New York Jets Draft Day Memories – Part 1, 1983-1994

Scott Mason goes through all time New York Jets draft memories, good and bad…

The 2017 NFL draft is now less than three weeks away, and the suspense is building to what is sure to be an incredible crescendo.  As the draft gets closer and closer, we sit with baited breath and wait for the answers to questions like: Who will be the first quarterback chosen?  Is it actually possible that three running back will go in the first round for the first time since 2012?  Will there be any major draft day trades?  Will Mel Kiper’s hair still shine on like a crazy diamond?

These questions will be answered in less than three weeks, and the results will certainly produce numerous memorable moments.  In fact, as I’ve thought more and more about the draft over the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on some of my own favorite draft moments, mostly involving the Jets, because that’s the team I’ve rooted for ever since my father decided to recruit me for a lifetime of disappointment by initiating me into Gang Green Nation as a little kid.

In that vein, I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorite Jets-based draft day memories with you. This is part one of a series, with part two coming next week. I encourage you to post some of your favorites in the comment section and on Joe’s twitter timeline – because as Dalbin joked earlier this week, I am, indeed, Twitterless – so we can all commiserate together.

 

1983 – Admittedly I did not view this live as I was only two years old, but I do have the tape of it and have tortured myself by watching it several times over the years.  If you are unfamiliar with what happened here, essentially, Dan Marino was considered one of the top quarterbacks in the country coming out of Pittsburgh, who unexpectedly slid in the first round because of drug rumors.

The draft was held in New York and the fans in attendance were salivating over the possibility the Jets would take Marino when they selected at number 24, but when their turn came up, they stunned the crowd and the experts by picking UC Davis QB Ken O’Brien instead.  If you watch the video of the fans in attendance, their reactions and post-selection interviews all did an excellent job of conveying their bewilderment and disenchantment.

Marino went two picks later to the hated Miami Dolphins and was a source of constant torture for the Jets’ fanbase during a career in which he threw for over 60,000 yards and 420 touchdowns, appeared in a Superbowl and nine pro bowls, and ultimately ended up in the Hall of Fame.

O’Brien actually had a pretty good career that included 106 starts (the most of any Jets QB not named Joe Namath), two trips to the pro bowl, and a winning record against Marino (6-5).  But none of that mattered to Jets fans, because unfortunately for O’Brien, the fanbase’s refusal to forgive the fact that he was chosen over Marino meant they would never fully appreciate him for the quality QB that he was.

1989 – The Jets picked 14th in this draft and selected Virginia DE Jeff Lageman, which drew a now-legendary rebuke from ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr, who believed Lageman was a major reach.  According to Kiper at the time, the selection of Lageman over Oklahoma State WR Hart Lee Dykes – who went two picks later to New England – showed that the Jets clearly did not understand what the draft process was all about.  In what would become one of many instances over the years where we were reminded of why Kiper is a TV talking head and not an NFL scout, Lageman would go on to play well over the course of six seasons with the Jets, compiling 34.5 sacks and 330 tackles while Dykes tore up his knee and was out of the league after two seasons.

1993 – This was the first year that I remember following the draft live, because I had finally gotten into college football and actually knew who the players being drafted were.  I remember being at my brother’s soccer game, and as the draft was about to start, my father gave me the keys to his car with very special instructions: I was to go listen to the draft on the radio and report back to him and his friend Norm about what the Jets had done.

I know that sounds crazy now, but this was before cellphones and the internet were so prevalent.  Back then there was no ESPN draft tracker or anything like that, so we actually had to wait for the evening sportscast, the WFAN 20/20 flash, or – gasp – read the newspaper THE NEXT DAY to find out the big sports stories if we weren’t watching or listening live.

The Jets picked 3rd overall and my dad’s friend Norm, who was a huge draft aficionado – he had all the draft books and everything –assured us that the Jets HAD to pick FSU LB Marvin Jones because he was going to be “the next Mike Singletary.”  When the Jets’ pick came up and a trade was announced, I waited for the details and raced over to my father and Norm to let them know what had just happened.  “They traded the pick to the Cardinals for Johnny Johnson and the 4th pick……Cardinals took Garrison Hearst,” before adding, “Ok, gotta go, they are on the clock now.”

Hearst was a superstar RB at Georgia and the Jets successfully bluffed the Cardinals into believing they would pick him, forcing the Cardinals to give up Johnny Johnson – a proficient running back who had made the pro bowl in 1991 – to move up a spot and grab Hearst for fear of losing him to the Jets.  I got back to the car just in time to hear the Jets select Jones, and then turn back around to excitedly tell my father and Norm, “They got Jones!  They got Jones!”

