There are many great franchises throughout the NFL. There are many perennial Superbowl contenders – Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers. All teams (even those just listed) do have their droughts, Patriots pre 2001 and the Steelers’ adventures between 1933 and 1969. However, there are some teams that make up the other end of the league. These include the Detroit Lions, the current Cleveland Browns and the Arizona Cardinals. These teams (as well as the Bengals, Chargers, Falcons, Jaguars, Panthers, Texans, Titans and Vikings) have never won a Superbowl. A few of them, Browns, Jaguars, Lions and Texans have never even reached the Superbowl. However. These teams are either recent expansion teams – Browns, Jaguars, Panthers and Texans – or are loveable underdogs – Cardinals and Lions. Indeed, the Cardinals are 1 of only 2 currently active charter franchises (the other being the Chicago Bears). There is one team which is neither, one team that has in fact won a Superbowl, yet is in the endless pit of misery at the bottom end of the NFL. Through the years, they have, overpromised and underdelivered, and quite frankly been embarrassed. This was the team that saved the NFL, now it is the worst team in football – that franchise is of course, the New York Jets.
Originally founded in 1959 as the Titans of New York, the Jets competed in the AFL (the NFL’s little brother). The first player they would sign would be an “NFL reject” named Don Maynard (WR). Maynard was originally drafted 109th overall in 1957 by the New York Giants (the Jets’ big brother) but was cut after two seasons. After a year in the Canadian Football league he returned to America with the Titans. Their inaugural season was a success at 7-7 and second in division. However, they suffered from financial issues and were bought for $1 million in 1962 and promptly renamed the Jets – it reflected the modern approach the team was going to take (oh, where has that approach gone now), as well as their home ground being next to LaGuardia airport (Shea Stadium). However, over the next few years they never reached a winning season.
In 1964, a young QB named Joe Namath was turning heads at Alabama, leading the Crimson Tide to an undefeated season. Jets ownership and head coach Weeb Ewbank saw a franchise star and so drafted Namath 1st overall in the 1965 AFL draft. Just one issue … Namath had been drafted 12th overall by the St Louis Cardinals in the 1965 NFL draft. The NFL being far more prestigious then the AFL, it was almost certain Namath would take his talents to St Louis. Despite Namath’s demands of $200,000 per year (and a new Lincoln Continental), the Cardinals were happy to have him on board but they wanted him signed before the Orange Bowl (the big game of the season for Alabama) which would make Namath ineligible for it. This demand is possibly the reason the NFL is what it is in this very day. Wanting to play in the Orange bowl, Namath declined the Cardinals and instead joined the Jets (the day after losing the Orange bowl but winning MVP). With a salary of $427,000 per year far larger than any other football player, he was not just the face of the franchise, but the face of the league. After appearing on the front of sports illustrated, left tackle Sherman Plunkett named him “Broadway Joe”, a name sticking to this day.
In 1965 it seemed the Jets had made the right decision, Namath winning OROY and Don Maynard catching 68 passes for 1218yds and 14TDs (per Pro Football Reference) leading him to his first pro bowl. In 1966 the AFL and NFL agreed to a championship game, which became known as the Superbowl. The winners of each league would battle it out to be truly known as the best team in football. For Superbowl I and Superbowl II, this was the Green Bay Packers led by QB Bart Starr and the infamous coach Vince Lombardi. These first two Superbowls were a demolition job of the Kansas City Chiefs and then the Oakland Raiders. There were talks that an AFL team could never beat the best of the NFL – if this was the case, there would be no AFL-NFL merger and pro football would have never been what it is today. Then Superbowl III.
