Saturday, November 13, 2010

One Man's Trash ... Is a Cleveland Coach

Cleaning out my car is not a regular activity. This is partially because I don't use the car to commute. I'm swiping Metrocards to get to and fro my workplace. I really don't do much of anything in the car besides weekend trips to the grocery store, liquor store and Target. Some weeks I only start her up in order to move across the street to avoid tickets. And then back. This sporadic use keeps too many coffee cups or food wrappers from accumulating, but if some piece of trash does find a good nook, say anywhere in the back seat then it might be there for a while, like several NFL seasons.

Feeling automotively inclined this morning, I renewed my drivers license, which had expired in August. I then got an overdue oil change (but turned down the recommended engine flush). After that I didn't go all out and replace my stolen spare tire or the blown fuse that disabled the windshield wipers, but I did clean out random stuff in the trunk and empty out the pockets on the backs of the front seats. And, what a blast from the past was in those two stretched leather time capsules. In one pocket there were assorted gas station maps from states this vehicle has never entered and two ticket stubs from a terrible concert that I went to with a girl that I haven't even spoken to in years. In the other there was a half-used, wind-up disposable camera from an age before digital cameras and a dog-eared copy of Grays Sports Alamanc 1950–2000.

There was also a game day program from the Jets-Pats game played on Sept. 17, 2006. The cover featured an artist's rendering of former Jets head coach Eric Mangini. With Rex Ryan's Jets visiting Mangini in Cleveland tomorrow the timing of this find seemed quite fortuitous. Or coincidental. Or, perhaps, just a sign I need to clean out the whip at least as frequently as every presidential election.

That Jets-Pats game was the home opener in Mangini's maiden campaign as HC of NYJ. His Jets were 1-0 when his mentor Bill Belichick brought the Patriots to the swamps of Jersey. The sun was shining for the 1 o'clock start. Probably too much. It was one of those 80 degree autmumn days that makes you think polar bears need to be stronger swimmers. It would be an understatement to say that my girlfriend, who doesn't handle her pooridge temperatures too hot or too cold was not enjoying herself before the game in the parking lot.

The Jets, running a no-huddle offense, fell behind 7-0 early but were holding the Pats close when they let the visitors get their typical hammer score just before the half. For me, their is nothing more emblematic of the Patriots' run of AFC East dominance (which is hopefully coming to a close) than that score with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter (it feels like it was usually 13-yard pass to a tight end of wide receiver running a crossing pattern across the back of the endzone) change the complexion of a previously close game just before the intermission. On this sweltering afternoon, it was Chad Jackson that caught the score.

The Pats led 17-0 at the half and went up 24-0 in the third quarter. But, to his credit, Mangini got the Jets to roar back into the game. Both Jerricho Cotchery and Lavernius Coles made tough scoring grabs on balls from Chad Pennington to help get Gang Green back into the game. Cotchery's catch in particular was breathtaking, probably the first glimpse that we all got his focus and strength. He caught the ball with a defender draped over him, seemed to be tackled after reeling it in. But somehow, he managed to keep his knees or elbows from touching the ground and then wheeled off and broke for the endzone. All told, the play went 71 yards.

Although the Jets' comeback bid would fall short, Mangini would orchestrate a gritty, muddy win at New England late in the season en route to a Wild Card berth. Not bad for a chubby-cheeked rookie coach. At that point, I wouldn't have been surprised to learn that the the 2010 AFC Championship Game was in the cards, but I'd have been shocked to learn it wouldn't be the Mangenius leading the way.

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