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The New York Jets: Putting the foot back into football

Putting the foot back into football

My friends, let me tell you a story. This story is loosely inspired by actual fake historical events, and some fake actual events which, while they may not have ever transpired, probably should have. Real facts are sprinkled in to keep the reader on their toes. Names have not been changed. Everyone in this story actually had a name. Soon to be made into a major motion picture starring an AI version of a fake image of Paul Rudd.

The March 5th, 1936 edition of The Cazenovia Republican newspaper ran an article regarding the total destruction of the historic Gerrit Smith mansion in Peterboro, New York, burned to the ground two days earlier. The article described the great tragedy on page eight, alongside an advertisement placed by Turner’s Market that offered boxes of green peas for 23 cents each and fresh ground beef at 18 cents a pound.

Now Gerrit Smith was kind of a big deal. He was the son of Peter Smith, a slaveholder and misanthropist, a man described by contemporaries as greedy, self-centered, driven by the search for profits, and someone who did not like people who were not like him: white, male, and Dutch. Sounds like a swell guy. Peter was also the largest landowner in New York state.

When Peter’s wife died, Peter fell into a deep depression and withdrew from the world, handing over his estate to his son Gerrit. Gerrit became the richest man in New York. At one point he owned more than 750,000 acres, more than the entire state of Rhode Island. Which, weirdly, is not actually an island. Who knew?

With his considerable riches Gerrit built the Mansion that later burned down and merited page 8 coverage in the local rag, right next to the ad for peas.

Gerrit, in tribute to his beloved father’s bedrock values, followed in his slaveholder dad’s footsteps by becoming one of the most prominent abolitionists of his time. Freedom seekers, as well as the poor in general, found refuge at the Mansion. Eyewitnesses tell of how escaped slaves were given refuge in the Mansion’s third floor.

Gerrit eventually served as a U.S. congressman and ran for President of the United States in 1848, 1856, 1860 and 1872. It was said of his candidacies “It must be admitted that few men in this country have ever been a candidate for high office so many times and polled so few votes.”

Gerrit was a member of the Secret Six, a group of Northern abolitionists who supported John Brown in his failed attempt to capture the armory at Harper’s Ferry. When that whole thing went South, Jefferson Davis unsuccessfully attempted to have Smith hanged alongside Brown. You can imagine the effects such a thing might have on a man’s mind.

Smith suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized at the New York Lunatic Asylum, where he was treated with marijuana and opiates. Unconfirmed reports say he was soon reluctant to leave, even after he had been “cured.” Imagine that.

Gerrit Smith eventually had children and grandchildren. Among those grandchildren was Gerrit Smith “Gat” Miller.

Gat Miller raised Holstein cattle. Lots and lots of Holstein cattle. In fact, Gat Miller is credited with introducing the black and white cattle to America. Apparently he traveled to the United Kingdom and found he greatly admired their bovine friends. While in the United Kingdom, Miller paid to see a match between a couple of local football teams. Or, as we say in America, soccer teams. Soccer is referred to by the rest of the world as football, or futbol (only crazy Americans waste two perfectly good Os and two perfectly good Ls where one U and one L will clearly suffice).

As everyone knows, legend has it that Miller, after watching the players run up and down the field like crazy for hours without ever scoring, turned to his English host and asked, “What the heck is this game? And why did we pay to see this crazy game where there’s lots of kicking but no scoring?” To which his English host famously replied “Sucker!”

Miller, mistakenly believing that was the name of the game, brought it back to America, and introduced it as “soccer.”

Miller founded the Oneida Soccer Club in 1862. The “Oneida Boys,” as they were called, played their first game on Boston Common.

The next time you visit Boston Common, walk over to Frog Pond. Close by you will see the Oneida Soccer Club Monument. The inscription reads: “On This Field the Oneida Soccer Club of Boston, the First Organized Soccer Club in the United States, Played Against All Comers From 1862 to 1865. The Oneida Goal Was Never Crossed.”

