of their cross-cultural transcendence and household name currency, Woods and the Yankees could scarcely cut a more dissimilar swath through the sporting landscape. To me, Woods projects all of the Yankees’ pleasing sense of certitude and historic grandeur, minus the air of entitlement, the ostentatious corner cutting, and the frequent flair for coming up smallest in big situations. There is very little of unsaid consequence I can imagine adding to the well-earned festoon of eloquent plaudits directed at him following his recent triumphs at the British Open and PGA Championship. As I witnessed Woods depart from a crowded leaderboard early in his final round Sunday — routinely, as though late for a meeting — I attempted with difficulty to wrap my mind around the meaning and magnitude of his achievements. Several days later I continue to find myself wanting for words to describe my esteem for the intelligence, creativity, shot-making ability and mental toughness of his near flawless game. It seems it's all been said already with respect to this dignified and elegant champion, and with seven more major victories still to go before he fulfills his mythic destiny and passes Jack Nicklaus' once unfathomable total of eighteen, I often ponder what new pinnacles of creativity will need to be arrived at in order to praise him appropriately on the occasion of this colossal achievement. The task looms daunting on the distant horizon, and will no doubt tax even the finest commentators working, but rest assured that the pleasure, the privilege, is ours.