My older brother, the eldest in a clan of nine siblings, trundled off to college when I was still in elementary school. It seemed like such an exotic and foreign place at the time. My father had passed away a month before I and my twin brother were born, and we did not keep close ties to his side of the family. On my mother’s side my older brother was the first to ever go to college. He left our home when I was so young I have few childhood memories of him. One that sticks out involves the time my brother returned to the nest for the first time.
My brother returned home on Thanksgiving break, with the typical mountain of laundry in tow. He had been talented and fortunate enough to secure a place in one of our finer institutions of higher learning in the Northeast. He hated the cold and snow, so much so that he transferred to a much warmer environment in his sophomore year. One apocryphal story he liked to tell years later was how in the winters he endured that first year of college he would walk to class in the cold, spit, and have it hit the ground as an icicle. But he loved the college itself, and he was particularly amused by a quirky cheer heard at college sporting events. Now, most college cheers aren’t exactly Shakespeare, and if we take the time to dissect them they are all a bit laughable. But this one was different for its sheer, glorious wonkiness. My brother couldn’t stop laughing as he related to me and my siblings the ultimate sports cheer, which the student body would unleash with fury against the opponent at every major sporting event: “Harass them! Harass them! Make them relinquish the ball!” Now that’s something you don’t hear at a National Championship Game.
For reasons unknown that story, one of dozens my brother regaled us with that first year of college, is one of the only ones that stuck over the ensuing decades. It made me laugh. It made my brother laugh. It made all my siblings laugh. And in shared laughter a bond was formed and a quirky family legacy was created.
Nearly 50 years later my football team of those long lost days, and all the days since, the New York Jets, have been doing some harassing of their own. The 2017 Jets defense has forced 12 turnovers in the last five games. This Jets defense in just nine games has already surpassed the full season turnover totals of three of the prior four Jets team, with only the 2015 team surpassing the current figure of 16 turnovers. In addition, this Jets defense currently has the 5th best defensive turnover % (percentage of drives ended by a turnover) in the NFL. Only two Jets teams since that metric was first tracked by Pro Football Reference in 1999 have finished a season as high as 5th in the NFL in defensive turnover %.
Turnovers are quirky things. Sometimes they come in bunches, then just dry up inexplicably. Counting on generating a lot of turnovers to win games is not the soundest path to victory, but with an offensively challenged team like the Jets it is perhaps the best path available. If the Jets can manage to sustain their high rate of turnovers the rest of the season they just might become playoff contenders. And in that unlikely event, perhaps we can all share a Smackdad family tradition and unite as one in a rousing chant of Harass them! Harass them! Make them relinquish the ball!