Namath and Maynard led the Jets to an AFL Championship – the true first success for the Jets. In doing so, Maynard was selected for his 3rd Pro Bowl and Joe Namath received his first league MVP. However, they still had to play the Baltimore Colts in the Superbowl. The Colts had shut out the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship and were under guidance of the great Don Shula (now the winningest coach of all-time at 347 wins including playoffs), and a young Chuck Noll (defensive backs coach). At QB they were led by Earl Morrall who had taken over from the great Johnny Unitas. The Colts were touted as “the greatest football team in history” and were favoured to win by 17-21 points. If the Jets didn’t win, it’s doubtful there would ever be a merger. Tired of being an underdog, Namath told reporters “We’re going to win the game, I guarantee it”. The lacklustre Colts offense conceded 4 interceptions, leading to Johnny Unitas coming in for Earl Morrall, whilst Namath was able to throw for 206yds without a turnover. This led to the biggest upset in Superbowl history as the Jets won 16-7. Two years later (after another Namath MVP season, though not a Superbowl), the two leagues merged to create the modern-day NFL.
Over the next few years, the Jets declined to mediocrity, after saving the league from non-existence, the Jets were just another team stuck far from success. Both Namath and Maynard left the Jets (and later retired) in early and mid-1970s, both later being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Indeed, it wasn’t until the strike-riddled season of 1982 that the Jets won their next playoff game since Superbowl III. They lost the 82-83 AFC Championship to the Miami Dolphins (this was the year of the Snowplow game in a regular season matchup with the New England Patriots). The 80s saw the Jets reach the playoffs 4 times (81, 82, 85 and 86). This was largely due to the New York Sack Exchange, the D-Line of the Jets led by Marty Lyons. However, the late 80s and early 90s saw mediocrity and just plain failure for the once great Jets. This was the point that coaches came thick and fast. They hired the successful former Bengals OC Bruce Coslet in 1990 but after only one playoff appearance (and loss), they turned to a guy named Pete Carroll. The former DC under Coslet, Carroll’s energy sparked the lowly Jets to a 6-5 start, then Dan Marino beat them with a fake spike and the Jets finished the season 6-10 and Carroll was fired (what could have been – see Seahawks from 2010). After 2 years of Rich Kotite (4-28 record), the Jets picked up Bill Parcels, a 2-time Superbowl winner with the Jets’ big brother – the New York Giants. This wasn’t as easy as it seems however (is anything for the Jets?).
Parcels was still under contract with the New England Patriots who he had just led to the Superbowl (lost to Green Bay Packers). New owner Robert Kraft wasn’t allowing him the control Parcells wanted so he wanted out of there – fast. So, the Jets signed former Browns coach and Parcell’s NO.1 assistant (and best DC of all-time, see Superbowl XXV against Bills) Bill Belichick to the role for the interim HC while they discussed compensation with the Patriots for taking Parcells (4 draft picks, a 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th spread over the next 3 years).In the second year, the Parcells and Belichick led Jets reached the AFC Championship but lost to the Elway led Broncos (Elway and the Broncos won the next two Superbowls). After injuries derailed the Jets 1999 season, Parcells retired from coaching and the Jets needed a new head coach. Who better than Parcells’ NO.1 assistant and defensive supremo, Mr Bill Belichick?
Naturally, the Jets offered Belichick the job and he accepted … for 1 day. Due to the changes to ownership happening to the Jets at that time, Belichick was not comfortable with the job. As a result, he created the most famous beer mat in sports history. On it he wrote “I resign as HC from the NYJ”. Belichick resigned after 1 day (see press conference here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkcKAPdNbto&t=418s) making him the only coach to coach twice for a team and never coach a game. Belichick instead took the job vacated by Pete Carroll at the New England Patriots – move that the Patriots were told was a mistake at the time. In return the Patriots gave the Jets a 2000 1st round pick. This time Kraft learned from his mistake with Parcells and gave Belichick full control of personnel for the Patriots. This left the Jets without a head coach, but an extra first round pick. The Jets signed Al Groh as head coach for the 2000 season. This season Dan Marino retired and so the AFC East wasn’t a Dolphin (or Bills) dominant division anymore, it was time for the Jets to fly.
