By Jason Keidel
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When sports teams are historically woeful, we reach for reasons beyond the field of play, leaping from the physical to the metaphysical. The Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox had their respective curses while the Chicago White Sox paid an 85-year penance for fixing the World Series.
We can't process the idea that a team can pass incompetence like a baton down the decades. You'd think even the worst organizations can back into a title once a generation. Yet we see it happen often enough to realize that bad luck is often a euphemism for bad management.
Here at home, we have the Jets, who haven't even played for a title since Joe Namath flexed his forefinger while trotting out of the Orange Bowl.
Some of that is bad luck. A Curtis Martin fumble here, a Vinny Testaverde Achilles tendon there. The Gastineau Game.
But largely the Jets lose because they are inept. And their particular brand of incompetence happens to be at the most vital position in the sport -- quarterback.
Perhaps the perfect microcosm is Eugene Cyril Smith III. Or, the Geno Smith Project, which is in its final autumn of a four-year horror film. When Smith tore his ACL on Sunday, it surely was a wicked change-up thrown by the football gods. But bad luck often befalls poor performers.
Smith was a surefire first-round pick, until he wasn't. Rumors about a bad attitude were, fittingly enough, backed up by Smith storming out of Radio City Music Hall after he wasn't plucked in the first round, vowing to fly back to West Virginia in the wake of this blatant disrespect.
So, of course, only the Jets saw this in amorous hues. While NFL clubs were sprinting away from Smith, the Jets lit candles, hoarded roses, and speed-dialed his cellphone in the second round.
Where better would a short-fused QB fit than America's media vortex? Just add one more tomb to the graveyard of quarterbacks that started in Queens and has since relocated, quite appropriately, to the swamps of northern New Jersey, where the mob buried bodies and Gang Green buried Browning Nagle.
In fairness, Smith managed an 8-8 record in his rookie season with arguably the worst supporting cast in the sport. To call the Jets' offense at that time offensive is an understatement. When your best wideout is Jeremy Kerley and your second-best receiver is Bilal Powell, you've got issues.
But that's where the praise ends. Even in his best season, Smith threw 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. And he never got better. The next year, Smith went 3-10, and then the "shot heard 'round the world" blared from the Jets' locker room before the 2015 season.
Pegged as the starting quarterback in 2015, Smith's first audible was failing to pay teammate IK Enemkpali a small debt, around $600. Making matters worse, Smith allegedly taunted the linebacker, who is built like Evander Holyfield and, apparently, punches like him. After a quick hook dropped Smith, he rose with a shattered jaw, and a ticket out of the Jets' good graces.
Since then, Smith has played musical chairs on the Jets' depth chart. He's also been seen pacing the sidelines with his trademark scowl, mouthing various indignities into the autumn air. The world-against-me motif.
Yet despite his dearth of talent or leadership qualities, he was given one more chance to prove himself because the presumed savior of 2016, Ryan Fitzpatrick, remembered he was Ryan Fitzpatrick and reverted to his journeyman form. Until Smith's knee -- and perhaps a metaphor for his arm, heart, and mind -- betrayed him.
Sure, the Jets can pawn Smith off on the prior regime. While Jon Idzik -- perhaps the worst GM in sports history, after Isiah Thomas -- is the reason Smith wears a Jets uniform, what have the new guys done? Bryce Petty? Christian Hackenberg? Granted, Ryan Fitzpatrick fooled all of us. Yours truly was the conductor of the Fitzpatrick bandwagon. But it is what it is. And it's no accident that these things always happen to the Jets.
Geno Smith is an eyesore not only because he can't play quarterback in the NFL, but also because he's the prototypical Jets quarterback. Gang Green lives for the Geno Smith template, those who flash some talent but always emerge with some deficiency that keeps them wholly unsuitable for NFL life.
Smith's record (12-18) is representative of his time and the team he represents. The rest reads accordingly -- 28 TDs, 36 interceptions, 72.4 passer rating. The few remaining Smith apologists will assert that he never got a fair shot.
First, that's untrue. Second, if we suspend that reality for a moment, then surely NFL GMs will form a conga line outside his agent's office, wallets wide open. Smith is just 26 years old, so if there's even a whiff of NFL talent in this QB-deprived league, then he will surely land somewhere and make the most of the shot he was never given by the Jets.
Meanwhile, Gang Green is now on the Draft Board Express, scouts fanned out across our nation, looking for Fitzpatrick's replacement, and the fresh, new face of the New York Jets. The next Geno Smith, but better.
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