Jets Time Machine: 1977

A new hope: The greatest draft the Jets ever had.

We interrupt this broadcast of all draft, all the time to introduce a new feature for GGN: the Jets Time Machine. Every once in a while, when the mood strikes, but never during the playing season, I will be your host on a trip down Jets Memory Lane. I intend to revive a (mostly) positive set of memories for the old timers around here, as well as provide a hopefully informative and educational introduction to some of the forgotten history the youngsters have no memory of. And so, without further introduction, come join me in the first installment of the Jets Time Machine.

Today I take you back 36 years, a time before many of you were even a gleam in your parents' eyes. The year was 1977. Living through that year it seemed somewhat unremarkable. Yet powerful forces were at work, setting events in motion which would change the world forever.

In China, a year after the death of Chairman Mao, Deng Xiaoping takes the reigns of power as the notorious Gang of Four is expelled from the Communist Party. Deng starts the process of dismantling the policies of the revolutionary communist state, introducing the first tentative economic and political reforms which lead haltingly but directly to today's economic, political and military colossus. It is difficult to remember now, but at the time China was nearly as isolated, and as much of a technological and economic backwater, as North Korea is today. Deng's rise began a long modernization process that continues to this day and has rendered China nearly unrecognizable to those who remember the bad old days of the Maoist state.

In the Middle East, Egypt's President Anwar al-Sadat breaks rank with other Arab nations and becomes the first Arab state to formally recognize the state of Israel. Sadly, the great promise of this historic event remains largely unfulfilled and peace remains as elusive as ever in the Middle East.

In Central America the United States returns sovereignty over the Panama Canal to Panama.

In France the guillotine is used for the last time as a means of executing criminals.

Closer to home, after formally opening in 1973, work on the World Trade Center is finally completed. A gallon of gas costs 65 cents. The Dow Jones Industrial Average hovers around 800. The average new house costs slightly less than $50,000. And a Georgia peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter, takes the office of United States President in the final repudiation of the Watergate era.

In Cupertino California an obscure company is incorporated, intending to stake its claim to the fortunes to be won in the nascent computer industry. Incorporated on January 3rd by two guys named Steve, Apple Computer introduces the Apple II to the world. Going on sale for prices starting at $1300 (nearly 10% of the average household income!), this marvel of modern technology boasts a microprocessor running at 1 MHz, 4 KB of RAM, an audio cassette interface for loading programs and storing data, and the Integer BASIC programming language built into the ROM. It is an instant hit, and continues to sell in various iterations for the next 16 years.

The U.S. Department of Defense introduces NAVSTAR, the world's first satellite Global Positioning System, as well as the world's first neutron bomb. The world's first MRI is tested in Brooklyn, the Space Shuttle takes its inaugural test flight, and NASA launches Voyager I and II, which go on to become the first man made objects ever to leave the solar system.

In the world of the arts and popular culture, Star Wars makes its debut in movie theatres and smashes box office records. An unknown and unemployed Sylvester Stallone writes, directs and stars in Rocky, which goes on to win the Best Picture Oscar. Woody Allen releases what many consider his finest work, Annie Hall. The musical tragedy which was Disco is in full swing with the release of the John Travolta star turn Saturday Night Fever. The Bee Gees rule the pop music world, but a counter movement emerges, as groups like the Ramones, The Clash, and the Sex Pistols introduce the world to Punk Rock. In Tennessee, the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, dies of a heart attack at the age of 42. Annie rules Broadway, and on the small screen Roots rivets a nationwide audience to the screen, becoming must see TV for just about everyone and unleashing a short lived craze to trace one's genealogy. And 14 year old boys everywhere pay homage to their raging hormones by taping the most iconic poster in history to their walls -- Farah Fawcett in an unforgettable red one piece.

If you were a New Yorker, rarely had you seen darker days. In fact, most had never seen a darker day than July 13th, 1977, when all of New York City succumbed to an enormous blackout, which plunged the city into darkness for 25 hours. The blackout was one of many factors, including rampant crime, the Son of Sam killer, a horrific and dangerous Times Square district and a devastating fiscal crisis, which ultimately created the perception of Mayor Abe Beame as unable to govern the City and ushered in the Ed Koch era.

The darkness of the era is reflected in the fortunes of most of the local sports teams. If you were a Yankees fan, you were delirious, as the Bombers produce their first championship in more than a decade, ending a historic (for the Yankees) drought. Reggie Jackson blusters into town and gives his infamous Straw That Stirs The Drink interview to SPORT magazine. In the World Series he backs up his boasts, hitting 3 HRs in one World Series game and leading the Yankees to the title, in the process becoming known forever after as Mr. October. It would be the first of 2 back to back titles and the first of many under the stewardship of George Steinbrenner. It would also be the lone bright spot in some of the darkest days ever in New York sports history.

Across town the Mets begin dismantling the dream pitching staff that had led them to 2 World Series in 5 years. On June 15, in what becomes known to Mets fans as the Saturday Massacre, the Mets trade The Franchise, Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, the greatest Met of all time, to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for a nondescript collection of B list talent including Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn and Steve Henderson. The organization ends up finishing last for the first time in a decade. Within another year and a half, pitchers Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack would also be dealt away, completing the dismantling of the franchise and setting the Mets up for a Dark Age that would only begin to let up in 1984, with the arrival of Doc Gooden. In an interesting side note, the Saturday Massacre also includes the trade of Dave Kingman for Bobby Valentine, among others, and at roughly the same time the Mets fire manager Joe Frazier and bring in Joe Torre, thus bringing to NY for the first time the managers that would end up facing each other as rival NY managers for the 2000 World Series title.

In basketball things are equally dark. Like the Mets, the New York Knicks begin the process of dismantling the last remnants of teams that had brought the city championships in the recent past. Hall of Famers Bill Bradley and Walt Frazier are both in their last seasons as Knicks, and Hall of Fame coach Red Holzman is in the last year of his first and most successful stint as Knicks coach. Although the Knicks would go on to have some moderate success and some playoff appearances over the next decade, it would be 15 long years before the team would again be serious title contenders.

If the Knicks are mediocre, their cross town rivals are in absolute disarray. The newly minted NBA Nets, a refugee from the ill fated ABA, enters the league. In what amounts to the price of admission, the Nets are forced to give up the other worldly Dr. J, Julius Erving, to the Philadelphia 76ers. Erving goes on to lead the 76ers to the NBA Finals, where they lose to the Bill Walton led Portland Trailblazers. The Nets, sans their Hall of Fame leader, go on to post a pathetic 22-60 record, and it would take the passing of a quarter century and the arrival of another Hall of Fame player, guard Jason Kidd, before the Nets would ever become serious title contenders.

That brings us to the darkest days of all for New York sports fans, the terrible, awful year of 1977 for NY football teams. In Big Blue territory, the football Giants are smack in the middle of the worst decade in that team's long and storied history. From 1971 through 1980 the Giants never make the playoffs and field only one team that finishes over .500. No other Giants team during the Lost Decade wins more than 6 games. The 1977 team completes only 134 passes all season, has a completion percentage of 43%, and passes for less than 1800 yards. They are led by Joe Pisarcik, who would later go on to commit what would then be the most infamous fumble in NFL history, picked up and run in for a game winning TD by none other than Herm Edwards, the future head coach of the New York Jets. The Fumble, as it came to be called, would hold its place as the most infamous fumble in NFL history right up until it was arguably surpassed by our own Mark Sanchez, with an assist from Brandon Moore's butt.

If the Giants are bad in 1977, the Jets are absolutely hopeless. Finishing with a 3-11 record, the Jets have the 3rd worst record in the NFL, and one of the the 2 teams worse than them, the Tampa Bay Bucs, are an expansion team only one year removed from their inaugural 0-14 season. This debacle of a Jets team only exceeds 17 points 4 times all season, and nearly matches that total by being shut out 3 times. Coached by Walt Michaels in his first year as head coach, the team features.... wait for it... none other than John Idzik, Sr. as offensive coordinator. Needless to say, this is not our current GM's father's finest hour.

