These are the strange, surreal hours of the NFL season. We want to know all we can about our teams. We want to know all we can about our favorite players. We want to see them, study them, debate about them, argue about them. When they play exhibition games and put out a less-than-representative product, the first impulse is to gripe.
And then, invariably …
This time it was the Jets. This week it was defensive end Carl Lawson, who had been the Jets’ best player by acclimation throughout training camp. This time it was Lawson, on a practice field in Green Bay, Wis., hearing a pop in the general vicinity of his Achilles. It was ruptured. He will miss the season.
Football is a violent exercise, no surprise there. We not only understand that players will get hurt, we are numb to the reality. Still, there is something extra of a gut punch when a devastating injury happens in the preseason — either in a preseason game or a preseason scrimmage. There are many landmines once the games count for real.
When they don’t?
We are well-versed in this around here, of course. Going back to 1971, when the Jets lost Joe Namath to a devastating knee injury during an exhibition-game loss to the Lions, we have seen both the Jets and Giants have to endure the maddening reality that random bad news can be waiting around every corner of a football season, even the portion of said season that isn’t supposed to count.
Until it turns out to a count a great deal.
Sometimes the injuries have the added burden of carrying terrible “what-if?” questions with them. The Giants learned that in August 1998. Jason Sehorn had emerged as a quintessential New York star the year before, leading a surprising Giants team to the playoffs, having a sensational season as a lock-down corner. But he harbored a dream: He wanted to be a kick returner, too.
And the late Jim Fassel, in a moment of weakness, agreed to let Sehorn return the opening kick of the annual exhibition game with the Jets. Bad idea. He tore both an ACL and MCL, missed that season, and while he played again, he was never anywhere near the dynamo he had been before the injury.
Five years later, it was Chad Pennington’s turn. A year earlier, Pennington had guided the Jets to a surprising AFC East title and a 41-0 playoff win over Peyton Manning and the Colts. He was being compared to a young Joe Montana. Then, in a 15-14 exhibition win over the Giants (you’ll detect a pattern here) he dislocated and fractured his left wrist, his 2003 season was ruined, and he was never quite the same.
At the relative beginning of his career, Phil Simms was lost for the entire strike-shortened 1982 season when, in a preseason game (against guess who), he was sandwiched by Joe Klecko and Abdul Salaam and tore up his knee. It took him a year to heal, and longer than that to gain the trust of Bill Parcells, named coach after that season when Ray Perkins fled to Alabama.
At the relative end of his career, Mark Sanchez was sent in to play the fourth quarter of the exhibition game against — who else? — the Giants. Rex Ryan might have already moved on from the Sanchez portion of his career, but sending a longtime starter in to play then was a bizarre choice, and a costly one when Sanchez injured his shoulder.
It sort of makes you understand why it might not have been a terrible idea to keep Daniel Jones off the field last week. And combined with the Jets’ news out of Wisconsin this week, it is a stark reminder that football is a dangerous enough pastime when the lights are on for real — let alone when it’s a practice or an exhibition. Tough game.
IF YOU came of age as a Mets fan in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Tom Seaver was and always will be tops. But Jerry Koosman was absolutely 1A, Sundance to Seaver’s Butch, and the guy who was on the mound when the Miracle became real. It is 100 percent right that No. 36 goes to the top of Citi Field next Saturday.
So curiosity got the best of me, and there I am watching the first episode of “The White Lotus” on HBO Max and it’s going well and … whoa. There really are some things you just can’t un-see.
It must be a lot of fun being a Los Angeles Dodgers fan.
I am not one to believe all that faithfully in sports jinxes, hexes, poxes, curses. It has been difficult selling that to my Jets-fan friends this week.
Whack Back at Vac
Michael Hogue: Go to bed. Brutal viewing.
Vac: The mantra of bleary-eyed Mets fans all week.
Christopher Sheldon: Andrew Velazquez has made me believe that the word hustle still exists in baseball.
Vac: It will be interesting to see what happens when the regulars start to show up again starting this week. Yankees fans feel like they’re 10 right now more than at any time in recent memory.
@afalk62: Is it wrong that I’m glad that Henrik Lundqvist never played for another team? I’m so glad he’s fine, obviously, but I love that this top 10 all-time New York athlete finishes as a career Ranger.
@MikeVacc: It’s not just not wrong, it’s about as right as you could ask for. What a career. And what a goalie.
JP Sciortino: As a longtime parent and Mets fan, I immediately said to myself, the way I see it, is that Steve Cohen is a great parent. Sometimes you need to put responsibility on your children with just enough tough love. Years later the child will come back to say, “Thanks, Dad, I needed that.”
Vac: I do wonder if the time for tough love might have been when the Mets were anywhere on earth other than California.
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