The Road Less Traveled

It’s no easy task being a New York Jets fan. I am not even sure I can effectively articulate what winning a championship means to me. I recognize how pathetic that sounds, coming from a 43 year old father and husband. You would think a more mature perspective might have developed eventually. I try not to be that typical negative fan and avoid phrases like “same old Jets”. If the existing regime of Woody Johnson, Mike Tannenbaum, and Rex Ryan wants to truly change the mindset of the Jets fan and move this franchise in the direction of perennial powerhouse, their 4th season is perhaps their most crucial.

We all know the history. We have all hoped that each contending team was THE ONE. We’ve all thought to ourselves, this Richard Todd guy looks a little like Namath; maybe he will get us that 2nd Super Bowl. Crazy as it sounds, maybe we did the right thing passing on Marino and taking the kid from Cal Davis, Ken O’Brien. Johnson, Pennington, Martin – this is the can’t miss trio. Book the parade….right? But optimism of a few winning seasons and a playoff run, ultimately and suddenly end, with a slap in the face. Like a blizzard in April. The Jets fan is shocked that their once competitive team is now inexplicably one of the have nots. We are once again, sitting at the cousins table with the Browns and Seahawks, the losers. The teams that just don’t get it the way the Steelers seem to.

Cut to 2012. Here we sit, a few nice playoff runs in our rearview mirror and yet the stench of a particularly disappointing and ugly 8-8 season still permeates our man caves. The cross road is here. Will the Jets overcome the adversity or will we hear the rumblings of the Jets fan’s favorite mantra, “same old Jets”? So far, I like what I have seen. Most notably the restructuring of the coaching staff and the bringing in of philosophies that seems to better suit the talent on this football team. I wouldn’t expect Tony Sparano to insert a 59 pass attempt game plan anytime soon. However, with some glaring weaknesses, General Manager Mike Tannenbaum is facing the most important year of his Jets career. If right tackle, safety, impact linebacker, and pass rush are not addressed, even Coach Parcells and Curtis Martin’s leadership won’t save this team from the cellar.

The good news is this administration stays as busy during free agency as any team in the NFL. Don’t let Ryan’s public support for Vladimir Ducasse improving his footwork or his noting of Wayne Hunter’s performance as a constant improvement fool you. They will be looking to upgrade. Brodney Pool must go. The safety tandem of Eric Smith and Jim Leonhard, we were all hoping would make a great pair of safeties. Smith can hit like a truck, but he just isn’t where he needs to be to start in the NFL. A once flourishing linebacker corps just seems to be getting old. The last Jet with double digit sacks was John Abraham, who if healthy and motivated, was capable of 20 sacks a year. Aaron Maybin was with the 2011 Jets for 13 weeks and led the team with a pathetic 6 sacks, but failed to record a single sack in the last 4 weeks. Yes, we need to upgrade.

In 1982 the Jets played in their first AFC Championship game losing to A.J. Duhe and the Miami Dolphins, 14-0. The 1983 and 1984 Jets recorded back to back 7-9 seasons, no playoffs. The divisional playoff loss to the Browns in 1986 is something I just don’t talk about. In 1987 and 1988 the Jets were a combined 14-16-1, with no playoff appearances. The Jets traveled to Denver in 1998 to play in their second ever AFC Championship game. Took a 10-0 lead into the 3rd quarter, but 6 turnovers, Terrell Davis and John Elway were just too much to overcome and they lost 23-10. Heading into perhaps the most optimistic season in Jets history, the 1999 season was a painful reminder of what it means to be a Jets fan. Vinnie Testaverde’s first game injury leads to a 4-8 start and they missed the playoffs for the next two seasons. And then there’s Herm. I will never forgive Herm Edwards for the 2004 playoff debacle in Pittsburgh. The Jets offensive line was dominating the Steelers defense late in the fourth quarter and they appeared on their way to a third AFC Championship game when Edwards decided to sit on the ball and settle for a 43 yard FG attempt. The Jets lost the game in overtime. The Edwards regime ended in 2005 with a 4-12 record.

If the current hierarchy wants to change the Jets as a franchise, they must avoid the repetitive history of 2 years of playoff absences on heels of back to back AFC Championship appearances. Sanchez can elevate his status in Jets folklore or he can be Todd or O’Brien, decent quarterbacks that few remember. Ryan can be the historical figure he longs to be or he can be Walt Michaels or Joe Walton, a couple of coaches who almost made history. Tannenbaum can be king of the biggest hill in the NFL, or he can be Terry Bradway, have a few good drafts, and never be a general manager in the NFL again. I would hate to see the very likable Woody Johnson suffer as Leon Hess did, with good intentions but too many personnel mistakes to win it all. Rich Kotite ring a bell? Will Jets fans be filing out of Met Life Stadium in 2012 shaking their heads and uttering that painful phrase, “same old Jets”? Or can this management team take the road less traveled? The one that allows us Jets fans to believe our painful history is finally behind us.

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