Disclaimer: I grew up in the Boston area and am a diehard Patriots fan, so everything I’m about to express has to be viewed through that admittedly curved lens.
But note has to be taken of the raging river of negative karma that has been emanating from the New York Jets organization in the last year or so, culminating in this week’s ultimate karmic suicide shot – owner Woody Johnson’s announcement that he’d rather see Mitt Romney win the election than see his Jets have a winning season.
Tossed this rhetorical hand-grenade by some smartass reporter, who asked him whether Romney winning was more important to him than the Jets, Johnson, instead of stepping to the side or taking cover, caught the grenade with both hands and jammed it in his mouth:
“Well I think you always have to put country first,” Johnson said. “So I think it’s very, very important that for – not only us – but in particular for our kids and grandkids that this election come off with Mitt Romney and (Paul) Ryan as President and vice president.”
Wow – really? Talk about a confusing message to send to your players. If I’m running an NFL team, it’s debatable whether I even want my players knowing there is a president, much less hearing that such a person’s career prospects might be more important than winning a football game. Once you give an NFL player permission to have thoughts, you invite all kinds of mischief.
That’s exaggerating, but if you’re counting at home, Johnson’s comments are about the fifteenth or sixteenth, “Wow, how’s that going to go over in the locker room?” move or transaction that’s rained down on the players from either the Jets coaching staff or the front office in just the last calendar year. (And before you interrupt, yes, Jets fans, I saw grieving widower Bob Kraft’s incredibly creepy screen-test video with his smoking hot barely-eighteen-looking “occasional actress” girlfriend Ricki Noel Lander. I’ve seen it and I’m definitely wigged out by it. But forget about that for now, we’re focusing on your misery today, not mine.)
Between Rex Ryan’s ongoing drama with Super Bowl guarantees, the crazy decision to make Santonio Holmes a captain last year (this was like putting Helmut Kohl in a bikini), the public lusting after Peyton Manning (whom they never had a shot at signing) followed by the overcompensating panic-move contract extension for Mark Sanchez, which in turn was followed by the panic-move trade for the most distracting backup quarterback in history – the team has done everything possible to keep their players’ brains scrambled and also terrified, in the keenly superstitious way unique to professional athletes, of what new horrors each next day will bring. The right kind of coach – somebody of the John Madden ilk – could probably take all of that negative energy and convert it into strings of fear-rampage victories. Ryan actually might still be able to pull that off, but it’s going to take his best voodoo to reverse-curse this latest thing with Woody Johnson and Romney.
I want to say it would have been just as bad if Johnson said the same thing about Obama, but it just isn’t quite true. You have your gazillionaire child-of-privilege owner telling his players, who mostly come from poor backgrounds, that electing another gazillionaire child-of-privilege aristocrat is more important to him than winning football games.
But even worse, Johnson has now publicly tied the Jets to the Romney campaign, forcing his team’s fans to swallow that emotional experience while they’re trying to root for Gang Green to win games. Even if Romney was winning, this would be an unbelievable bummer. I’ve been there with Curt Schilling, you just don’t mix politics and sports, it ruins it for everyone. Memo to other politically-inclined owners: the reason the ratings for your sport are so high, the reason the stands are always so completely packed at NFL games, is because ordinary Americans despise politics that much and more, and they will literally hurl their disposable income at you by the shovelful if you can just provide an oasis where they don’t have to listen to either party for a few hours every week.
Oddly enough, though, I don’t count the Jets out. They’ve had to deal with so much crazy stuff this year, they might just burst out of this with a mythic revenge run. Whether they’re reacting to Johnson, Tannenbaum, Ryan, Mike Francesa (whom I love, among other things because Jets fans hate him), the media drumbeat for Tebowmania, or whoever or whatever, it’s not hard to see Rex whipping them into a desperate sort of hate-sex frenzy and blowing away the AFC East. It’ll be hard, but it’s not so inconceivable – the Rex-era Jets have a history of fluky, improbable runs. But if it happens, it’ll be in spite of their front office, not because of it.
As for Romney, he has to be pretty freaked out by Johnson’s gambit as well. Accepting such a tight public man-hug by the owner of the Jets will queer him forever with New Englanders. If you can imagine New Yorkers having to watch Rudy Giuliani put on stiletto heels and tongue-kiss David Ortiz, that’s about how well the Woody Johnson-Romney relationship will go over in Boston. Then Romney has his own karma questions: what will the impact be of having the New York Jets, a team that just lost two of its best players to devastating season-ending injuries, has a quarterback now definitely suffering from PTSD (Sanchez showed “the stare” for the first time after the Niners loss), and a roster almost completely bereft of offensive skill players, become “Romney’s Team” in America’s eyes? What happens if Romney flops in the debate tonight, and then the Texans come in next week and drop a 60-spot on “Team Romney”? The implications are terrible to contemplate, if you’re managing Romney’s campaign.
However, there is a third thing we all have to consider, perhaps the most frightening thing of all. What if Romney blows the debate tonight, Houston comes in next week and stomps the Jets, and then Tim Tebow gets inserted into the starting lineup at the precise moment Rex discovers the magic hate-sex formula and turns the team’s season around? For a certain segment of the population, there can’t be anything more terrifying: a Mitt Romney comeback led by Tim Tebow! And don’t lie to yourselves, people, the groundwork for this storyline is already being laid. The sets are already built, the cameras are ready to roll. Even Johnson has begun publicly pushing Rex in the direction of the Tebow move.
If the nightmare scenario pans out, Tebow will start reviving the Jets toward the end of this month – the streak would begin with appalling victories over my own Patriots and then the Dolphins, those horrible Tebow-type wins, with scores like 11-6 and 13-2. And then, in the last weeks of the election, a parallel catastrophe for Obama: a repeat of the 2008 economic crash maybe, some unaccountable foreign policy disaster, or maybe Barack just walks out in the Rose Garden in a Che t-shirt two days before the vote . . .
Remember, the media will smell this story coming the instant it becomes even remotely possible and it will turn into the biggest juggernaut of wish-fulfillment media hype ever. Tim Tebow, Rex Ryan and Mitt Romney charging together to an improbable fourth-quarter comeback! There will be armies of techs at ESPN’s Bristol compound designing the graphics for weeks on end if this thing happens. And they’ll bring God into it and everything at that point, and woe to all of us if Romney actually wins the election thanks to some improbable political version of the Holy Roller game, because we will literally never hear the end of it.
Man, I’m getting chills just thinking about this. Let’s just all think positive thoughts, okay? It probably won’t happen, almost couldn’t happen. That’s true, right. Right?