By Jason Keidel
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The Jets have had two sure-fire Hall of Fame players, whom they drafted and developed, who are indelible members of Gang Green.
Joe Namath and Darrelle Revis.
Namath’s résumé needs no defending or description. While known as an icon on the field and iconoclast off the gridiron, Namath has hit some PR speed bumps, but is still regarded as NFL royalty.
Revis is the anti-Namath. Though a great player in his own right, he shared none of Namath’s appetite for the spotlight or nightlife. If Namath reveled in bombast, Revis reveled in nobility and humility.
Which is what makes Revis’s recent arrest so startling. The iconic cornerback isn’t simply accused of a wayward punch during a barroom brawl. He is accused of knocking two men unconscious. The four felony counts are as troubling as they are sprawling. A conviction is hardly a fait accompli, as the men he allegedly knocked unconscious don’t recall the punches. But the adage still applies to professional athletes: nothing good happens after midnight.
To myriad Jets fans and millions of football crazies, Revis is the last person you expected to pop up on the police blotter. The only number you’d ever find under his chin is 24, which he has worn with grace and greatness. Indeed, for nearly a decade “Revis Island” was the most exclusive real estate in the most expensive city in America. Not since Deion Sanders has a single defensive back cast such an ominous shadow over the opponent’s best wide receiver.
The worst you could say about Revis is he’s an acute capitalist, a mercenary who never left a nickel on the table. And even that critique is myopic. NFL contracts could well be drawn on toilet paper, as clubs routinely cut players before paying half the money they pledge. They cut you for performance, for gaining weight, for losing weight, and for the biggest sin of all, getting old.
We should applaud Revis for holding a symbolic mirror up to a cutthroat business. Instead, we brand him a hater or traitor who’s sense of loyalty extends the length of a dollar. Forgive him if he wants a large nest egg for those years later in life when it becomes obvious that the game has taken its toll. Now, of course, the Jets could use the arrest as a pretext to release Revis, to cut bait, and cut ties. The Jets can kick back and see where this case goes before deciding how they will honor him. If he’s exonerated the club will surely make a day in his name, retire his number, hand him a plaque, and hand him the mike at halftime. He’s earned that. The Jets would be far more involved and concerned if Revis Island didn’t take on so many tenants over the last two years.
Even still, there’s just such haunting symmetry to this. The one time the Jets got it right, got it perfect, this happens. There’s nothing in Revis’ history that hints at off-field violence. No matter his age or wage he has always been a gentleman. Maybe he can’t cover Father Time, but he’s covered everything else.
If this reads a bit like an epitaph, it is in a way. We are at least eulogizing his gridiron career, as a Jet, and perhaps the notion of the gentleman-giant who left the violence on the field.
Revis comes from perhaps the most fertile football town on earth, certainly per capita. Aliquippa, Pennsylvania has spawned an army of NFL players, from Revis to Mike Ditka to Tony Dorsett. A hardscrabble city reduced to rubble by the socioeconomic mushroom cloud that engulfed the western part of the “Keystone State,” Aliquippa rests on the tattered edge of life after the postwar boom.
Like so many ‘burgs that morphed into museums, swollen with rusted, twisted metal of abandoned steel mills, Aliquippa now doubles as an anthropology class. The industrial void was predictably filled with unemployment, violence, and drugs. Those who could move, did; the rest struggled to keep their nostrils above the poverty line. Others rode the crime wave, dwelling in the midnight alleys of the drug trade.
Every Aliquippa fugitive who found success on the gridiron has a volume of horror stories, coated with death. There is no better place to read about them than in S.L. Price’s piece in Sports Illustrated, which surely has a place in the sportswriting canon, and is arguably the best sports story ever written.
Revis is one of the few who fled the town and found fame and fortune. His ranks among the best tales of talent, toughness, and perseverance. So his arrest and and impending indictment are more than a sports story gone wrong. He is one of the good guys. So we thought. It may not be a tragedy if he’s convicted of any of these four felonies. But it would be a shame for Revis, for the Jets, for football fans, and those of us who still believe in him.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel