The 'E' Word: The Jets, Expectation, and 36 years of Misery.
It looks hopeless, people. The 2005 season is closing in upon us and we’re doomed, Jets fans. It looks bleak. Pack it in, people. It’s hopeless, like I said.
Our quarterback has a bad wing, our running back has two over-used wheels, our star defensive end has a weak heart and a brittle body. Our star WR is back, after giving us all the finger on the way out the door a couple years ago, and we gave him a raise despite having an iffy foot. We have no right tackle. We have a rookie kicker. We have a starting secondary that wouldn’t win the 4×100 meter relay against the cast of ‘The View’ even with a head start. Our roster is full of holes. Big, gaping, Sione Pouha-sized holes.
Oh yes. We have Herman back. And Dick Curl. You can almost hear the press conferences now, where Herm explains that time is nothing more than a metaphysical construct, immaterial in and of itself, and that, really, what is a second? Don’t get flustrated, Herm will tell us, he has it all under control. Somewhere in Minnesota, Doug Brien and Ted Cottrell will snicker. Somewhere in Tampa Bay, Paul Hackett will still not have a play ready to be called.
Ah, yes. We will still be playing Jets football in Giants Stadium. Of course, the Jets like to call it “The Meadowlands,” as if the stadium changes names on alternating weekends to accomodate one of its other occupants. Officially, our team plays in the Giants Stadium at the Meadowlands Sports and Entertainment Complex. So, technically, we do play in “The Meadowlands,” but only within the red and blue confines of Giants Stadium. We, the Jets, make eight cameo appearances there, like a touring rock band. Today, it’s Bon Jovi; tomorrow, the New York Jets; the day after, Ashlee Simpson. But we have the green tarps, and the Meadowlands people are nice enough to change the carpet in the end zone to a nice, healthy Jets green. Woody Johnson’s West Side Stadium got choked to death in the halls of New York City bureaucracy; the band-aid heir learning a lesson about red tape and political appeasement. Sheldon Silver sent him back to NJ, back to his green tarps and Bon Jovi; back to Giants Stadium, or, the Meadowlands. Don’t mind the blue and red plastic, Woody. If it’s any consolation, Leon couldn’t get a dime from NYC either.
In truth, all of these pitfalls can’t stack up to the one fact that is truly causing panic in Jet-land among fans who know better; among fans who know the pain and misery of rooting for this team. The big problem for Jets fans now is that they have–dare I say–expectations to deal with.
The magazines all say that these Jets are winners. Not Super Bowl winners, mind you, but 10-and-6-type winners. Playoff game losing-type winners. The Jets don’t do well with expectations. The last time we expected them to win a Super Bowl, Vinny Testaverde was lying on the Giants Stadium carpet grabbing his leg, done for the year–in Week One. But here we are again, my friends. A season is closing in and we have expectations (Damn that word). Someone outfit Chad with some extra ankle braces, quick.
For 36 years, since Namath and Snell and Weeb sold their souls to the devil, the Jets have suffered, but they’ve suffered in relative obscurity, allowing Jets fans the opportunity to cheer loudly, but suffer quietly. You do not become a Jets fan because you enjoy watching them play in Super Bowls. In mixed company, the Jets fan is a curiosity, an enigma. When you tell people that you are a Jets fan, people invariably ask you, why?, as if you just told them you bought advance screeing tickets to see the next Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez movie. As Jets fans, it’s not enough to say that we are Jets fans, but we have to explain why.
Non-Jets fans cannot understand us. Cubs fans understand us, to an extent. Up until last year, the occasional Red Sox fan could relate to you (in between their stints in rehab). Clippers fans, if they existed, could commiserate with us Jets fans. But no football fans can understand the plight of the Jets fan or why the Jets fan became a Jets fan in the first place. It’s not like being a Seahawks fan or a Cardinals fan where their (sucky) team is the only game in town. Hell, they say, you had a choice! You could have been a Giants fan. We cringe. We are punished by geography. We picture in our minds all of those Giants fans from ’86 who believed that they were actually Phil McConkey or Mark Bavaro, screaming at the television at the local bar to get them, errr, Phil, the ball. We are not like Giants fans. We do not like Giants fans. They have three Super Bowl appearances in the last two decades, winning two. We have a couple of playoff appearances. We have Bruce Coslet and Blair Thomas. We have Joe Walton and Mike Haight. They have Lawrence Taylor and Phil Simms. We have Kyle Clifton. They have Harry Carson. They have Pasadena. We have Pittsburgh. They had Bill Parcells, young up and comer. We had Bill Parcells and his eloquent reading of “The Man in the Mirror” on his way out the door. We do not like the Giants. But the Giants do not have expectations. They are starting over, re-building behind the lesser of two Mannings and a metrosexual tight end. The Jets’ time is now.
We root for this team because we believe. We are ground-floor investors, many of us. Buy low/sell high types. We can tell our grandkids about 1-15 and Rich Kotite as we sit around the TV watching the Jets ring up another Super Bowl. “I was there, kiddo. Bubby Brister flippin’ it to Sam Mills who takes it back for the touchdown. Damndest thing I ever seen…” Long time Jets fans who sat there in ’69 and through all 36 years can tell a different story–the one about the prodigal championship team that disappeared for four decades and re-appeared, and how they waited, Job-like, and were redeemed. Their devotion is nearly religious.
We root for the Jets because they’re close but never too close. The less you expect of them, the better, and 2005 may be the perfect year to prove this. They have no stadium. They don’t have all the players they need. Their QB is hurt (maybe), their DE is a drunken malingerer, the coach is a nitwit, the running back is too old, the receivers and defensive backs are too slow. In short, we have the rest of the league right where we want them. These imperfect Jets can defy expectation. Don’t read the magazines. Don’t watch a Herman press conference. Just sit back, relax, and if anyone asks you how the Jets will do this year, predict nothing better than 9-7. To predict any better is to jeopardize yet another year. Before you allow yourself to say “12 and 4,” remember poor Vinny on the turf, clutching at his ankle. It’s up to us to prevent this from happening again.
