Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Geno Smith presumably will not take the time to send Eli Manning a card next week to celebrate the ninth anniversary of his consecutive-starts streak.
Still, Manning's counterpart with the Jets paid tribute Wednesday to Eli's achievement, acknowledging that he finds it amazing, and that he would like someday to match or exceed it.
"Hopefully, I can do that same thing," he said. "I hate missing practices, hate missing games. I love to be out there every chance I get."
Good to hear, because the Jets' better-than-expected start has complicated the Geno Smith Experiment of 2013.
Yes, the bigger-picture idea still is to assess whether Smith has Super Bowl potential. But in the shorter term, the Jets suddenly are a serious playoff contender -- one with a severely untested backup in Matt Simms and an uncertain Plan C in veteran David Garrard.
So while they hope Smith is the quarterback of their future, he must remain the quarterback of the present if they are to keep their postseason dream alive.
Complicating that is the fact he has shown the ability and inclination to run with the ball in a way that Manning does only when it is absolutely, positively necessary -- a dangerous way for a quarterback to go about one's business in the NFL.
Smith knows all that, and promised to be good. To a point.
When I asked him whether it is important to pick his spots, he said, "I try not to. It's just being smart; if the play is there, if the lane's there, take it. Never try to hold back from anything, but definitely play smart.
"Slide when you have to, get out of bounds when you have to, don't take any unnecessary hits. But if you have to pick up a first down, you have to do what you have to do."
So far, so good. Smith is a hybrid who would just as soon pass from the pocket but who can move when he must, a self-preservation sweet spot between the Manning brothers and the likes of Michael Vick and Robert Griffin III.
"I've never said I was a pocket passer," Smith said. "I'm effective from the pocket, but I can run as well. That's kind of the point I've been trying to push all along is that I'm not a quarterback you can put in a box.
"I do it all and I try to perfect every single thing, even running the ball."'
Smith hardly has run wild. He ranks ninth in rushing yards among quarterbacks with 36 carries for 172 yards, 28 fewer than the Colts' Andrew Luck -- and 336 fewer than the Raiders' Terrelle Pryor. (Eli never has rushed for more than 80 yards in a season.)
But he has made a number of important plays with his legs, including three for touchdowns, most recently against the Saints Nov. 3, when he faked out defensive end Cameron Jordan en route to the end zone.
The Jets will take it. Smith's running ability -- both on designed plays and scrambles -- supplies more options on offense, and more to worry about for opposing defenses.
And nine games in, there has been no noticeable effect on him physically, at least none he will admit to.
"I feel great," he said. "That's always kind of been my thing. I really don't get sore after games. I might have to knock on wood, but I've never really been sore after games."
He said he doesn't think about things such as the beating RGIII has taken in the NFL, or about hitting the rookie wall in a season now almost as long as his college ones.
"I think everyone is different," he said. "If I feel I'm going to hit a rookie wall, I'm the type of guy that's going to wake myself up and snap myself right out of it."
Better yet: Run around it.