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Rhodes Tips His Hat to Jets Past and Present


There's something "throwback" about Kerry Rhodes, which is why the Jets' fourth-year safety is unfazed by this look-back-look-ahead stretch of the schedule that may have thrown a few Jets and a lot of their fans for a loss.

Rhodes happily donned his navy and gold Titans uniform for the previous two home games against Arizona and Cincinnati.

"It's cool to get out of your usual jersey," he said. "Playing in it all year, you get tired of the same thing. Just seeing some of the colors and bringing back some of the memories of the past is always good ... and when we wear them, we're winning."

The next two weeks, Rhodes and his Jets mates are getting ready for rivalries that go all the way back to the first days of the American Football League in 1960. Sunday's game is against the Raiders in the stadium that, no matter what its current name nor how long it stands by "the Bay," will be known as "the Black Hole." And that's followed by their next home game, back in their green and white threads, against Kansas City.

Yet the Chiefs game will also come with nostalgia attached as the Jets' Super Bowl III team will invite everyone at the Meadowlands that day to join them for a slice of their 40th anniversary celebration at halftime.

"I learned about them through osmosis," Rhodes said recently of the 1968 team. "I didn't really know about the Jets back in the day - I wasn't even born yet. But everyone knows who Joe Namath is and all those guys."

They were the guys - Rhodes calls them and the Titans "our forefathers, so to speak" - who shocked the football world with their Super Bowl III upset of the Baltimore Colts. And he is especially impressed with the fact that in that era, the reward for history makers wasn't quite up to today's standards.

"I've played hurt. So do a lot of other players. But just the chance to be able to put on a uniform and play every Sunday is a privilege," Rhodes said. "And to see how those guys stuck to it back then, without so much money as we make now, is something that stands out. They gave the same effort or more, they played hurt, they did all those things. It's been a resounding factor in my career."

Rhodes would have fit in with a secondary of Sample and Beverly, Baird and Hudson back in the late Sixties. Maybe it's the dark socks he likes to wear under his green leggings. Maybe it's the dash of the Hollywood Walk of Fame mixed in with the hint of a pro safety's big-play swagger. Bemoaning his no interceptions in the first five games before heading out to Oakland, Rhodes said confidently: "That's OK. They're going to have to come eventually."

Despite his slow start in getting those "key numbers," No. 25 has built a healthy r�sum� of stats and respect in his four seasons as a pro. In the previous two years, he easily led the Jets in takeaways with 11 and topped all NFL defensive backs in sacks with seven. His postpractice video sessions continue to draw crowds of teammates to his home. He was voted one of two defensive captains for this season.

In training camp, head coach Eric Mangini approved of Rhodes scaling back his nascent movie career once the season kicked off.

"Kerry can continue to emerge and get better because he's got a lot of natural ability," Mangini said. "He's a very smart player. He's got excellent ball skills. I haven't seen him act but I think he's got a better chance in the short term emerging as a safety as opposed to emerging as leading man. I'm not 'hating on him,' as he would say."

Those picks could start coming in bunches because the Jets have studded some very capable players, new and old, all around him. The last time the run defense finished a season higher than its No. 3 ranking after six weeks was its No. 2 finish in 1970. And opposing quarterbacks have been dropping at a rate not seen since the Sack Exchange.

"That shows the willingness and the eagerness for us to win as a franchise," Rhodes said of the off-season maneuvers that included extending his contract. "That's a sign of good things to come. You know we're not afraid to make an acquisition to make the team better.

"We look at ourselves and we know the talent we have here is ridiculous. We've got players at each level - D-line, linebackers secondary - that can get it done. Just seeing how the whole process unfolds of getting on one page and being a unit is taking a little time. But it's starting to kick in now. If we keep moving now, at this speed, and just keep having fun with each other, it's going to be great for us."

How great remains to be seen. But after two wins in Titans gear and two games ahead against old AFL rivals, Rhodes and his band of brothers will have a chance to make their forefathers proud.

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