by Tom Shane
Chad Pennington, done for the season
Jet fans, believe it or not, are spoiled.
They are not spoiled in the sense that their beloved team wins three Super Bowls in dynastic fashion like the New England Patriots, the Dallas Cowboys, or the San Francisco 49ers. No, Jets fans know all too well that victories are never guaranteed for the Jets, much less Super Bowls, (excluding, of course, Joe Namath and 1969).
No, Jet fans are spoiled because their team is a perpetual tease. An underachiever. At times, downright comedic. Jets fans are spoiled because they always have hope, but they never have to suffer the burden of expectations.
Chad Pennington is done for the season, putting the exclamation point on what was a relatively dismal first three weeks of the 2005 NFL season. The Jets opened by getting blown out and embarassed by Kansas City, then barely nipping an inept Dolphins team at home in the second week, and losing to the Jaguars in Week Three in overtime. In that game, Pennington was shaken, stirred, beaten, and rattled, finishing the day with a stat line that reads similarly to that of a Division III full-house option QB: 9 for 19, 79 yards, 2 INT’s. And then the shoulder was gone, on another drive into the Meadowlands turf that may ultimately spell the end of not only Pennington’s season, but his career.
As Jets fans, we are disgusted. Annoyed. We want heads to roll. We scream. We vent on message boards and call the talk radio shows to scream about the green and white. Sometimes, we cry. But admit it, we always expect this sort of thing to happen.
People on the outside do not understand Jets fans. We root for a team that plays in Giants Stadium. A team that has been a doormat for all but a handful of NFL seasons, the butt of too many jokes. And here we are now, not yet past the first month of the 2005 season, our team caught somewhere between being a run-of-the-mill league laughing stock and an outright pitiful mess. Again.
We are a fan base that is used to embarrassment; that is used to watching young, promising talent walk in the door with hope and vigor, NCAA champions, and leave beaten and disheveled, and obscure.
Think of the names. Blair Thomas, our version of Walter Payton, who couldn’t be stopped while running the ball for Penn State, puts on the Jet uniform and disappears. Before him it was Freeman McNeil, a world-beater at UCLA, comes to the Jets and shows flashes but never lives up to the hype, running behind some dreadful offensive lines and, like Thomas would do less than a decade later, fade away. Just last week the Jets honored Marvin Jones at half-time. Jones, the fourth overall pick in the 1993 draft who pummeled running backs while at FSU, comes to the Jets, breaks his hip as a rookie, and is never the same player again. Browning Nagle. Glenn Foley. Throw in Ronnie Lott, Lamont Jordan, James Hasty, Aaron Glenn, all players who one way or another came to the Jets with great promise and left embittered, if not flat-out humiliated, by their time in New York.
And now there’s Chad Pennington. Pennington, who was often the first player each season to warn Jets fans to “believe or find another team” now knows what it is about Jets fans that make them not believe. Now Pennington, who will have his throwing shoulder torn open again for the second time in a year, understands why the Jet fan is paranoid, why he is a disbeliever, why he boos his team.
In 2002, he was a savior. His high-arcing passes dropped perfectly in between defenders, into the hands of his receivers for touchdowns, and wins, and glory. The Jets had a young, promising quarterback for the first time since Namath. A guy who almost made you believe, and now he’s gone for the year. Maybe forever. Brooks Bollinger is now the Jets QB for the 2005 season. Somewhere, Bubby Brister is laughing.
Now the questions begin: Should Pennington have been playing at all? Should he have been allowed to close out the end of last season after getting hurt against the Bills in Week Nine? Why was he rushed back this season even after the signing of Jay Fiedler? And most importantly, whose head gets to do the rolling?
This is Year Five of the Edwards/Bradway regime. Tied at the hip to Pennington and running back Curtis Martin, Herm and Terry now have to face the music for piloting what is assuredly a sinking ship. Pennington is finished for the season, and Martin is averaging a mere 2.9 yards per carry on the season. In Year Five the team in any organization in any sport needs to be competing for championships, not worrying about replacing brittle quarterbacks and ancient, slow running backs. The two engines that were driving the Bradway/Edwards campaign have blown out. There is no starting over. When Chad Pennington hit the turf and tore his shoulder on Sunday, it signalled not only the end of the Jets 2005 season, it possibly, as well as it should have, signalled the end of Herman Edwards and Terry Bradway’s employment by the New York Jets. When the fifth year is a train wreck, as this has been, there should not be a sixth year. Excuses (a Herm Edwards specialty) be damned.
So as we continue on into this season, it should be considered dismal, and frustrating, and heart-breaking. But what it should not be is a surprise. When it comes to misery striking down their team for yet another season, Jets fans are always ready for it. They’ve had decades of practice. Looking forward to 2006, their fans will have hope, but the smart ones will never have expectations.