On the morning after the New York Jets dismantled the 10-0 Tennessee Titans, Jets fans have just one thing on their minds: What’s going to go wrong now?
Pessimism comes naturally to Jets fans. Since their team’s only Super Bowl appearance n 1969, 25 of the 31 other NFL teams have reached the big game. In the 38 seasons since the NFL-AFL merger, the Jets have won only one division title outright (they shared another with two other teams at 9-7).
Strange things happen around the Jets. What other team wins a Super Bowl behind its glamorous 25-year-old quarterback, then sees him tearfully announce his retirement a few months later? (Pete Rozelle had ordered Joe Namath to give up ownership of a night spot, Bachelors III; Namath refused, but eventually gave in. Sports Illustrated’s cover read: Namath Weeps.)
Their Hall of Fame coach Weeb Ewbank (enshrined despite a 130-129-7 career record) stepped down in 1974, and named his son-in-law the new head coach. When that didn’t work (the ill-named Charley Winner went 9-14 before he was fired), they lured Lou Holtz out of college football. Holtz’s ultimate college career record was 249-133-7; his pro record was 3-10 before he fled back to campus with a game remaining in the season.
The speedy 1982 Jets lost a conference championship game in Miami a day after the Dolphins left the field uncovered during a rainstorm. Seventeen days later, in part because of his behavior following that loss, they removed their head coach Walt Michaels (his alleged substance abuse was an issue, according to Gerald Eskenazi’s entertaining history, Gang Green).
In 1983, the Jets drafted a passer from the QB-rich class that included John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino. They selected Ken O’Brien from Cal-Davis – three picks ahead of Marino. O’Brien became a two-time Pro Bowler; Marino is a Hall of Famer who dealt the Jets one of their most ignominious defeats, a 1993 debacle in which the Dolphins scored the winning touchdown on a fake spike play with twenty-two seconds left.
In 1994, owner Leon Hess fired head coach Pete Carroll, saying, “I’m 80 years old. I want results now.” The new coach was Rich Kotite, who went 4-28.
In 2000, Bill Belichick was the Jets coach for one day. Bill Parcells had stepped down after three years, announcing that his assistant head coach Belichick would take over the team. At the press conference to formalize the succession, Belichick shocked reporters by announcing his own resignation. He had scribbled “I resign as HC of the NYJ” on a piece of paper just before taking the podium. Belichick joined the New England Patriots, and has hardly been heard from since.
The Jets are the only team in sports to play in a stadium named for another team. (Their website fudges the issue, declaring, “The Jets play their home games at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J.”) Their one genuinely legendary player, Joe Namath, slurred his way through a 2003 ESPN sideline interview, twice telling Suzy Kolber, “I wanna kiss you…”
It’s easy to understand why most Jets fans greeted the arrival of Brett Favre as a sign that he was due for the crippling injury he’d avoided for 253 consecutive starts. At best, they figured, he’d be the Favre who threw a dreadful overtime interception in his final game with Green Bay. Instead, he’s shown every sign of being the Favre who took the Packers to the NFC title game in the first place, posting a career-best completion percentage of 70.6 so far this season, with a quarterback rating of 94.1.
The 34-13 victory in Tennessee was about much more than Favre, however. The Jets dominated the line of scrimmage, softening the Titans’ front with quick throws, then battering it with power rushing. Their two-to-one edge in time of possession (40:30 vs. 19:30) reflects the physical advantage the Jets showed on both sides of the ball, against a team that was 10-0 on the strength of its own power game. Their press coverage tested the Tennessee receiving corps, holding the Titans to 88 total yards and just five first downs in the first half; Tennessee ran for 45 yards for the game, roughly a third of their average.
The Jets looked great, they’re coming together beautifully, and their only two remaining road games are against 3-8 San Francisco and 2-9 Seattle. All this leaves Jets fans contemplating the only thing that would be worse than not getting to the Super Bowl again.
Getting to the Super Bowl, and losing to the Giants.