“Flash Gordon. Quarterback. New York Jets.”
With those six words, Flash Gordon secured his place in history as one of the most beloved players in New York Jets history. Never mind the fact that he doesn’t actually exist, or that the 1980 Flash Gordon movie from director Mike Hodges with the unforgettable Queen soundtrack is the only time in the character’s 80-plus year pop culture history he has ever been known as a pro football player (Flash has been a polo player for Yale, a guard for the Boston Celtics, and more in other versions of the story), let alone one associated with one of the most misbegotten franchises the sport has ever known.
I’m sure you can find it in your heart to forgive this Jets fan, who wasn’t alive during that team’s only trip to the Super Bowl under the leadership of Broadway Joe Namath and who likewise doesn’t expect them to ever make a Super Bowl run in his lifetime, for placing Flash Gordon in his own personal NFL pantheon. But the tantalizing knowledge that before his interstellar adventures Flash Gordon wasn’t just the quarterback of the New York Jets, but apparently a damn good one, has seen me through many (and I mean many) a dark football season.
Other than the fact he won the Super Bowl we don’t learn much about his football days. Hell, the only glimpse we get of Flash in a Jets uniform (he wears Keyshawn Johnson’s #19) is via the cover of People Magazine, which Mr. Gordon graciously autographs for an airline pilot’s son (named Buzz because this movie takes place in a world where names like “Flash” and “Buzz” are commonplace).
Thank the football gods, then for Arthur Byron Cover’s 1980 novelization of the film otherwise we’d never know the truth.
Y’see, kids, back in the day, movie tie-in novels were all the rage, and thanks to a combination of authors needing to fill page counts and these often being based on earlier versions of the movie’s script, you could find all kinds of cool info you wouldn’t in the movie.
Anyway, the book is a lot of fun for any fan of the movie, but Mr. Cover devotes a full chapter to Flash Gordon’s life story, including six pages on his gridiron accomplishments, and really, that’s all anyone who actually clicked on this article cares about, right?
Thanks to Mr. Cover’s novelization, we learn that before Flash’s days with the Jets he was the QB for the University of Alabama (coincidentally, the same school that Jets legend and the franchise’s only real world Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Namath attended), where he “broke the passing record for the Sugar Bowl” as a sophomore. Just to give you an idea of the kind of athletic company Flash keeps, the current record is held by the Florida Gators’ Tim Tebow, set in 2010 with 482 yards, so figure that’s a comparable number there.
But please don’t assume that Mr. Gordon is your average jock douchebag. “He liked the game and his skill was unparalleled,” the book tells us, “but he disapproved of brutality for its own sake.”
More importantly “he would have broken his contract and quit the team of any coach who said ‘Winning’s the only thing!’” So, don’t worry Jets fans, anyone who tries to tell you that Tom Brady would be the “savior of the universe” today is mistaken, because clearly Flash Gordon would never play for Bill Belichick.
As someone who would have come of age in the ‘60s and early ‘70s (let’s assume Flash is 26 in 1980, the same age as Sam J. Jones, the actor who played him), Gordon fell firmly on the side of peaceful protesters, because, as the book puts it, “protesting the senseless brutality of war was an act every bit as ‘American,’ if not every bit as brave, as fighting and dying for the ideals of the United States.” I’d bet good money that Gordon would stand or kneel with Colin Kaepernick today, and it’s worth noting that Kaepernick certainly would have been a far better option at quarterback than anyone the Jets have put on the field in the years prior to Sam Darnold’s arrival.
While the vast majority of Flash’s actual football career remains a mystery, we do know a little about his Super Bowl win. For one thing, it happened in New Orleans, which is weird, since the movie was released in 1980, but it was 1981’s Super Bowl XV between the Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles (not a Jet in sight) that took place at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Whatever, it’s science fiction and I’ve already overthought this.
With two minutes to go, down by five points, third and six and with the ball on the Jets’ twenty-five yard line, Flash Gordon stormed off the field to confront his coach over the actions of his own teammate, who had been spiking the legs of the opposing players.
“He’s caused at least ten injuries,” Gordon said, “I refuse to play with him any longer.”
Yes, that’s right, an NFL quarterback was ready to ditch his chance at Super Bowl glory because he couldn’t abide cheating. Again, you can forget about Flash Gordon ever playing for the New England Patriots.
Needless to say, his coach listened to reason, subbed out the offending cheater, and Flash took the field again. After a completion for a first down and with the clock running out, Gordon won the game by running the ball the remaining 55 yards himself for a touchdown. That stunning Super Bowl win is, of course, eclipsed by his victory over an amoral dictator with little concern for the well-being of his subjects (no, not Roger Goodell) in the far flung reaches of space.
The New York Jets, meanwhile, haven’t won a Super Bowl in our reality since 1969 and are in the midst of a string of mediocre-to-awful seasons. Their struggles to find a viable long-term solution at quarterback are likely to continue for the rest of my life, unless Sam Darnold has a little Flash Gordon in his DNA.