Vernon Gholston. The very name is anathema to Jets fans everywhere. An affront to their sensibilities. An assault on their optimism in the face of every manner of calamity this organization has conjured up over the years. Gholston is one of the worst busts ever. An abomination unto the football gods. The start of the Jets' downfall. Right?
Not so fast. Time has a way of altering perspectives. Hidden truths begin to emerge once safely out of the emotional turmoil of the moment. Trends previously lost in blind hatred reveal themselves. A truer picture emerges with the benefit of hindsight. And in the case of Gholston, that picture is surprisingly appealing. Scratch that. In the case of Gholston, that picture is one of hidden awesomeness. Gholston was colossally misunderstood as a player. Please join me in discovering Vernon Gholston, our unsung hero.
We all know the stats. Vernon Gholston never sacked the quarterback as a pro. Never. Drafted number 6 overall as a designated pass rusher, the man NEVER got to the quarterback. In his entire career he started only 5 games, made only 34 tackles. Epic fail, right? Well, not so much. Dig deeper and you'll be surprised at what you find.
Begin with this: football is a team game; to that we can all agree. So what did the Jets do as a team in Gholston's tenure? Just this: the Jets in the 3 years Gholston played for them had the best 3 year record in the history of the organization as an NFL franchise. The only better 3 year stretch came in the old AFL days when Joe Namath led the Jets to a Super Bowl title. If we knew nothing else about Gholston, this would be enough to cement his name as an all time Jets great, second only to Namath. But there is so much more to know.
Which 3 year stretch would you guess resulted in the most playoff wins in Jets history? If you guessed the 3 years Gholston was with the Jets, congratulate yourself; you are among the select few who are beginning to get just how important Gholston was to the Jets. Which was the only 3 year stretch in Jets history where they reached the Conference Championship Game twice? You guessed Gholston's tenure? Kudos; you're catching on. What happened immediately after Gholston left? If you answered the Jets missed the playoffs 3 years straight for the first time since the Kotite years, give yourself a Gold Star. Actually, make that a Gholston Star. The scales fall off; your vision is beginning to penetrate the true nature of Gholston's greatness. But we are just getting started.
Which was the only Jets defense in their long history as an NFL franchise to finish #1 in the league? You guessed it - the 2009 Gholston led defense. The only other Jets defense to finish #1? The 1968 AFL Jets, the legendary Super Bowl champs. The parallels between Namath and Gholston are becoming too numerous to shrug off as coincidence.
The 2010 Gholston led defense was the second highest rated defense in Jets NFL history. As soon as Gholston left the Jets the defense began to crumble, sliding to 5th, 8th and 11th over the following 3 years. Coincidence? I think not.
It is a cliche that statistics can lie, but with Gholston the cliche seems particularly apropos. Gholston didn't get any sacks? True on its face, but an oversimplification of a complex team environment. In truth, Gholston was the ultimate team player, constantly sacrificing his own numbers for the good of his teammates. With Gholston leading the way, Calvin Pace had more sacks from 2008-2010 than during any other 3 year stretch of his career. And it goes well beyond Pace and sacks. Taking the entire Jets defense on his back, Gholston led numerous teammates to the best years of their careers. Eric Barton nearly doubled his tackles as soon as Gholston came to town. In 2009 and 2010 David Harris had by far the finest 2 year stretch of his career. In 2009 Gholston helped Shaun Ellis, at the advanced age of 32, achieve his first Pro Bowl nod in 6 years, and only the second of his long career. The 3 year stretch from 2008 through 2010 was arguably the finest of Bryan Thomas' career. That same 3 year stretch saw Sione Pouha transform from a bit player to a legitimately dominant force at nose tackle. In 2009, the year Jim Leonhard came to the Jets from the Ravens, Leonard had the most sacks, tackles, passes defensed and forced fumbles in his career. And we've saved the best for last. Remember that nice young cornerback who used to play for the Jets, went by the name of Revis? Consider this about Revis. In 2007 he was just a pretty good cornerback, nothing special. Gholston arrives in 2008, and Revis instantly transforms into one of the league's best cornerbacks. By 2009 Revis is otherworldly, achieving a level of play rarely, if ever, matched in NFL history. Revis, in 7 years in the NFL, has been named All Pro thrice. Two of the 3 times was under the tutelage of Vernon Gholston. Coincidence? You tell me.
Players came and went during the years 2008-2010. So many had the best years of their careers during that stretch. Yet there was only one obvious connecting thread: Vernon Gholston. So the next time people point to his stats and laugh, don't be fooled. Quietly and calmly educate them. Tell them that Vernon was wholly uninterested in stats. Tell them that the measure of the man can never be taken in personal numbers. Tell them that Vernon's greatness resided in his unmatched ability to bring out the best in each and every teammate. That Vernon was a leader who was happy to sacrifice his own numbers for the good of the team. And show them HOW this was so, armed with the boatload of statistical high points so many of his teammates reached with, and only with, Vernon leading the way. Show them how Gholston built the Jets defense to greatness. How he lifted them up, player by player. And how it all unraveled as soon as Vernon left. Show them, and educate one more unenlightened football fan as to the hidden greatness of Vernon Gholston.
