By Jason Keidel
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This may be hard to recall, but just twelve months ago Mark Sanchez was the darling of New York City.
Fresh off two trips to the AFC title game, he was the new Golden Boy, with the requisite looks, age, and address. Eli Manning hadn't sniffed the Super Bowl since 2007, and there was no one picking the Giants to leapfrog the vaunted "Dream Team" in Philadelphia.
Amazing what happens in a few months. Sanchez bombed, with more than a little help from his friends. Eli switched places with his brother as best QB in the family (even if ephemeral) and the Giants are geared up for another jagged run to a stellar season: a 9-7 record in December, bizarre boost in January, and a Lombardi Trophy in February.
Aside from the surreal spate of injuries caused by their dorm beds, which are about as comfy as coffins, the Giants have no drama. There have been hamstrung by injuries, like any team, including the blood clot suffered by Shaun Rogers. But there's no reason to believe the Giants won't play deep into the season, with the cold wind of the Meadowlands swirling, spurts of chilled breath puffing from fans, flasks pulled, tilted, and tucked back into breast pockets and 82,566 buttocks worth of anonymity and unanimity behind Big Blue.
And make no mistake, Eli Manning is now officially minted, anointed, stamped, and crowned as one of the five best quarterbacks in football, if not in the top three. Joe told Evan that if he needed a score with two minutes left in the game he'd want Eli calling the snaps and the shots. I never thought I'd say this, but I concur. Just twelve months ago, there was actually a debate about which NY/NJ QB had the brighter future. Then came last year. Then came Tebow, who has gelded Sanchez into eternal insecurity, soon to be shaken and stirred out of a job and shoved out of the limelight.
Amazing how two teams can play the same sport, same league, and same resources – hell, even play in the same building – and be so vividly different in status, in stardom, in Super Bowls.
Now we have Tebow, the most popular backup in the history of team sports, panting down Sanchez's neck. Everyone knows that "Sanchise" was just a handle, that deep under the high cheekbones and movie star looks is an insecure quarterback who doesn't need a cult hero with no fear, 20-inch guns and God on speed dial waiting for him to screw up. And he will, not because he's a bad guy or bad player; but because he's human. And the more we see a shirtless Tebow jogging in slow-mo to "Chariots of Fire" strains, he will be more embellished than ever, somehow obscuring his 48 percent completion rate.
And what better microcosm, an axis through which the two teams crossed, in entirely different directions, than their battle in the Meadowlands last year? Trophies were covered. Trash was talked. And Victor Cruz caught an innocuous pass in the flat, juked two Jets, and dashed down the sideline, forever framing the contrast between the franchises. And few fans in any city have suffered like the Jets/Mets hybrid heartache since 1969. Just 1986 in 86 combined years, just one ring between them.
Doesn't it seem like every year we're regurgitating the same narrative? Giants get down to business, with their typically quiet, corporate cadence. The Jets, like the Mets, find their thrills outside the chalk with talk and tumult, fights busting out every hour while Rex Ryan tries to unearth an identity for his squad.
After the first flailing, wobbling duck Sanchez chucks into the tornadic Meadowlands wind, landing in an opponent's gloves, a chorus will grow in the stands, like the prisoners in "Dark Knight Rises" imploring Christian Bale to climb the cone of light to freedom. And over his shoulder, on the sideline, will be Tebow: kneeling next to his helmet, fist on forehead, guns glistening, halo growing, while he prays for his opportunity before his growing congregation, his flock of liquored up fans.
All of this would be fair if the Jets didn't insist that Sanchez was their short, long, and eternal solution at QB. They even gave guilt money to No. 6, signing him to an extension after trading for Tebow, a classic sign of contrition.
The tabloid tenor of the Jets, from the owner to the coach to the quarterbacks, is so pronounced, swathed in so many conflicting impulses, that you honestly wonder if there's a hex or a hoax around the team. The owner wants stars on the field. The hefty, haughty coach is a star off the field. And the GM just wants to win. See any problems there?
Antonio Cromartie, a talented player of dubious character (See: soft), tells the media that he's the second-best receiver on the team. His punishment? He gets a shot to play wide receiver! You can't make this up. Tebow has gone from pocket passer to wildcat coordinator to special teams savant to…
Tebow has been designated for every position on the field except cheerleader. And no doubt he'd tell us all how grateful he is to have his blessed biceps shaking pompoms along the sideline. "Anything I can do to contribute. God Bless…"
Quite fitting that these teams reside a few miles west of Broadway. Andrew Lloyd Webber couldn't have penned this perilous theater the Jets suffer. They are named after New York, live in New Jersey, and play like they're from Mars. And we will watch every wretched moment of what's sure to be a bad but soap operatic season for Gang Green.
Feel free to email me: Keidel.Jason@gmail.com
Are the Jets a football team or more like a bad soap opera? Let Jason know in the comments below!
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