In 2000 the Jets record was 9-7, not bad for a new head coach and much better than the disloyal failure of Belichick who could only reach 5-11 with the Patriots, after all, the Patriots spent a 6th round-pick on the immobile, weak QB named Tom Brady – no chance of him being good, right? Groh pursued a job at his alma mater University of Virginia and the Jets hired Herman Edwards. The Jets reached the playoffs, losing in the divisional playoffs to the Raiders (the Jets probably want to overlook Belichick creating a defensive powerhouse in New England and winning the 2001-02 Superbowl – the largest upset since … the Jets winning Superbowl III. Oh, the Patriots also won the 03-04 and 04-05 Superbowls). After more playoff appearances (and losses) the Jets were likely regretting not keeping that pesky Belichick guy around. They had gone from being beaten up on by the Bills in the early 90s to the Dolphins in the late 90s and now the Patriots in the early 2000s.
In 2007, the Jets traded up to select Darrelle Revis (“Revis Island”) in the 1st round of the draft. This left the Jets with one of the best corners the league had ever seen. In 2009 the Jets traded up, yet again, this time to land QB Mark Sanchez, giving him the largest contact in Jets history (at the time), 5 years $50 million. With strong coach Rex Ryan at the helm, was this the next Maynard, Namath and Ewbank? No, sadly no.
Despite reaching two straight AFC Championship games (09-10 and 10-11), the Jets lost both and to date have not returned to the playoffs. Despite promise in 2012, the Jets were destroyed by what may be the worst play in NFL history (only other contender is the Colts weird punt attempt vs Patriots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6i7VKQwDS2s). This play is the Buttfumble. Sanchez runs into the butt of O-Lineman Brandon Moore, fumbles the ball which is then scooped up by Patriots’ safety Steve Gregory who ran it back for a TD (see play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82RIfy-gRa4). From there it really has been all downhill. Sanchez left the team after injuries and Revis (after a year in Tampa Bay) returned to the AFC East with the Patriots, where he won a Superbowl along with Bill Belichick (now up to 6 Superbowls for Belichick plus the two he won as DC of the Giants).
In 2018, after two 5-11 seasons, the New York Jets drafted USC QB Sam Darnold 3rd overall. Darnold was to be the face of the franchise to come. Darnold had interception issues in college but with the right coaches, he could become a star. I personally had him ranked as a late 1st round pick (despite being my second ranked QB behind Josh Allen – the less we talk about my ranking of Lamar Jackson out of college the better) but the Jets believed he was their future. Darnold became the leagues youngest opening day starter since the AFL-NFL merger, beating the Lions 48-17 despite his first career pass being intercepted for a TD. This along with the signing of top RB Le’Veon Bell and deep threat WR Robby Anderson, the Jets looked ready on offense. On defense they had top draft pick Quinnen Williams and MLB CJ Mosely, the 2019 Jets looked strong with Darnold entering his second year. New head coach Adam Gase joined the team desperate to prove doubters wrong after a disappointing spell in Miami.
However, it was leaked that Gase didn’t think Bell was worth the massive contract, causing team friction. Mosely played injured and wound up on injured reserve, Darnold contracted mono, Anderson left for the Panthers after the year and Williams was seriously disappointing in his rookie season. Going into the mad year of 2020, Gase was on the hot seat, Mosely opted out and the controversial Gregg Williams was the DC for the second straight year. After 4 games, the Jets are 0-4. They are the worst team in football, matched only by their New York brothers, the Giants. The difference, the Giants have 3 more Superbowls and some hope for the future. In the most recent game (01/10/20) against the Broncos on Thursday night football, the Jets faced an injury riddled team starting their 3rd QB of the year. Whilst the Jets had injuries, they were not comparable to the Broncos. To add to this, Gase was coaching for his job, especially after multiple rumours of players’ unrest. It was pretty much a demolition, the defense committed multiple personnel foul penalties (just like a normal Gregg Williams defense) and gave up 37 points to a 3rd string QB. Despite an incredible 45 yard run by Darnold, the Jets could only post 28 points in return. Gase will likely get fired in the coming days or weeks and it’s possible the Jets will start over again by drafting Trevor Lawrence in the upcoming draft. Back in the late 60s, it could be said that this franchise saved the NFL, now it is them that need saving from themselves.