Posted by: Mike Cornelius | August 13, 2015

The Jets Live Down To Their Sad History

There are many franchises with lengthy histories of failure. With over a century since their last championship and seven decades since their most recent World Series appearance, the Chicago Cubs have long since made ongoing futility part of their appeal to fans far beyond the Windy City’s north side. Just six years after the Cubs lost the 1945 Series to the Tigers, the Rochester Royals beat the New York Knicks in seven games to claim the NBA title. The Royals eventually changed their name to the Kings and have called Cincinnati, Kansas City, Omaha, and since 1985 Sacramento home in the ensuing decades, but they are still waiting for their next trip to the NBA Finals.

Yet at least that 1951 championship is better than thirteen of their basketball counterparts, teams that have never won even a single title. In the NHL, twelve franchises have never won a Stanley Cup, including four that have been playing hockey for forty years or more. The city of Cleveland, with franchises in the NFL, NBA and MLB, hasn’t been home to a champion in half a century. Four NFL teams have never played in a Super Bowl, much less won America’s Big Game.

Weighed against all that, the fact that the New York Jets won their only Super Bowl at the end of the 1968-69 season may not seem all that bad. The Jets have been to the playoffs thirteen times since Broadway Joe Namath brashly predicted that his underdog squad would upend Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts, and then delivered on that promise in the first game that officially bore the name Super Bowl. Six of those playoff appearances have come in this century, so it’s not as if Jets fans have had nothing to cheer about of late.

But over time most teams develop personas that are about more than their record of wins and losses. The Dallas Cowboys have an image of success that belies the fact their last Super Bowl win came two decades ago. The New York Yankees no longer have the highest payroll in the Great Game, but for many fans they remain the free-spenders in the Bronx who are always one big deal away from buying their next championship. The Celtics barely snuck into this year’s NBA playoffs and the Lakers have missed the postseason two years in a row, but for many fans the hardcourt rivalry between Boston and Los Angeles remains the NBA’s fiercest.

As for the Jets, let’s just say that win in Super Bowl III was the exception that proved the rule about this franchise’s image. Instead of greatness and glory, the Jets are all about mediocrity and misfortune. After defeating the Colts 16-7 and returning to the playoffs the following year, New York went a dozen years before again posting a winning record. Six times in that span the Jets losses reached double-digits in what was then a fourteen game season.

In 1994 the Jets were still on the fringes of the playoffs with a 6-5 record when they played host to the Dolphins in late November. Leading 24-21 with time running out, New York defenders watched as Miami quarterback Dan Marino came to the line of scrimmage. With the ball on the Jets 8-yard line, Marino repeatedly signaled to his squad that he was going to spike the ball to stop the clock, setting up a chip shot field goal to tie. As the baritone narrator of the NFL Films retrospective of that game famously understates, “But the kick was never needed.” Having lulled the Jets with his hand signals, Marino took a short drop and fired the winning pass to a wide open Mark Ingram in the right flat.

The season after that debacle, and after just one playoff appearance in eight seasons, owner Leon Hess hired Rich Kotite as both head coach and general manager. At the press conference introducing Kotite Hess declared “I’m 80 years old, I want results now.” Instead Kotite led the Jets to their worst record ever at 3-13, then lowered the bar further the following year with a 1-15 mark.

Bill Parcells managed to restore the team to relevance, but when the Hall of Fame coach stepped down after three years the Jets and their fans had to endure the humiliation of successor Bill Belichick resigning after exactly one day on the job. As befits this star-crossed team, Belichick’s resignation letter was a single hand-scrawled sentence, “I resign as HC of the NYJ.” Of course, Belichick took his hoodie north to New England and Jets fans know all too well how that turned out.

More recently Rex Ryan bloviated his way into Gotham, promising a new era for the team. But ultimately that promise fell short, like so many in the history of the Jets. In November 2012 New York was blown away at home by the hated Belichick and his Patriots. In that game the Jets surrendered three touchdowns and committed two fumbles in the span of 52 seconds. One of the miscues occurred when quarterback Mark Sanchez’s head collided with offensive guard Brandon Moore’s rump, causing the memorable “butt fumble.”

That was the game that proved too much even for New York’s biggest fan. Ed Anzalone, better known as Fireman Ed for his appearance at every Jets home game in his full FDNY gear, left the 49-19 drubbing early and shortly thereafter announced that while he would continue to attend games, he would no longer do so as Fireman Ed and he would no longer lead the crowd in the “J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!” chant.

So this week came the news that in the midst of training camp, one NFL team had lost its starting quarterback for six to ten weeks due to a broken jaw. Injuries happen all the time in the violent game that is our national obsession; but this one was not the result of a hard hit in an exhibition game nor an unfortunate event during team practice. No this jaw was broken by a sucker punch thrown at the starting quarterback by a teammate in the locker room. The instigation for the roundhouse right that the quarterback never saw coming was a dispute over $600.

With a story that bizarre, reporters really didn’t need to identify the team or any of the players. Of course it had happened at the Jets training complex in Florham Park, New Jersey. Of course the quarterback was Geno Smith. Of course the assailant was a backup linebacker, Smith’s formerly unknown and now just former teammate Ikemefuna Enemkpali. For the Jets, a season not yet begun has already been thrown into doubt. Of course. For the team’s fans, the most common reaction was a grimace, a sigh, and a softly muttered “Same old Jets.”

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