Jets’ Mike White latest underdog winning over New Yorkers
We are a town of stars, yes. New York is about Broadway, and a fine actor’s career isn’t truly complete until they make a run there: Dustin Hoffman as Willy Loman, Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch, Jessica Lange as Mary Tyrone.
Sure, we are about the boldfaced names, all-in, all the time, and that goes for sports, too: Aaron Judge. Kevin Durant. Babe Ruth and Frank Gifford. Joe DiMaggio and Tom Seaver, Derek Jeter and Mike Piazza. Clyde and Pearl and Broadway Joe and Chuckin’ Charlie Conerly. On and on. And on. And on.
But we are also about underdogs. Sometimes they grow into stars, too: Shirley MacLaine was a talented kid who nobody knew until Carol Haney broke her ankle on June 29, 1954, elevating Shirley from understudy to superstar in a matter of hours thanks to “The Pajama Game.” Sometimes they retreat to obscurity.
Oh yes. We do like our underdogs, very much.
We like Brian Doyle — who only had 52 at-bats prior to the 1978 postseason and only 147 more afterward — but who hit .391 filling in for Willie Randolph against the Royals and Dodgers that October. By rights he should have won the World Series MVP that year, hitting .438 to stand out amid the Yankees’ cavalcade of superstars. He had one moment. He seized it. Around here he is remembered fondly forever.
We like Endy Chavez, a serviceable baseball player and a quintessential fourth outfielder across 13 seasons, but one cold October night in 2006 he leapt over a wall at Shea Stadium, pulled back a two-run homer by Scott Rolen, turned it into a double play and hasn’t had to buy a drink anywhere within the five boroughs in the 16 years since.
We sure like Victor Cruz, who only played in 70 NFL games but who, in his 18th game on Christmas Eve 2011, caught a pass from Eli Manning on a play that started at the Giants’ 1-yard line then scampered, hurdled and dashed his way to the Jets’ end zone for a 99-yard touchdown. All that did was ignite the Giants to a win in Super Bowl XLVI — a game in which he caught four balls, including a 2-yard TD from Eli.
And yes: We like Mike White. We like the fact he began his NFL life as the 171st pick in the draft in 2018, that he was waived four times — four times! — by the Jets in 2020, that when he was given a shot in 2021 he led the Jets to an improbable victory over the Bengals and threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns.
We really like that he has remained resilient and upbeat despite a series of absurd pitfalls and pratfalls: a forearm injury against the Colts the week after his breakout game last year, a rib injury against the Bills just as he was expanding his folk-hero persona this year, just as his full name was expanding again in the minds and on the lips of smitten Jets fans — “Mike Effin’ White.”
And what may have cemented that exaltation is the fact he wants to play so badly — wants to keep an iron grip on this opportunity so boldly — that he came back into the Buffalo game when his ribs had to be screaming bloody murder at him, that he reached out to multiple doctors — 10 is the reported figure, but would it surprise you if Mike F. White went through the entire Yellow Pages? — looking for someone to clear him the last two weeks as the Jets’ season teetered on the brink.
And now, he is cleared.
Now, he will play at Seattle Sunday and at Miami the week after that (health permitting), the Jets knowing that step 1 in their roundabout path back into the playoff picture is to go 2-0 the next two weeks. It is not only against all odds that White is the quarterback on the Jets’ roster who gives them the best chance to do that, it goes against the Jets’ preferred plan in which White would’ve been a clipboard deity nobody ever heard of, because that would’ve meant that Zach Wilson had played the part of franchise messiah.
But here he is. And forget about whether or not you’re a Jets fan: As a New Yorker that’s an irresistible story.
“When you have somebody who has come up the hard way, that’s the majority of the league,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday, officially announcing White’s availability. “I think that’s why people gravitate to people who have had a struggle. This country has been about a struggle and trying to find a way.”
This city most of all. We love our stars. But we sure save a soft spot in our hearts for the underdogs who defy expectation and deliver for a moment, or a year, or however long they’re afforded their time on the big stage. Good for Mike White. Good for New York.
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