Life as a 21st century New York Jets fan is like ordering a sausage and onion pie from John’s on Bleeker, adrenaline flooding your veins as you scamper 10 blocks to go get it, tearing open the box, grabbing a steaming slice to give it the old ‘just one bite,’ and biting directly into a live ocelot. Of course, that’d never happen at John’s, which is always reliable and bereft of alive toppings. At Gang Green central, though, it might be a live roach.
While we stupidly melt into the coach hoping for red-shirt pine warmer Christian Hackenberg to chuck 40 touchdowns this season, or something in the realm of any, most of us understand the harsh reality here – which is that we don’t deserve a franchise quarterback and will probably be forced to watch beloved, yet talent-limited veteran Josh McCown or a more creative option for 16 games.. It’s felt that way since we were on the cusp of the century turn, when Parcells resigned (1999) and assistant Bill Belichick took over only to resign a day later. We knew this was an inauspicious start to something dark and winless, though on the plus side at least we missed out on the dreadful Rich Kotite era (1995-1996).
I remember the Jets fan purgatory of watching Vinny Testaverde in the early part of the 2000s, his yearly struggles somehow leading Gang Green into a couple scattered playoff appearances with eventual heart break. Since making the Pro Bowl in 1998 with the Jets, in Year 1, Testaverde couldn’t do much to shine. But I remember soft-throwing, ball-faking Chad Pennington – the first quarterback taken in the 2000 NFL Draft ahead of Tom Brady – taking Vinny’s place in the fifth game of the 2002 NFL Season and taking the 1-4 Jets to a 9-7 AFC East division championship – while also leading the league in completion percentage, quarterback rating, and touchdown rate, along with the second lowest interception rate. Only several years into the 21st century, we thought we had our next Broadway Joe Namath!
Hope was reignited.
It was as if a new world of possibility had been birthed by the football gods. Sure he could barely heave the pigskin farther than 27 yards, but that didn’t matter to a Jets fan. Chad had a wit, intelligence, and likeability about him that turned jaded Jets fans into hungry nut jobs who couldn’t spell. He also had a badass play fake that was stealthy if not completely unreadable.
So many good memories, the peak of which featured our 41-0 drubbing of the Indianapolis Colts and metaphorical planes landing on Peyton Manning’s forehead. Heck, even Herm Edwards’ frustrated “You play to win the game” speech was giving me Jets fan chills. But Chad P. could never take it to the next level, as injuries took their toll (mostly two torn rotator cuff injuries) and allowed Pennington into only 51 games during the next five seasons. In the summer of 2008, Eric Mangini – a Bill Belichick disciple hired as the youngest head coach in the NFL in 2006 to replace Edwards – announced a competition between Pennington and backup Kellen Clemens for the starting quarterback spot. In August, with the ultimate page turn, the Jets said fuck it, do it live and acquired Packers legend Brett Favre. Pennington was cut. As a battered and emotionally bruised veteran, he would join the Miami Dolphins on a two-year deal.
What a weird era that was for a Jets fan, as the legendary Packers gunslinger slung more provocative pics than touchdowns during his Metropolitan area tenure. And in South Beach, all Chad Pennington was doing was winning the AFC East with the ‘Fins.
Then came Brett’s second of 19 or so retirements, along with the departure of Mangini – mischaracterized as Mangenius despite being effectively overmatched. For the Jets and fans, it was back to the drawing boards in search of our first-ever franchise signal caller. Or even someone competent.
For me, I was looking at 2016 and 2020 mock drafts in 2003, literally dreaming of then-seven-year-old Micky Jansen under center for us like Flash Gordon. “He just started middle school but he’s got a hell of an arm. “Just came out the womb, but guy’s got a cannon.”
Enter a new era of mindset: Snacks and Feet.
Legendary Baltimore Ravens Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan was a sight for more pies when he first came on the scene. Brash, fearless, hilariously enormous, leader of that ferocious decade-long powerhouse Ravens defense. Rex was made for New York. And the city loved him.
Then came the chance to trade up and draft Mark Sanchez – USC’s version of Micky Jansen. Finally we’d have a franchise quarterback and a first-time head coach to build around. What was that like? I had no idea and neither did the Jets.
Year 1 they went 8-8, but made the playoffs. After beating the Cincinnati Bengals, New York somehow beat the San Diego Chargers because crab cakes and football. Then, of course, they blew a halftime lead to the Colts with the chance to reach the Super Bowl. But hey, great progress, solid future. Or so we thought.
Year 2 we made the playoffs and beat the New England Patriots and the Colts before getting trounced by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Wow, they were truly living up to expectations. These became the best Jets years by far.
Just when we’d reached new peaks is when our fortunes fell off a cliff like Wile E. Coyote on Saturday morning.
Enter the bear market.
