The Jets Journey To Relevancy
Today I was talking to a friend from Philadelphia about how big of a following the Flyers have in the city with their recent Cinderella run in the playoffs. He assured me the Flyers were a big deal within the city and had a rabid following that didn’t trail the Eagles or Phillies by as much as you’d expect. I thought about the New York sports market, where the Rangers, Devils, and Islanders are irrelevant topics on the back pages of newspapers, sports talk radio, and mainstream websites. The only buzz around the Knicks and Nets is associated with the prayer’s chance of recruiting LeBron James. Football and baseball dominate the town. The Yankees are the number one story and you would normally put the Giants and Mets right behind them with the Jets a distant fourth.
I remember December 30th, 2007 sitting in the pouring rain at a half empty stadium watching the 3-12 Jets play the 4-11 Chiefs. It was an ugly and depressing game as I watched Kellen Clemens struggle through a 13/25, 115 yard performance. The Giants were headed to the playoffs. The Patriots had just completed an undefeated regular season. Little did I know that both were headed for an epic Super Bowl, which had one of the best fourth quarters and plays in league history. There you had it, the team the Jets shared the city with and their biggest rival battling on the world’s biggest stage while the Jets couldn’t be any more irrelevant. It was just another low point in the difficult life of being a New York Jets fan.
Yet today, when I was talking with my friend I had to put the Jets as the number two story in the New York sports market behind the defending champion Yankees. The Mets are slowly fading into their usual oblivion and somehow the Jets have become a better, more entertaining team and a bigger story than the New York Giants, a team who won arguably the greatest Super Bowl game ever played a little over 2 years ago.
How did this happen?
It started with an uncharacteristically aggressive off-season headed into the 2008 regular season. General Manager Mike Tannenbaum learned from his mistake heading into the 2007 season, when he incorrectly believed his 10-6 team was only a few minor tweaks away from being a Super Bowl contender. The Jets were a fun story in 2006 but they caught the league off-guard with a wild-card appearance thanks to a soft schedule, a surprisingly productive season from Chad Pennington, and career years from journeyman players like Victor Hobson, Cedric Houston, Anthony Clement, Chris Baker, Bryan Thomas, Hank Poteat, Erik Coleman, Justin Miller, and Andre Dyson.
The Jets did add Thomas Jones but thought they could get by another year with Clement on the line and Adrien Clarke stepping in for Pete Kendall at guard and made no major free agent additions to their defense. However, Tannenbaum did strike gold in the draft by trading up for future All-Pro defenders Darrelle Revis and David Harris. Regardless, Pennington succumbed to another injury and Kellen Clemens struggled heavily behind a terrible offensive line and the Jets disappointed with a 4-12 season.
With owner Woody Johnson’s blessing the Jets began a trend of recruiting and landing big time free agents. They broke the bank for perennial pro-bowler Alan Faneca and brought in veteran Damien Woody to complement him at tackle. They outbid Miami for Calvin Pace and swung a trade for Kris Jenkins. They also solidified their running game by adding fullback Tony Richardson and blocking tight end Bubba Franks. Despite Eric Mangini’s stringent ways and the organization operating under the New England state of mind, they were still able to recruit big name players to rebuild the roster.
Tannenbaum didn’t finish his off-season until he shocked the football world by swinging a trade for Brett Favre. I know in the end, the Favre experiment didn’t work out considering the Jets failed to make the playoffs and his struggles down the stretch. However, the fact that Favre joined the Jets demonstrated to the rest of the league that the team was moving in the right direction. The pieces were being put into place to build a contender on both sides of the ball and they had a GM and owner who would aggressively pursue putting together a winner regardless of the cost.
The Jets could have faded back into irrelevancy into 2009 when they decided to cut ties with Favre and head coach Eric Mangini. Breaking with his personal characteristics and the Bill Parcells mindset he was groomed with, Mike Tannenbaum went for the boisterous, confident Rex Ryan. Mangini was a good football mind but had suffocated the life out of the organization. Ryan provided the shot of energy necessary to overcome the hangover from the disastrous end to the 2009 season and Favre’s departure. The bold moves from the previous off-season carried over into the months heading into 2009, starting with Ryan and his recruitment of former Baltimore Ravens, Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard, and Marques Douglas.
Yet, the most important decision came during the 2009 NFL Draft. The Jets weren’t making the playoffs with Kellen Clemens or Brett Ratliff at quarterback and everybody knew it. They needed a franchise quarterback to wash the bad taste out of everybody’s mouth that Favre had left. Working with their former head coach Mangini, they moved up to acquire USC’s Mark Sanchez.
The team had successfully moved out of the Mangini/Favre era with an exciting new head coach and quarterback. However, they retained the quality players acquired during Mangini’s two winning seasons in three years. The pieces were in place for a team with cautiously high expectations heading into the 2009 season.