The Jets are coming off of a 1976 season in which the team had said goodbye to Hall of Fame QB and NY icon Joe Willie Namath. Unfortunately for Broadway Joe and the Jets, Namath went out not with a bang but a whimper. In a performance that matched anything this franchise has ever seen from the Sanchize for pure football ineptitude, Joe exited the Broadway stage on December 12, 1976. On a cold December day in New York, Namath hobbled onto the field and completed just 4 of 15 passes for 20 yards. He was intercepted 4 times and was relieved by the Jets prized first round draft pick, fellow Alabama product Richard Todd, en route to a 42-3 pasting at the hands of the Bengals. This 1976 team was one of 2 back to back teams that replaced the head coach midway through the season, setting an NFL record that still stands for most head coaches over the course of a two year period. Dark times indeed. The Jets follow up this debacle with the futile 1977 team, a team that has only one receiver with more than 500 yards receiving and none with more than 750, has only one back with more than 320 yards rushing and none with more than 600. The Jets QBs combine for an ungodly QB rating of 50.8, while opponents combine for an 86.4 QB rating. They are outscored 300 to 189, commit 26 interceptions and another 24 fumbles, and are in every way a complete disaster of a football team, an abomination unto the football gods. Like the Giants, the Jets are in the middle of a Lost Decade, an 11 year stretch when they never finish better than .500, finish with 4 wins or less 5 times, and never make the playoffs.

This is the Jets darkest hour, and unless you are a Yankees fan, it is NY sports' darkest hour. No fewer than 6 Hall of Famers ( Namath, Erving, Bradley, Frazier, Holtzman and Seaver) are lost in a stretch of less than 18 months, 2 franchises with recent championships are dismantled, and NY football has never been worse. So why in Tebow's name am I revisiting this Dark Age? Simply because of this -- for the Jets, this was the hour of greatest darkness just before the dawn. The seeds of hope are planted in that dark year of 1977, in the form of the greatest draft in franchise history, and one of the greatest drafts in NFL history. Within a year the Jets would be a .500 team, and within 4 years the Jets would embark on a 6 year run which would usher in the New York Sack Exchange and the first AFC Championship Game in team history (the 1968 team played in an AFL Championship Game). The seeds for that successful run are planted in April 1977, in the Jets draft war room, as they call the names of player after player that would go on to become pillars of this franchise for years to come.

This is how that 1977 draft went down:

Round 1: OT Marvin Powell, 5 times Pro Bowl, 3 times All Pro, 10 years starter.

Round 2: WR Wesley Walker, 2 times Pro Bowl, 1 time All Pro, 12 years starter.

Round 3: DT Tank Marshall, no starts.

Round 4: RB Scott Dierking, 7 years starter.

Round 5: WR Perry Griggs, T Gary Gregory, no starts.

Round 6: DL Joe Klecko, 4 times Pro Bowl, 2 times All Pro, 11 years starter.

Round 7: RB Charlie White no starts.

Round 7: P Bob Grupp, 1 time Pro Bowl, 4 years starter.

Round 7: RB Kevin Long, 4 years starter.

Round 8: G Dan Alexander, 13 years starter.

Round 8: LB Ed Thompson, did not make the team.

Round 9: QB Matt Robinson, 1 year starter, later traded to OAK for 1st and 2nd Rd. picks.

Rounds 10-12: A series of non-entities.

Take a look at that draft and let it sink in. This is a draft of epic proportions. 3 All Pros. 4 Pro Bowlers. A total of 6 All Pro seasons and 12 Pro Bowl seasons. No fewer than 8 starters, with 4 of them starting for a decade or more. In one fell swoop the Jets went from a hopeless down and out franchise saying goodbye to the last vestiges of a proud past to a team with enormous promise for the future. In one draft they found the best WR in franchise history, the best OT in franchise history, one of the top 5 guards in franchise history, the best DL in franchise history, and 2/3 of the backfield rotation (along with Clark Gaines) for the next several years.

It is a draft so absurdly deep in talent, so transformative in its effect, it almost takes your breath away. This was a draft like no other, and it stands to this day so far ahead of any other Jets draft you almost have to pinch yourself to believe it really happened. 36 years ago this sad sack franchise, this abomination of an NFL team, did nearly everything not just right, but virtually perfectly. And as a result, within a few short years the Jets developed the most iconic teams, outside of the Super Bowl III team, in franchise history, and the New York Sack Exchange led this team to the status of legitimate Super Bowl contender over the best stretch of sustained excellence in franchise history. A stark reminder, perhaps, in these troubled times, that it can all turn around with just one great draft. Just as it did in that year of momentous portents of change, so long ago, in 1977.

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