You can tell a true Jets fan right now by the way they grit their teeth when someone says “Hackett” in their presence. But beware the Jets fan that says this team will go 13-3 and are locks for the Super Bowl. Test them. Immediately ask them what the capital of Texas is. These people, you should know, may very well be Russian spies, or aliens, or at the very least, liberal Communists. Beware these people. But if they can tell you how terrible JP Machado was, or how many drops Anthony Becht had in the Bengals game, then you know you have a real fan in front of you. A Jets fan. The 13-3 predictor needs to be quarantined immediately. They pose an immediate threat to our season. Expectation is the curse of this Jets franchise. Namath may have sold his soul, but we have a chance to buy it back. This is the year. It’s all or nothing. Just, keep it quiet.
Having said that–lean in, people–I’ll let you in on our little secret here at JetNation…
We think the Jets are going to the Super Bowl this season.
Why? Because it’s all there for us. But keep it quiet.
The Pats lost their coordinators and Belichick, doing his best Nero impersonation, will call his own plays and run the entire team because he is a Wile E. Coyote-type genius. The last time Belichick did this, Art Modell rode him out of Cleveland on the back of a sludge tanker. We might expect the same here. The Dolphins will suck as Nick Saban strips the team down to rebuild it with highly-paid free agent thugs, just like he did at LSU. And the Bills are breaking in a new QB who is known more for whining than winning. The division is (say it quietly) there for the taking…
The other best teams in the AFC, the Colts and the Steelers, are teams that the Jets have played tough in the past, and, believe it or not, Herm stacks up favorably with both of their respective head coaches. Herm may not be a genius, but he’s at least on par with Dungy and Cowher when it comes to being able to screw up a playoff game. The NFL playoffs are often described by coaches as a game of high-stakes chess. Unfortunately, Cowher, Dungy, and Herman are all checkers guys. In any match-up with either of these two teams, Herm is as likely to win a screw-up for screw-up contest with the opposing coach, resulting in a Jets win. Given that, (say it quietly) the AFC is there for the taking…
As far as concerns about talent go, consider that the Patriots won the Super Bowl last season with LB’s playing SS, WR’s playing CB, and Tom Brady playing QB. Go figure. Look at the NBA: the nation just did everything it could do to ignore the NBA Finals where the Spurs team with Tim Duncan and a bunch of outcasts beat a Detroit Pistons team made up of dregs and miscreants. In baseball, the Red Sox won the title with Kevin Millar at first base. Ask yourself, when was the last time the league champion in any sport was the most talented team or the outstanding pre-season favorite? Teams that play as a team are winning over the more talented teams consistently. While the Daniel Snyders and the George Steinbrenners of the world continue to construct their rosters like they were playing in rotisserie leagues, their teams are getting humiliated by rosters of lesser-paid, lesser known players and coaches that play hard, play smart and without fear. You can no longer buy rings in any sport (except perhaps NCAA football), but in the pros, its about more than than 40 times and vertical leaps. Its about heart and toughness and brains. Somewhere along the line, the Jets might just fit the bill.
And what about Chad’s shoulder? Look at it this way–the guy had a cushy arm to begin with. Will anyone notice if he’s throwing it with 75% arm strength? Hell, would anyone notice if he started throwing it left-handed? This isn’t like taking Roger Clemens and slowing down his fastball. It’s more like taking Tim Wakefield and adding a little more flutter to his knuckleball. Chad’s game is based on accuracy and not velocity. So while we may never see those booming 70-yard bombs from Chad, we can at least count on him to not throw 25 interceptions. Donnie Henderson’s defense should be better with MLB Jonathan Vilma having a full off-season as a starter and leader, and new offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger might actually make in-game adjustments to get Chad more targets open downfield. And besides, if Chad goes down, there’s always the very scrappy Jay Fiedler backing him up… OK, forget that last part.
And as for the stadium, Woody has been persistent in his efforts to get it done, and now that the Dolan-fueled media glare has been diverted after the City Council ‘no’ vote, now Woody can do things the old-fashioned way free of scrutiny–under the table. Rumor has it he has enlisted Donald Trump to help him get things done in NYC. If money talks, the combination of Woody and Trump will scream loud enough behind closed doors to get the West Side Stadium built. Still, if we’re winning the Super Bowl this year, we’re still doing it in Giants Stadium, which is alright as long as the tarps stay tied down and they get the end zone turf changed out in time.
The last time Jets fans were paid off for their suffering was 1969. Bob Hope emceed the pre-game, honoring the Apollo-8 astronauts. The Florida A&M marching band performed at halftime. One year later, the halftime show was Carol Channing. That’s how long ago it was. Since then, the Jets have been in a four-decade long period of rebuilding. It is now our responsibility, Jets fans, to eliminate expectation and see this thing through to the end–this year. So remember, when people ask you how the Jets are going to do this year, you say “8 and 8, 9 and 7.” If someone in your group says “12 and 4,” knock them out immediately. It’s that kind of thinking that will screw this entire campaign up.
Just think about it this way, Jets fans, if we pull together and help our team win the Super Bowl, when we tell people we’re Jets fans we can leave it at that. And when they say they’re Giants fans, they’ll be the ones who have to explain why.
Thanks to jmc712 over at nyjetschat.com for the correction: Giants played in Super Bowls XXI, XXV and XXXV–not two in the “last decade.”