In a rare occurrence, the football gods smiled on the ugly stepchild of New York City. A 7-7 team that appeared to be out of the playoffs was handed the backups of the best team in the league and took advantage. The victory positioned them to close out the stadium they had embarrassingly been tenants in, with a playoff berth in front of the whole country on Sunday Night Football. The Big Brother New York Giants had packed up their bags a few weeks too early and left with an ugly loss to the Carolina Panthers, leaving the Jets to fill the void as the team the New York sports market could get behind. Regardless of who the Bengals played or didn’t play, the Jets thrived for their fans and the city with a 37-0 victory.
Any questions about the Jets validity as a playoff team were answered with subsequent road victories over the Bengals and heavily favored San Diego Chargers. The momentum carried right into the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game, when the Jets were up 17-6. Unfortunately, an immortal quarterback rose to the top of his game and ended their run.
Despite the loss, the Jets had arrived. Their head coach whose ability to entertain and grab headlines was matched by his ability to design an elite defense and motivate his players, had claimed the Jets would be the number one show in town when the new Meadowlands began hosting NFL games and it was hard not to believe him. Tannenbaum didn’t back off. He must have remembered the off-season heading into 2007 again because he added Antonio Cromartie, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor, and Santonio Holmes to a team that was 28 minutes away from a Super Bowl.
Here we are today, with HBO knocking down the Jets door to feature them on Hard Knocks. Relevancy doesn’t equal success but any Jets fan will tell you it is refreshing to be the most hyped up team in the area. Giants fans will say they enjoy flying under the radar and I don’t blame them. They shouldn’t concern themselves with the attention being paid to a team who hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 1969, when they have won 3 since then. However, the Jets don’t have to ignore the spotlight being shined on them. Yes, they bring the attention to themselves with the boasting of their head coach, big name acquisitions, and posturing of their owner but there is substance behind the hype around the team.
There is a system of playing defense and running the football, which is a familiar formula for playoff teams. The Jets have the ability to run the ball because they have assembled one of the best offensive lines in football and found a running back by trading up to get a guy that inexplicably slipped through the cracks to the third round. They have the ability to play defense because they drafted the best corner in the NFL, an All-Pro inside linebacker, and surrounded them with quality free agent additions. Yet, if you follow the NFL these days you know it takes more than running the ball and defense to win a championship, which is why the Jets have surrounded their franchise quarterback with one of the best three wide sets in the NFL, a pass-catching tight end, and one of better receiving running backs in NFL history.
Somehow, someway the Jets have navigated themselves into relevancy. The owner, GM, coach, and roster is finally in place to turn that relevancy into success. By success, I mean the one thing that could actually put the Jets on the same level of the Giants as a NFL organization and make sure the new stadium doesn’t turn into “Giants Stadium Part 2,” and that is win a Super Bowl.
Now Some Other Updates:
1. We have been locked at 315 fans on Facebook for 2 days now and that is getting me a little anxious. I need as many fans as possible to throw at the Jets media relations guy when I working on getting a press pass…so follow it on Facebook, tell you friends to follow it on Facebook and do the same for the Twitter account (TurnOnTheJets).
2. Remember we have other tabs on this site beyond the home page…we also have just added a tab for the Podcast, which links you to the site with the TOJ Podcasts.
3. (http://www.youhaveiwant.com/home.html) – Worth checking out, especially if you are looking to get your hands on New York area sports tickets.
4. Jets minor roster moves…they added offensive tackle Aaron Kia and released receiver S.J. Green and offensive tackle Matt Stommes. The depth chart has been updated accordingly.
5. Tough break for the New Jersey Nets last night. I can’t say that I wasn’t happy since I am a Knicks fan first and a Wizards fan second…yes I have a second favorite basketall team. How can I justify that? First off, the Knicks have been god awful the past decade, second I lived in DC for 6 months, attended some games at the Phone Booth when the Wizards were pretty good and became a big Agent Zero fan…before he decided to start bringing guns into the locker room. So, yea I broke out the John Wall dance in my Arenas shirt last night after they got the number one pick.
6. Thoughts On Lost Final Season, Episode 16 “What They Died For” –We ended our one episode break in 23 A.D. with glowing caves and terrible kid actors by getting back to our main characters with a very, very good episode. Everybody kind of saw it coming with Jack replacing Jacob, but it almost seemed like it happened too easy. I have a feeling when it is all said and done, Jack won’t be taking the job as island protector. I liked the sideways action…Desmond is well on his way to putting together the greatest reunion concert ever. Instead of breaking down all the details of last night’s episode, here are my predictions for the finale and you can trust I have avoided all spoilers this season:
- Richard and Lapidus aren’t dead yet.
- Sawyer will die on the island.
- Juliet is Jack’s ex-wife in the sideways timeline.
- Jack will cure Locke in the sideways but find a way to kill him on the island.
- Ben is pulling a long con on Locke and will end up being a good guy at the end…and the new island protector.
- Desmond is going into the yellow cave…and I don’t know what happens from there.
- I still have no idea how they merge both timelines.
- Rose and Bernard helped Desmond out of the well.
- Final scene? It was all the dog’s dream.