Once again the Jets are considering taking a quarterback of the future in the NFL Draft. Over the past decade, this has been a recurring theme. It did not have to be, however. Twelve years ago the team owned the top pick in the Draft and appeared to be in prime position to land a potential franchise quarterback. Then Peyton Manning shockingly decided to return to Tennessee for his senior year. The following is a look at how history may have panned out had Manning not made that fateful decison. Today's focus will be 1999.
The Jets entered 1999 as the overwhelming favorite to repeat as Super Bowl Champions. The offseason began on a sad note as longtime owner Leon Hess passed away. Members of the Jets organization took solace in knowing the final image Mr. Hess had of the team was carrying the Vince Lombardi Trophy off the field in Miami. The team was dealt another blow in preseason when Wayne Chrebet broke his foot, an injury that would cost him the first two months of the regular season. Another less signficant injury struck on Opening Day. Running out the clock late in a blowout of New England, backup quarterback Vinny Testaverde ruptured his achilles tendon on a fluke noncontact play.
Although the team's insurance policy at the position was gone, it would not matter much as Manning started all sixteen games. Manning threw for 33 touchdowns against only 15 interceptions in his third year. Keyshawn Johnson compensated for the early season absence of Chrebet, compiling a 1,500 yard, 15 touchdown campaign.
Gang Green finished 13-3 and was seeded second in the AFC Playoffs because of a midseason home loss on Monday night in a showdown with the Jaguars. A rematch appeared to be in the works in the AFC Championship Game, but the Jets suffered a painful upset at home in the Divisional round. The upstart Titans went into the Meadowlands and frustrated Manning with a dominant pass rush in upsetting the defending champions. Jeff Fisher's Titans stunned the Jaguars the next week to advance to the Super Bowl.
The real drama began just days into the offseason. The Patriots had fired head coach Pete Carroll only a few weeks before and had rumored interest in Jets defensive coordinator Bill Belichick. Bill Parcells did not want Robert Kraft, his sworn enemy, to take his protege, Belichick. Just a day after the loss to the Titans, Parcells resigned as head coach and promoted Belichick. To this day, there are rumors Belichick contenplated turning the job down even minutes before his introductory press conference. Insiders say he was concerned about the still unsettled ownership situation following Hess' passing and the prospect of living in Parcells' shadow.
After deliberating, however, Belichick realized Manning's presence gave him a better chance to win than he would have anywhere else. Winning big would give him a world of leverage with the eventual owner and allow him to create his own legacy. He formally accepted the job minutes before his press conference by handing a handwritten piece of paper to Parcells that read, "I will become HC of NYJ."