The first time the Dallas Cowboys—a parody of beer-muscled American excess in the form of a sad, soft coke-boner of a football team—were described as "America's Team" was 1978. It was in a NFL Films production from the golden, grandiose era when all NFL Films productions featured narration that sounded like boozier-than-average Dylan Thomas poems and brass-heavy rom-pom-pom musical scores. The "America's Team" bit was, originally, a throwaway line, to hear the NFL Network's Bob Ryan tell it—something he came up with to make a Cowboys team that kept losing in the playoffs sound like something more than that. The Cowboys, being the Cowboys, have naturally embraced the nickname ever since, secure in the deeply and poignantly Texan misperception that they're both more American and more appealing to Americans than any other American thing. But the funny and great part of this is that today's Cowboys have lost so much that they're a deafening, ultra-pricey joke that only Skip Bayless laughs at anymore. They're certainly not America's Team, if they ever were. Luckily, damningly, we've got the New York Jets for that.
There are some good things to be said about the Jets, the first of which is that they are now, and have been for the last few years, legitimately berserk in a way that the unremittingly corporate NFL almost never is anymore. But the Jets also represent contemporary America in all the least flattering and most recognizable ways. Their towering memehood casts a long, cold shadow on their flimsy actuality; they are simultaneously cocky and impotent, expensive and cheap, grandiose and howlingly mediocre; they are run, fussily and ineffectually, by a goofily overmatched, supremely self-serious and roundly unqualified wealth-tard. And this is before we even get into the fact that the Jets are carrying Tim Tebow—a buff Teddy Ruxpin that cheerily burps up posi-core clumps of Wonder Bread and decontextualized bible misquotes, and is, as such, a perfect avatar for the right wing of American politics—as their spare quarterback. There is no need to get further into that. Tim Tebow is his own terrible wonderful thing. The Jets, on the other hand, are us, and we might as well deal with it.
That the Jets reflect our culture at present—a bunch of freaks prone to self-injury who mostly don't know how to act, ruled ineffectually by goofball personalities who serve at the pleasure of defective plutocrats—doesn't make them easy to cheer for. The Jets, for all the many talented players they run out there on both sides of the ball, are self-defeating and unlucky in equal measure. It's to their credit that they're mostly hilarious about it. But that's not for everyone.
It's not the Jets' fault that they lost their best receiver and best defensive back to injury over the last two weeks; it is their fault that they were mostly unprepared for these terrible but predictable happenstances. The team's self-defeating attachment to a meatheadly virtuous but ineffective ultra-conservative offense—and the bummer-y nascent controversy between the two photogenic and differently incapable quarterbacks passively vying for the role of Guy Who Gets Blamed When The Offense Next Poops Itself—and inability to change course, though? The braying, Honey Boo-Boo-grade goofiness of the team's personnel in front of any and all open microphones or rolling cameras? The Swarovski-priced glass jaw that is so routinely jutted and so predictably shattered, week after week? That is familiar, and not in the way that anyone who pays attention to contemporary American culture—preeningly, wheezingly struggling to make its way up a short flight of stairs in a very expensive sweatsuit as you read these words—is especially psyched about.
When Jets owner Woody Johnson answered an unanswerable question recently by saying that he'd prefer Mitt Romney winning the presidency over the Jets winning the Super Bowl, it made the sort of silly splash this sort of story usually does in New York. But beyond the cynical joke that is that question—and the more amusing joke of a human who is not a character in a comic porno film being named Woody Johnson—there is a deeper and less funny punchline. Here is a feckless, clueless and self-important billionaire heir to a fortune earned in a bygone age, proudly spending his fortune bankrolling his feckless, ridiculous millionaire dependents as they go through their public, protracted, and hugely expensive mediocrity. He wants to talk to us about values, about getting back to first principles. He is serious, and his team is serious, and they are all hilarious and they are all us. Laugh or cry however you like. It's a free country.