To hear the reports, life as a Jets fan is a miserable experience. Must be. I read it in the papers and see it on T.V. all the time! Problem is, it's not really true. In the 16 seasons since the 1995 1-15 debacle the Jets have posted a record of 134-122 with 7 playoff appearances, 7 playoff victories and three trips to the AFC Championship game. A record like this should earn relatively positive coverage. Yet, in the media, you would think that Rich Kotite was still coaching this team of "perennial losers" who can't get out of their own way and toil in a "circus-like" atmosphere on their way to yet another dismal season. At least that's the narrative and more than one Jets fan has bought into it.
The reality is that the franchise has a pretty respectable body of work over the past decade and a half. If not for the success of the Evil Empire to the north and the hometown rival Giants this would probably look like a pretty good stretch and we would be relatively satisfied. But we're demanding fans here with short memories for success, long memories for failure and high expectations. That's O.K., we're fans. We're emotional. We want the team to win-all the time, every game. We want to see the Jets win the Super Bowl again-in our lifetimes. That's the lot of the fan and we tend to be overly-critical. However, it's not O.K. for the professional media. Unless accuracy, fairness and other journalistic standards don't count.
Which brings us to the mindless media. From the Jets beat writers to the television pundits (thank God we only have one more game this year on Fox so we can avoid their coverage for the thinking impaired) to the Jets' own announcers who consistently over-exaggerate the negative, the drumbeat of Jets bashing goes on. The underlying theme of constant negativity is institutionalized to the point of being the accepted background of all Jets reporting. If you don't believe me, listen to Ian Eagle do a Jets pre-season game and then listen to him do an out-of-market game on CBS. The difference is readily ascertainable. If you have Sirius Satellite radio, listen to an out-of-town game and compare the tone of the home coverage to Bob Wischusen's "here we go again" delivery every time something doesn't go right. This approach is mirrored in the print and national coverage of the team despite whatever reality might be..
Consider this. Over that same 16-year period of time, the Miami Dolphins have an almost identical record of 135-121 but with only 5 playoff appearances, a mere 3 playoff wins and 0 trips the the AFC Championship game. Fellow AFC East denizens, the Buffalo Bills, have gone 119-137 with 3 playoff appearances and 0 playoff victories. The Patriots have been incredibly successful over this same time period, but bear in mind that the Jets are the only AFC East team to defeat them in the playoffs even once during this stretch of time. (The Dolphins lost their only match-up and the Bills did not play them). Yet these other teams are not pronounced as being "losers" despite not having the same success as the Jets.
The Jets as a consistently bad team is a narrative short-cut that the lazy minded professionals constantly fall back on in place of true evaluation. They falsely believe that being hyper critical makes them sound intelligent. As a result, we're bombarded with their hackneyed analyses over and over again with the same tired theme. Only the characters change. Geno Smith hasn't even played an entire NFL game yet but according to John Lynch he's "known to have problems with accuracy" Really? In between dancing like someone in the throes of an epileptic seizure with Bruno Mars and mumbling incoherently on national television Terry Bradshaw tells us that the Jets are just the worst team in the NFL. Really? Everyone loves to buy in to this fiction because it just makes them seem so damn smart-mainly because nobody really holds them accountable for the inaccuracies of their predictions or the lack of actual substance behind the thin veneer of authority they present. Where oh where have I heard this story before?
Long-suffering Jets fans. Woeful inept franchise. Its not us folks. You want long-suffering and woeful? The Arizona Cardinals have been in 3 different cities and made a grand total of 8 playoff appearances with 6 playoff wins. That's not in the last 16 years sports fans, that's ever-as in since they were founded in 1920. In the last 16 years? 106-150. The Cincinnati Bengals? 113-143 over the last 16 years with 4 playoff appearances and 0 wins (including getting spanked at home in a divisional game by the Mark Sanchez-worst quarterback in the world-clown for a coach led- inept woeful Jets-How could that happen?). Are these teams treated with the same disdain as the Jets? You know the answer to that question. I won't even go through the rest of the league, but there are other examples. Needless to say, the narrative just doesn't fit.
I've been a Jet fan for a long time. Long enough that I actually saw Sherman Plunkett play in person. Long enough to have attended three home playoff games at Shea Stadium (and 4 more at the Meadowlands). I've been through a lot of ups and downs with this team. Some terrible years and some great and exciting ones too. But what has evolved over time is the NFL as a reality show and the Jets have a part in the show.. The "professional" media that counts on the league for their paychecks plays right along with the story lines, never putting much thought or effort into the process. Every team is a different character in the show just waiting to get voted off the island at some point in time during the season. The Jets play the role of the bumbling sad sack while the Patriots are the handsome favorites with the American Flag on their helmets. Or the wholesome Packers or buttoned-down Giants who represent league tradition, history, apple pie and mom. Its kind of entertaining once you figure it out.
I try not to get too worked up over this stuff any more. However, every once in a while it gets to be a little too much. Life as a Jet fan has actually been pretty good. They've been exciting and entertaining as well as frustrating and disappointing. There's been a fair amount of success to accompany the failure.(Do I really need to list all of the great moments?) But that's what its like to be a fan of almost every team not named New England. News flash-the Jets are not the worst team in the NFL this year- they're somewhere in the middle of the pack. But you know what the official plot line is.
In reality, the circus consists of the pre-game shows and the analysis shows and the newspaper wannabes, and the endless entertainment infrastructure of the NFL. Its not in Florham Park. We just need to call these dolts out and hold them accountable for the tripe they peddle as quality reporting. (Where can we sign up to get paid a lot of money to spew nonsense?) This year my expectations are kind of low. The Jets are going to try hard, they're going to have a good to excellent defense that will keep them in a lot of games that will go down to the 4th quarter. They're going to win some games and they're going to lose some in aggravating disappointing fashion. Geno Smith is going to make some plays and he's going to make some mistakes. Its going to be entertaining-which is all professional football is about anyway. So ignore the stupid story lines and relax and go along for the ride. Oh, and pay no attention to the talking heads and newspaper reporters. Chances are you could get a better analysis out of a couple of drunks at a sports bar. You'll enjoy the season a lot more.