By Jason Keidel
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While tooling and drooling around my living room, spellbound by Sunday’s pre-game blather, I did something you’ll never do: I felt sorry for Mark Sanchez. He’s young, handsome, rich, and quarterback of the New York Jets – a social and monetary orbit most males would admire.

But dare I say the last part – QB in NYC – is a daunting midfield divot to fill. Sanchez bears the twin burdens of having the hardest role in sports in the biggest city in sports, and filling the considerable cleats of Joe Namath. Broadway Joe, whose visage only grows with each ringless season the Jets register, left a vacancy now four-decades deep.

No matter his personal woes, from addiction to his slurred overtures at Suzie Kolber on national television, Namath’s glow and his glare over the team will brighten to blinding hues until the Jets win a championship.

The aggregate agony of Jets fans, who followed their beloved Gang Green from Shea Stadium across the Hudson River – just after the Mud Bowl and just in time for the Gastineau Game – and the ignominy of playing in place named after another team (Giants Stadium), has slammed on Sanchez’s shoulder pads. And if those mandates weren’t maddening enough, Sanchez must also cash the titanic semantic checks his head coach writes before every season. Ryan goes Joe Willie on us every year and leaves it to No. 6, in season No. 3, to make good on Ryan’s gaudy guarantees.

And, for his part, Sanchez has handled the inherited gravity with aplomb, with a kind of class not seen from his own team, from the top of the totem pole down. Rex Ryan can talk with the best of them (if you can hear him between F-Bombs), while Sanchez reserves his monologues for the field. Indeed, it seems Sanchez’s only malfeasance was munching on a hot dog in Oakland.

My mother threw out her back yesterday and asked me to drive her to a doctor. Inside Meadowlands Hospital, the ER was stuffed with Jets fans who took one gulp of Grey Goose too many, some even strapped to gurneys. Alcohol poisoning. Though I’m sure most Jets rub a less toxic balm on their spiritual lacerations, the symbolism is profound. And this comes on a day when the Jets won!

Imagine how they would respond should the Jets ever win the Super Bowl. No doubt I’m not the only one who would like to find out. There’s a certain, sympathetic mien to the Mets/Jets/Shea gang, at once despondent with two total titles since Hendrix strummed our national anthem at Woodstock, and comforted, if not proud, by their somber (if rarely sober) loyalty.

Sanchez’s Big Blue roommate in the Meadowlands, Eli Manning – who led yet another astonishing comeback last night in Dallas – already has his Lombardi Trophy and Super Bowl MVP, winning it on the formerly flawless backs of the 18-0 Patriots. Manning could sputter another seven years and still spin the bling on his ring finger, silencing cynics for eternity.

But it doesn’t take a jeweler’s eye to see that Sanchez has gotten better every season. His rookie campaign was typically conflicted (53.8 completion percentage, 2444 yards, 12 TD, 20 INT). His sophomore season was better (54.8%, 3,291, 17 TD, 13 INT).  And this year, his third, is by far his best – 58%, 2,759 yards, 21 TD, 11 INT – even if you don’t see it. And he has won four playoff games, all on the road.

No, it’s not the galactic leap you expect from a great quarterback in his third year, but if the man under center, the center of his team, is judged by the scoreboard, Sanchez has passed any reasonable test, particularly if he leads the Jets to a third-straight playoff spot. When you wed rookie coach to rookie quarterback, you expect “Rebuilding” to beam from the MetLife marquee. Instead, you’ve seen your team twice 60 minutes from the Super Bowl.

Yet you boo him.

Jim Leonhard noted that ornery Jets fans sang a moody song at Sanchez a few weeks ago. To them, I ask: given the chance to extract a quarterback from your team’s history, whom would you rather have? Neil O’Donnell? Richard Todd? Pat Ryan? Browning Nagle? And while it’s your prerogative as ticket holder to hold Sanchez accountable, it says here that he has been.

Perhaps it’s not Sanchez they love or loathe, but, like it or not, he is weighted down by a generation of Jets fans, born just before or beyond 1969, who are tethered to an ideal, that abstract someday when they won’t be losers, and, like it or not, Sanchez is the accidental face of that oasis.

When Tim Tebow trampled their secondary, I eulogized the Jets, who were 5-5 that night. I should have inspected their schedule more closely before running my mouth. And I should have given Mark Sanchez more credit.

Maybe you should, too.

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