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The New York Jets: Week Four

07/10/2010

I have never thought of Buffalo as a city of rebirth. It’s too cold there. And the city has been dying for more than a generation. All of upstate New York is like that, the creeping death and a winter that pounds the graveyards into tundra for much of the year. I have a healthy respect for Buffalo, for this very reason. But only a madman would go there to be reborn.

LaDainian Tramayne Tomlinson is just such a madman. He was supposed to fade away, to be hidden deep in the roster of some team needing depth at running back after the San Diego Chargers traded him away at the end of last season. His motor had run down, his legs couldn’t do it anymore. Nine seasons is a long time for a workhorse. The body revolts. The ligaments, sinews, and tendons start to scream inside their fleshy shell all year long. And so, Tomlinson was meant to go out to pasture like all the rest, collecting a few more paychecks from a league whose memory is necessarily short.

But it was not to be, my friends. You draped a dark cloak over the huddled form of LaDainian Tomlinson in his pain, never realizing that it was a cloak borrowed from the dressing room of James Brown. It was the cloak of spiritual rejuvenation. And so it did happen in the city of Buffalo in the year of our lord, 2010, that the cloak was cast off and a man reborn. Hallelujah. That is the word that was spoken in the stands of Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, October 3rd, 2010. The blessed and mysterious word, hallelujah, was whispered from mouth to mouth in the cold, in the rain and in the wind swept aisles of that bitter coliseum, that cathedral of winter desolation, that northern place of death and quiet. A man was reborn.

Did you see that touchdown run during the devastating third quarter in which the New York Jets sucked the life force from a beaten and demoralized team? Did you see “the move?” Ah, it was a wondrous thing to see those old bones take flight once more in supple celebration of the human form. Popping through the hole carved out by a fearsome Offensive Line, Mr. Tomlinson saw the light of the open field and knew that it was good. His body was going one way and then, before such things are meant to happen among ordinary mortals, it was made to go the other. A foot was planted, I suppose. Weight was shifted. There are scientific and medical ways to explain it all. But do not explain too much, dear analyst, or the poetry is lost. The Buffalo safety, Donte Whitner, knows that now to the very depths of his being, having come into close personal contact with the limits of reason. He attempted to tackle Tomlinson during that touchdown run. He dove at a man, and he encountered empty air. He grasped for the flesh, and there was none to be found. Tomlinson had gone the other way, he was somewhere else, just like that. Hallelujah.

All this is, of course, not only the work of LaDainian Tramayne Tomlinson. It is not, in the end, the story of one man. Oh no. More than some of the other great running backs, Tomlinson has always been a pack runner. He slips and slides, he hides in there amongst the overgrown bodies of the offensive line, the lumbering big dogs playing tight end, maybe a fullback sniffing and plodding his way across the grass. Tomlinson runs with his dogs. He feels the warmth and the protection of the pack. He will tag along at the heels of a lead blocker all the way through the first line of defense. He bides his time, moving out, out into the empty green of the defensive secondary where his head, half-wolf, half-Houdini, perks up as he gets the scent, freedom. Then he breaks away. He knows when he needs to run alone. He leaves the pack behind.

They stopped doing that for him in San Diego. The broke up the pack. They wanted to throw the ball all over the field and Tomlinson was left to run lonesome and forsaken. He licked his wounds alone on the sideline.

But all that is over now. Tomlinson talked of his coach, Rex Ryan, our man from Assisi, after the game. He said, “I think he looks at the heart of a man. You want to run through a brick wall for him.”

And so it was written. For Tomlinson, a glorious rebirth in the city of frozen time. Hallelujah.

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