Steady As Sam Goes: The Stoic Darnold Is Exactly What The New York Jets Need
Oh, I’ve been that guy. The one that wanted to see Mark Sanchez suit up in the green and white despite his college coach telling him it was too early to go, the one that was rooting for Tim Tebow to get a few shots under center for that cup of coffee he was up in East Rutherford (or down if you factor in his current Binghamton residence) and yes, I was that same person who wanted gang green to roll the dice with Johnny Football.
Call it “Search For Broadway Joe Syndrome”, my affinity for drama, or my somewhat moth-to-flame football fan mentality that I constantly struggle with, but the attraction of headline names brought some extra intrigue to the Giants’ younger brother, for better or for worse.
And for the better part of a segmented 20-something years, it’s almost always been worse. The Rex Ryan era also rung in an era of bold, bravado-like riverboat gambles that could rival the Kyle Brady-esque selections or the Dan Marino oversights in the 80s and 90s. The Jets certainly earned (and deserved) that reputation in the draft and in free agency. A Colin Cowherd proclaims, if you act like you’re the smartest guy in the room, odds are you aren’t, and Jets management did that time and time again that got them justifiably paired up with the Cleveland Browns missteps of the league.
The fact is, there was and will only be one Joe Namath. Professional football needed that glitz, glam and “guarantee” at the time to bring it’s shield to the forefront of sports. Joe Namath did that, by (a) his playboy persona and (b) his ability to back it up with that 1969 Super Bowl win (and side-note: say what you want about him statistically, but Namath deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame no matter how much his knees or his years after indicate otherwise. The man was tougher than a two dollar steak to endure the beating he did and loved the game every bit as much as he did his fu-manchu's and fur coats.) No Namath, no NFL as we see it today. Often imitated, never duplicated.
But that’s where the buck stops. The Jets, like a lot of franchises trying to get their name out in headlines, kept trying to live under that ideal. Finding someone who exudes a party-life lifestyle, but also leads a professional football team is nearly impossible to duplicate in today’s world. Namath struggled to balance it in the 70s. Everything is extrapolated in 2018’s bigger and badder media outlet along with a gargantuan social media presence where everybody has a soapbox to stand on. It’s either Big Brother or “everybody and their brother” keeping a watchful eye on what their athlete Tweets, Snaps, says and does. Added pressure off-the-field breeds pressure on the sidelines which then carries over in between the hash-marks.
Thankfully, Sam Darnold unabashedly resides solely in between those hash-marks.
His press conference this past Friday (along with the reading of his sister’s heartfelt letter) gave every indication that he aims to keep it that way when playing at the pro level and no indication he’ll be doing otherwise. It was nothing flashy. There were no crotch grabs or money-making hand gestures. There was no “I was pretty pissed off as I saw teams going by, passing on me" soundbytes. He answered questions with sincerity, yet did it without raising any eyebrows. His willingness to be malleable, learn and adapt with the repeated phrases of “just be myself” and “confidence” sprinkled throughout would leave it off of TMZ Sports’ radar and that is absolutely a good thing. He even separated himself from his on-field personality from his off-the-field sense of sarcasm.
At only 20 years of age, Darnold knows how to play the NFL game even before slipping on a pair of shoulder pads, and with character leaders like McCown to help his progress, we'll be sure to see more of it.
Just keeping playing it again and again (and again), Sam. Soon enough the Jets fans and franchise won’t be considered “that guy.”