Perhaps, after all this, they still will not be convinced. Perhaps you are not convinced either. Well, that's OK. There's more to tell. Much more. And by the time we're finished I am certain that even the most hardened skeptic will be unable to counter. So let's get to it.
The measure of a true leader goes beyond his particular unit. A true leader is a leader of men, of all his teammates, not just the offense or just the defense. Such leadership qualities have never been more evident than with Vernon Gholston. Under the leadership of Gholston, Mark Sanchez achieved his highest level of play in 2010, only to crumble and completely melt down the minute Gholston left. Thomas Jones had the best 2 years of his career, and the only Pro Bowl nod of his career, the only 2 years he played with Gholston. Leon Washington's only All Pro year? 2008, the year Gholston arrived. Braylon Edwards' finest year as a Jet and 2nd finest year of his career came with Gholston by his side. Dustin Keller had the most TDs and the highest ypc of his career with Gholston leading the way. And the Jets 2010 offense, the last year Gholston was with us, was ranked 11th in the NFL, the highest ranking by a Jets offense since the magical Vinny and the Jets offense of 1998. The 3 years since Gholston left have seen the Jets offense devolve into the 2nd worst 3 year stretch in team history. Clearly Vernon's unique leadership abilities have been keenly missed in the locker room and on both sides of the ball.
I sense you may still have doubts. What if this is all just a coincidence? What if Vernon's presence just happened to coincide with a particularly good stretch of Jets history? Well, there is one way to test that theory. Let's take a look at the effect Gholston had on the other 2 teams he signed with. In 2011 Gholston signed with the Chicago Bears. The result? LB Lance Briggs had the last Pro Bowl year of his career. LB Brian Urlacher had the last Pro Bowl year of his career. CB Charles Tillman, after 9 years in the league, suddenly had the first Pro Bowl year of his career. DE Julius Peppers had a Pro Bowl year. CB Tim Jennings had the most tackles in his 7 year career. And DB Cory Graham had the only Pro Bowl appearance of his career. That's 5 defensive Pro Bowl players the Bears had as soon as Gholston came to town. Coincidence? The case against Gholston gets more tenuous by the minute. And it doesn't end with the defense. RBs Matt Forte and Khalil Bell both had the finest years of their careers the year Gholston added his unparalleled leadership to the Bears. The man is simply a born leader.
Still not convinced? Let's move on to 2012. Gholston is signed by the St. Louis Rams. What happens? The Rams defense is instantly lifted to a 13th ranking, the highest ranking Rams defense in a decade. LBs James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dunbar and S Janoris Jenkins have the finest years of their careers. CB Cortland Finnegan records the most tackles in his 8 year career. S Quintin Mikell records the most tackles of his 11 year career. And S Craig Dahl records the second most tackles of his six year career.
As usual, Gholston's amazing positive influence does not stop with the defense. In 2012 QB Sam Bradford records career highs in yards, TDs and yards per attempt. RB Steven Jackson records his last 1000 yard season. The next year, without the steadying influence of uberteammate Vernon Gholston, Jackson will collapse into a mere shell of his former greatness. WRs Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson and Chris Givens all have the finest years of their respective careers, as does TE Lance Kendricks. In short, there is no skill position on offense Gholston did not markedly improve the minute he arrived in St. Louis. The result? Only the highest ranked Rams offense since 2006.
At this point even the most stubborn of non-believers have to concede the point. Vernon Gholston is a great influence on a football team. Every team he has ever signed with has seen immediate and marked improvement across every aspect of the game. Defensive players immediately had career years. Offensive players did the same. Team offensive and defensive rankings reached new heights not seen in years, sometimes decades, sometimes even in all of team history. Gholston doesn't have the personal stats? Vernon doesn't care. He knows he has selflessly sacrificed his own numbers so that countless teammates could achieve heights never seen by them before or since. Vernon knows he has had a profoundly positive impact wherever he has gone. Vernon knows, and now you do to.
So whenever one of the clueless masses says something to you like Vernon Gholston LOL Jets, or Gholston was the worst bust they've ever seen, or some similar nonsense, just shake your head sadly, because you know better. You know the statistics lie. You know just how much Vernon meant to this team, and just how low this team has sunk in his absence. You know, because you care enough to dig a little deeper. And anyone who cares to seek, so shall he find. He shall find what is hidden to the superficial football fan. He shall find the hidden greatness of Vernon Gholston.