By Jason Keidel
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For an ephemeral, enchanted moment, he was the man, monolith, the king of New York, in the rare thin are of city stardom that all athletes dream of.
While athletes of all ages and eras agree that there’s no place like New York City for a victory lap, no ride like the cruise up the Canyon of Heroes, we also know that biting the Big Apple is poisonous for some players. For every Derek Jeter there’s a Steve Trout, Bobby Bonilla, and Neil O’Donnell.
Yet there’s one athlete who has straddled the line between fame and infamy. He would be the former quarterback of the New York Jets.
He would be Mark Sanchez, who’s instant success spawned a sweet emblem, “The Sanchise,” which rivaled the most cherished handles in local history, up there with “Clyde” and “Broadway Joe,” “Doc” Gooden and “Donny Baseball.”
For the first few years of his NFL career, Sanchez owned the five boroughs and beyond. And, it seemed, as quickly as he rose the rungs of stardom, he plunged down the depths of ignominy.
The man won four road playoff games in two seasons, the best mark in team history, beating the far more favored Colts and Chargers and Patriots. And as soon as he was hoisted on the wide shoulders of his lineman, he was dropped on the concrete, through the manhole of celebrity, swamped in the sewers of the forgotten.
But now we hear about a new Sanchez, a newly minted and devoted and dedicated QB auditioning for his comeback. Amazing how hurling a few screens and out routes for Chip Kelly can do wonders for a downtrodden QB.
And now there’s a sudden, swollen opening in St. Louis, where the saddest, snakebitten QB on earth, Sam Bradford, has torn his ACL for (it feels like) the 10th time in the same knee. The injury casts some shadow over the suddenly resurgent Rams, who have a young, hungry and wildly talented defense, an electric receiver in Tavon Austin, and the most underrated coach in the sport, Jeff Fisher.
But not even Fisher can stop the turnstile he’s had at quarterback since he took over the forlorn Rams. Just when it looked like the Rams were about to assert their relevance for the first time since Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk trampled the NFC over a decade ago, Bradford shreds his knee on the most innocuous looking play you’ll see.
So the luminaries down the long halls of the league are mouthing Sanchez possibly to the Rams, which raises a few fun questions.
Does Sanchez deserve another shot? Did he get a premature stiff arm from MetLife? Sanchise was the toast of the Tri-State. But just when it seemed Sanchez was building a budding empire in the Empire State, he fell apart; some of it his doing, some of it organizational incompetence.
There were too many rumors of professional apathy for some of it not to stick. Not staying late after practice. Never being the first one in the facilities or the last one out. Then you had his famous, frat boy proclivities, with Sanchez hopping around random rooms with college girls. Then the magazine covers. Then that thing on his head, some contrivance that looked less like a headband than a shoelace wrapped around his curly mane.
While the Jets have earned their reputation for thwarting the best things that have ever happened to them, Sanchez became the most dreaded emblem in the NFL. Bill Parcells always loathed the idea of drafting a “Celebrity Quarterback” and that became Sanchez’s sobriquet as much as Sanchise.
Then came the Butt Fumble, the most miserable, humiliating, and loathsome legacy any quarterback would ever want.
But now the butt fumble is fading into the back of Sanchez’s NFL memoirs, and the Rams may be listening. For all his foibles, Mark Sanchez tasted the fruit of victory in the most demanding media market in the nation. And while a few preseason games 90 miles south on the NJ Turnpike is hardly a career make or makeover, he is now garnering interest from clubs with chasms at QB.
And doesn’t Mark Sanchez deserve a second chance? When you consider that career QB gypsies with a fraction of Sanchez’s traction get endless chances — from Matt Flynn to Vince Young to Josh McCown to Josh Freeman — then surely someone of Sanchez’s cold-weather wares has earned a shot to start somewhere.
We all know how inelegantly it ended for Sanchez. His career implosion was equal helpings of the franchise and the Sanchise. As his predecessor at USC, Matt Lienart, showed us, the pretty, surfer boy persona only makes the cover of fashion magazines when you produce on the turf. Your rise up the rungs can be erased by a few bad throws on the turf, and a few ill-advised passes at some sorority girls caught on video.
But Sanchez’s transgressions were never on the wrong side of the law, just the wrong side of reason. But there’s enough good in Sanchez for a second chance to prove old No. 6 can still be No. 1.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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