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The New York Jets: Week 13

14/12/2010

What does it mean to be defeated? What does it mean to be beaten, truly beaten? It all depends on the nature of the beating, I suppose. I, for one, when I am beaten, want to be beaten utterly and completely. I want to be pounded into the dust. I want to have everything taken from me. I want to lie on the ground staring up at the vast and indifferent sky with the knowledge that my defeat has reached into the core of me. For in that absolute defeat is a release. It is to have passed through the valley of fear and to have emerged on the other side of that valley into a strange freedom. That’s the theory, at least.

The valley of fear has another name, in our world. They call it Foxboro Stadium. In this era of corporate naming rights, we are urged to call it Gillette Stadium. But I will always think of it as Foxboro Stadium as, I’m sure, will the New York Jets. Foxboro sounds like a real place. And it is. There is a town Foxborough, Massachusetts (sometimes called Foxboro), about twenty miles or so from Boston. It was settled back in 1704 and named after Charles James Fox, a Whig politician in England who had supported the American colonies. In his dislike for King George III, Fox would sometimes dress up like a soldier in George Washington’s army and prance about parliament. The point here is that Foxboro is not a place to be trifled with. If there is something hard and thorough in the New England mentality (and there is) then the legacy of that specific hardness can be found in places like Foxboro. You can imagine a man from a Nathaniel Hawthorne story in a place like Foxborough. He meets the devil on a street corner and it shakes him to his core. There is no safe haven, he realizes, from the doom of the world, from the flaws at the heart of creation.

These days, in our era, if you happen to dabble at the game of American football and you want to learn to something about the true nature of defeat, there is only one place to go. It is the aforementioned Foxboro Stadium. The New England Patriots play there. Bill Belichik coaches there. Tom Brady takes snaps from his center there. But the New England Patriots are not really the New England Patriots. They are actually the angel that Rainer Maria Rilke once warned us about in a poem. This angel is an Old Testament angel, a not-messing-around angel. This angel appears to men who wrestle, he’s a wrestling angel and a fighting angel. He is a beat-down angel and he only ever does one of two things. He either declines to fight you at all, or he beats you so utterly and completely that you forget there ever was such a thing as victory.

The New York Jets traveled up to Foxboro Stadium last Monday night to meet that angel in the form of a football club. The beating that they received was of the Old Testament variety. Mark Sanchez called it a “good old fashioned butt-kicking.” But it was more than that, I like to think. The Jets defense, so often described with adjectives like “fearsome” was unable to counter anything, anything, that the Patriots were doing. A little dump off screen to the apostate running back Danny Woodhead (who the Jets let go during the summer and who was picked up by the Patriots at the beginning of the season) would turn into a forty-yard ramble. Offensively, the Jets made a shaky Patriots secondary look like the Iron Curtain. A greater thing was happening here than simple winning and losing. It was the biblical angel in the form of New England football men delivering a lesson about the nature of the cosmos.

I hope the New York Jets are able to absorb this defeat as the total annihilation that it actually was. For only if the defeat is total can the kernel of freedom be extracted from the experience. To be made small is to be made giant in that smallness. Here is Rilke in his poem “The Man Watching”:

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

The New York Jets should strip the names from their uniform and go amongst the people as beggars. No names. They should crawl back to The Meadowlands on their knees like the medieval pilgrims. They should rend their clothing and mortify their own flesh, appearing next Sunday in scraps of uniform, bleeding and in tears. They have been given the gift of utter humility. Would that they embrace it like the suffering of Job. Would that they beg for it to happen to them again and again. Only then will the New York Jets have a chance against the Miami Dolphins this Sunday, let alone thoughts about still winning the division.

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Morgan Meis has been observing the Jets’ season at The Owls site, read more >>

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