These are the cold, dark days of February, before free agency begins and NFL football operations are looking for places to save money and bodies to trim. Sometimes the trimming hits close to home.
Today the Jets released two veteran linebackers in David Bowens and Brad Kassell. Each was a Green & White special teams captain, Brad in '07 and David last season. Both are good football men, although neither has the speed of a 24-year-old anymore. Both are family men. Both are good guys.
Bowens, 31, is a Michigander who often wears a Tigers cap as well as a perpetual smile showing through his scraggly beard. And in his two seasons as a Jet, he brought a big-play aptitude with him from the Dolphins, his team for 6½ seasons.
He didn't see much defensive action for the Jets in the first half of 2007, but he worked his way into the sub packages and began making some of those big plays — half a sack and a couple of tackles for loss in the overtime upset of the Steelers, three deflected passes in the big win at Miami, a few more sacks at the end of the year.
That trend continued this past season. Bowens had one of his career big-play outings in the Game 4 triumph over the eventual Super Bowl Cardinals, with two strip-sacks and a fumble recovery against Kurt Warner. When David Harris went down with injury against Kansas City, Bowens moved into the starting lineup for five games.
And all season long, his was one of six player images that hung on huge banners outside the entrance to the Atlantic Health Training Center, signifying his status as one of the Jets' half dozen captains in '08.
Bowens knows his way around not only a defense but a kitchen. He especially loves to bring the heat in his cooking, so when he found out I had a garden of jalapeños, habaneros and serranos at my Jersey shore palace, I was honored to supply him with a hot pack of peppers, which he was going to incorporate into his renowned gumbo recipe. With the season under way, I never got the gumbo, but I'm waiting for an off-season package from Chef D-Bo.
Kassell, 29, is a transplanted Texan who lost '08 to a knee injury from the first preseason game at Cleveland. But he contributed on the field to the Green & White cause in 2006-07 and made his presence felt in '07 when, as teams captain, he led the kick coverage units with a career-high 23 tackles (he'd never totaled more than nine in a season in his five previous NFL seasons).
A few of us were dining during that season at the Houlihan's near the Jets' former Hofstra University base of operations. So were Kassell and his family. One of our group had ordered a huge, fancy, watermelony drink from the bar. Brad came by, said his wife saw the libation, and asked what was in it and how it tasted. Armed with a favorable review, he went back to his table, then returned to order several melon drinks — one for his wife, and a few for the table.
I can't rule out either Kassell or Bowens returning at some point, but if they don't, both made their contributions, to Jets football on the field and to my personal list of gastronomic reminiscences off it.