I almost passed out from exhaustion (I was not exactly the most physically fit kid in the world at the time), and I’m pretty sure everybody else watching the soccer game thought I was out of my mind, but my father and Norm high-fived each other, while we all smiled and delighted in how pumped up we were to see the havoc Jones was going to wreak as a Jet.

Hearst was pretty underwhelming for the Cardinals and Bengals before experiencing a career renaissance with the 49ers in 1997 and 1998 (including a 96-yard touchdown to beat the Jets in overtime on opening day in 1998).  His career hit the skids after a brutal foot injury during a 1998 playoff game, but after missing two seasons, he made an extraordinary comeback and managed to have three more productive years in San Francisco.

Johnson was a solid running back for the Jets in 1993 and 1994 before being released for salary cap reasons and replaced as the Jets’ feature back by Adrian Murrell, a former fifth round pick out of West Virginia.  Jones never even came close to becoming “the next Mike Singletary,” but he spent a decade with the Jets and was a reliable – if unremarkable – middle linebacker up until he retired following the 2003 season.

1994 – There were no soccer games involved in 1994, as this time, I watched the draft with my dad from the comfort of our living room.  After firing Bruce Coslet – who despite being a well-respected offensive coordinator seemed to be an unimaginative dud in his four seasons as Jets head coach – the Jets promoted his defensive coordinator, Pete Carroll.

Yes, THAT Pete Caroll.

The Jets’ had the reliable Johnny Johnson at RB but their receiving corps was in desperate need of an upgrade and it was expected that they would use their #13 overall pick on one of the draft’s top pass-catchers, Colorado’s Charles Johnson or USC’s Johnnie Morton.  I remember preferring Johnson because I saw Morton as more of a flashy kick returner type who wouldn’t translate to the NFL.

We patiently waited for the Jets to pick until – in a bit of a role reversal from trading down one spot the year before – they surprisingly traded up one pick to #12.  My father and I debated which receiver they would take – I thought they would take Johnson and he thought Morton – but when the pick was announced, we were both shocked when it was announced as Texas A & M CB Aaron Glenn.

I hadn’t watched Glenn that much but knew of him and understood how highly scouts thought of him, but I was surprised the Jets would pick him given how badly they needed a receiver.  When interviewed, Carroll explained that they felt Glenn was far and away the best player available, and too good to pass up, so the Jets traded up a spot to make sure nobody could steal the Texas A & M star out from under them.

Johnson ended up going five picks later to the Steelers and Morton went four picks after him to the Lions.  Johnson had a handful of solid seasons for the Steelers – including a 1,000 yard season in 1996 – but never quite turned into the #1 WR he was expected to become.  Morton never quite reached #1 receiver level, either, but he did have a successful career that produced four 1,000 yard seasons and over 40 career TDs.

For all the head scratching over the pick of a CB at the time, Carroll – in what ended up being his most significant contribution to the Jets – turned out to be right, as Glenn went on to become a multiple time pro bowler and one of the best defensive backs in Jets’ history.  He had over 40 career interceptions and was arguably the best defensive player on a 1998 Jets team that came within one half of reaching the Superbowl.

Carroll was not around to see the 1998 season as the Jets’ collapse down the stretch in 1994 – which included the infamous Dan Marino “fake spike” play and the loss of the team’s last five games – caused then owner Leon Hess to lose patience with Carroll who was fired after one season and replaced with former Eagles’ coach Rich Kotite, who had just coached a team that lost SEVEN games in a row.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Of course, history has shown the Jets made the right decision, as Carroll went on to accomplish virtually nothing the rest of his career while Kotite led the Jets to a decade of sustained success.

Just kidding.

Of course, in a twist of typical Jets luck, Carroll eventually won multiple national championships with USC and a Superbowl with the Seattle Seahawks while Kotite was fired after posting an unfathomable 4-28 record over the course of two miserable seasons.

For what it’s worth, after passing on Johnson and Morton, the Jets did end up addressing the WR need in the second round of the 1994 draft with Wyoming’s Ryan Yarborough.  Unfortunately, Yarborough was a major disappointment, doing little of significance in two seasons with the Jets before doing even less in two seasons with the Ravens.

 

That’s installment #1……I hope you enjoyed it and once again, I encourage you to share some of your favorite Jets memories in the comments section and on Joe’s twitter timeline.  Next week, we pick it up with 1995 and the infamous explanation Rich Kotite gave Jets fans for a pick NOBODY saw coming.