The Oneida goal was never crossed. A fitting inscription for a soccer monument, no?

Well, what does that have to do with the price of tea in China you might ask?

You see, when soccer was imported to America, it quickly mutated. One branch became what the rest of the world called football, which makes sense since there’s lots of kicking but no catching or throwing, unless you’re a goalie or out of bounds, then there’s lots of catching and throwing, but not much kicking. In any case, all that running around and kicking the ball often results in no scoring, in which case the winner of the game might be decided by which team kicked more from the corners of the field, which makes perfect sense when you really think about it.

Another branch evolved into what we call rugby today, which is a game where lots of Aussies all gather in a bunch and butt heads a lot. Very exciting.

Finally, a third branch evolved into American football. Or as all enlightened people call it, football. Football started at Rutgers University on November 6, 1869 when Rutgers hosted Princeton. At that time the forward pass hadn’t been invented yet. Also the ball could not be picked up or carried, hence the name “football.” In a thrilling, high scoring affair, Rutgers beat Princeton in that game, 6-4. Scoring was done by drop kicking and such. Nobody knew how to catch and run yet. These radical innovations came later.

In 1880 a wild innovation hit the sport. It was called the “snap.”

The introduction of the snap resulted in an unexpected consequence. Before the snap, the strategy had been to punt if a scrum resulted in bad field position. However, a group of Princeton players realized that as the snap was uncontested, they could now hold the ball indefinitely to prevent their opponent from scoring. In 1881, in a game between Yale and Princeton, both teams used this strategy to maintain their undefeated records. Each team held the ball, gaining no ground, resulting in a 0–0 tie. One can see here, nearly 150 years ago, the first inklings of the modern Jets offense.

The forward pass was made legal in 1906, and the game would never be the same. A horrifying development, the innovation took the foot out of football.

By 1967 Joe Namath and the Jets were throwing the ball all over the field, to the tune of a record 4007 passing yards. Kicking was an afterthought. It was disgusting. Something had to be done about this.

Well, the Jets ruined the game by taking the foot out of football, they damn well better fix it. And fix it they did. In 2009 the Jets hired Rex Ryan to be the new head coach of the New York Jets. Ryan introduced the “Grunt and Punt” offense, variations of which the Jets run to this day.

The idea of the Grunt and Punt is to take the hands out of the barbarous passing attack and bring the game back to its footy roots. Punt, punt and punt some more, until the other team is worn down by all that punting and gives up a field goal. Kick some field goals, something, something ... win!

Which takes us to the game last night. The Jets, as is their wont, successfully pulled off numerous negative drives. Again and again they marched ever backward. Now negative drives might seem, well, negative. Ah, the naivete of youth.

As art lovers everywhere know, negative drives are like negative space.

Negative space is the space around and between objects. Instead of focusing on drawing the actual object, for a negative space drawing, the focus is on what’s between the objects. For example, if one is drawing a plant, they would draw the space in-between the leaves, not the actual leaves.

Likewise, negative drives focus on what’s between the scoring. They force teams to conceptualize scoring touchdowns in the absence of touchdowns, with which we have no actual familiarity. We may think we know what a touchdown looks like, but in the absence of actual touchdowns, the negative drives force us to conceptualize them in the abstract. Like modern art. The Jets offense, as everyone knows, is a work of art.

Now with all those negative drives the Jets have succeeded in putting the foot back in football. Every drive ends in either a foot punting or a foot kicking. That is, when the drives aren’t ending in feet chasing after the other team following a turnover. Lots of feet in the Grunt and Punt. The Jets are purists, bless their hearts, returning the game to its origins.

Now I happened to be at a Jets game the other day with a friend, and I witnessed this work of art in person. It was breathtaking. All that running around, all that kicking, none of that arbitrary and capricious scoring. Hurray for the foot!

As I witnessed this for several hours, I eventually turned to my friend and asked him “What the heck is this game? And why did we pay to see this crazy game where there’s lots of kicking but no scoring?”

My friend turned to me and said “Sucker!”