2011-2012 season was a disaster, with mostly Santonio Holmes being an asshole and Fireman Ed (having led J-E-T-S chants since 1986) quitting as the unofficial mascot due to harassment from fans. The Sanchez butt fumble (never forget), overall terrible football. So in the offseason the New York Jets signed Florida Gators legend and failed-yet-maybe-misunderstood NFL “quarterback” Tim Tebow, seemingly to see how miserable or shell shocked they could make the average Jets fan. During a miserably lost season of trying to force Tebow on the field, the former Gators icon produced 141 yards of total offense. Another shit year, with Alabama’s Greg McElroy sadly proving the most reasonable arm man on the roster.
Mark Sanchez was released in 2014 year and Michael Vick picked up, with 2013 second-rounder Geno Smith ready to take the reins. After seven consecutive losses, Rex named Vick the starter over Smith for the Week 9 game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
A 12-touchdown-in-one-game performance at West Virginia gave a Jets fan the hope that we had a steal in the second round and a future star in Geno. Early on, it wasn’t looking that way. Fans and team decision makers were willing to ignore the copious amount of data proving geno was overmatched in every facet of the game, as Geno was a breath of fresh quarterback for a throng of viewers used to Sanchez’s hot dog eating and yearly choke jobs. Several years of very below-average play and diminishing hope for any future ended in IK Enemkpali’s sucker punch, which put Geno out 6-10 weeks and opened the gates for career backup Ryan Fitzpatrick.
All Fitz did was win. I Loved that guy. A below average hurler with a blue collar beard and a wedding band on during games – guy was a hero. After a magical season where the offense – featuring stalwart receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker – broke all sorts of records.
Enter Week 17. The Jets needing one win against the 7-8 Buffalo Bills to make the playoffs, Fitzpatrick went ahead and blew it with three telegraphed picks. Despite the disastrous crumble under pressure, the Jets went into the offseason belligerently thinking they were closer to championship ring territory than they were.
After a mediocre offseason that was spent negotiating dollars with with Fitzpatrick – who was still a mediocre career hurler – the Jets fell apart with Todd Bowles at the helm. Irritable Bowles Syndrome spread fast, and Pepto just wouldn’t cut it.
Now they’re in full, complete rebuild mode, with a restart actually in the works. So right now, naturally, it’s the Jets, Cleveland Browns, and San Francisco 49ers with the lowest win projections for 2017. I once thought it could be worse, perhaps being a fan of the Browns or Jacksonville Jaguars, though am now starting to question that prognosis. How’d I even get here? My thirst for underdog stories? Maybe.
The mock drafts took over, as I woke up each morning dreaming of a Gang Green utopia; young underdog stars plucked in the 6th Round becoming legends. You know, the Patriots. As a grade school city kid with a habit of sticking to bad teams (Knicks, Islanders, Mets, Jets, the Average Joes), I developed an addiction to underdog success. Yet the Jets somehow went and continue to go beyond that, having these ‘win and get close enough’ years that force whispers of ‘we’re awesome.’ So much so that when the sub-prime gridiron mortgage crash eventually comes, it’s like losing at a real-life version of Jenga or being a screaming liner in a bugs bunny baseball game.
Ever since Joe Namath shockingly guaranteed a win over the favored colts in Super Bowl III, a Jets fan has had scraps to hold true to. Even more pathetic, perhaps, is that the team’s most celebrated icon – Namath – was arguably better at sporting fur coats than throwing a football. The overrated/misunderstood hurler had an average career with 47 more interceptions than touchdowns and only 64 wins in 13 professional seasons (an average of less than five wins per season). His Hall of Fame induction was undoubtedly a direct result of his Super Bowl guarantee and legacy.
The only other ‘greatest moment’ was an upset over the Pats in the 2010 Divisional Round. Yes, a second round playoff win is the second greatest memory a Jets fan has to live on in 50+ years. Our worst memories, however, start with the NFL Draft. The Jets have been elite when it’s come to wasting NFL Draft picks.. They passed on eventual Hall of Famers Dan Marino, Emmitt Smith, and Warren Sapp for Ken O’Brien, Blair Thomas and Kyle Brady in the old days. But in the 21st century, there have been far too many to make jokes about. No. 4 overall pick in 2003 DeWayne Robertson – taken over Troy Polamalu, Nnamdi Asomugha, Terrell Suggs – was a failure. Then, skipping some years, there was of course combine monster and bust poster boy Vernon Gholston – zero sacks in three years – being taken over Brandon Albert, Jerod Mayo, Joe Flacco, and Aqib Talib. The list truly goes on, for awhile.
The Jets have had five head coaches since then, during which time Rex annually guaranteed Super Bowl victories. In the end, he’d produce more foot fetish videos with his wife (one) than championships (zero). But hey, thanks for the memories.
While we await the 2018 NFL Draft and the next wave of supposedly great college quarterbacks (USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, and Wyoming’s Josh Allen), we’ll likely endure another shit year behind a talent-deficient squad. On the plus side, the Jets are literally hiring anyone for defense right now, so pick up that phone!