There. With minutes to go before their 2016 season-opening kick-off, I've said it and gotten it out of the way, freeing my Autumn for more productive pursuits. More importantly, I've shed the burden of expectation -- specifically the expectation of anything good.
|The sometimes hurt, sometimes heroic|
Richard Todd, whose play in 1981 inspired
signs declaring, "Todd is God!''
(This page from the 1979 Jets yearbook)
Life as a Jets fan is conducive to this kind of thinking.
I love the Jets, really I do, too much to actually watch them play after decades of disappointment.
Not yet four when they won their sole Super Bowl appearance in 1969, my conscious Jets fandom began in 1978, when the National Football League adopted its 16-game season format, tailor-made for a franchise with a remarkable propensity for going 8-8 and making fans feel good about it.
That's how they finished that year and again in 1979.
Since then, it's been one damned thing after another, including:
- AJ Duhe and the Orange Bowl mud;
- picking Ken O'Brien over Dan Marino (taking nothing away from O'Brien, who was arguably the Jets second-best QB in franchise history, but still...);
- taking Al Toon instead of Jerry Rice because they were worried about Rice's durability;
- drafting Blair Thomas, not Emmitt Smith;
- Marino's humiliating "fake spike";
- Bubby Brister's shovel pass;
- Vinny Testaverde's achilles tendon;
- Chad Pennington's wrist;
- Chad Pennington's shoulder;
- Pennington's shoulder, again;
- and Mark Sanchez' "butt fumble".
|Precision Jets pilot Ken O'Brien, |
from the 1987 yearbook
Bill Belichick, who has directed the New England Patriots to six Super Bowls and four championships, was named Jets' head coach twice yet never coached a game.
The first time, he was part of a package that included the hiring of legendary one-time Giants head coach Bill Parcels, who had recently retired as Patriots' HC, as an "advisor." When the Patriots balked at what they rightly perceived to be a breach of Parcel's contractual obligations to their team, the Jets were compelled to pay compensation, freeing him to step out from behind the curtain and be the top man in the Emerald City.
Given the Jets' star-crossed history, perhaps the result of a Faustian bargain struck by their Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath when he guaranteed that Super Bowl III victory, maybe it wouldn't have mattered if Belichick remained.
|The fantastic and fragile Chad Pennington,|
from a 2002 season game program.
- Cursed when Bruce Harper fumbled the opening kickoff return at the 1981 Wild Card game against the Buffalo Bills, instantly putting them in a 7-0 hole from which they'd never escape in the last NFL playoff game at Shea Stadium;
- Cursed when Testaverde's achilles tendon tore in first half of the first game of the 1999 season after he'd led them to the 1998 AFC championship game;
- Cursed when placekicker Doug Brien missed two potential game-winning field goals in a 2004 playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers;
- Cursed when -- after using their first draft pick to take kicker Mike Nugent to replace Brien -- Pennington and back-up QB Jay Fiedler sustained season-ending injuries in the same quarter of the third game of the 2005 season.*
Since the NFL's adoption of a 16-game schedule, the Jets have gone 281-317-2 over 38 seasons (two of which were abbreviated by labor issues). Seven of those seasons produced 8-8 records, another 8-7-1, two at 7-9, five at 9-7, six at 6-10 and six at 10-6. These Monsters of the Middling once went 12-4. They also once went 1-15. They've won 10 post-season games and lost 12, including four AFC Championships.
Fandom for any team is an act of faith. Nobody wins all of the time, even if it sometimes feels that way. The Jets are far from alone in seeming to be endlessly rebuilding, forever close to turning that last corner. That's the grift, the long con: we the willing, we the credulous, we the gullible, we believe.
Even if we don't want to, we believe.
* A Cincinnati Bengal since 2010, Nugent just minutes ago booted a game-winning field goal for the big cats as they downed the Jets, 23-22, in the 2016 season opener. Of course he did.
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