True followers of the New York Jets know all too well what the roller coaster ride is like. One week there is heart pounding excitement as the team looks poised to finally reach a Super Bowl after 40 years (nobody needs to be reminded of the talk following the wins against the Pats and Titans last year). Then, before that feeling of excitement can set in, the magic carpet is pulled out from under us, followed by the most unbearable form of heartbreak a sports fan endures.
Complete and total failure.
These moments, for Jets fans, seem endless. In 1983, during the AFC Championship game or the "Mud Bowl" as it was later known, the Jets found themselves on the cusp of that elusive second Super Bowl. Miami Dolphins LB A.J. Duhe had his greatest performance ever by intercepting three of Jets QB Richard Todd’s five interceptions, returning one 35 yards for a TD in the fourth quarter, clinching the 1982 AFC Title for the Dolphins by a score of 14-0. Miami would eventually lose Super Bowl XVII by a score of 17 -27 to the Washington Redskins.
In 1986 a 10-1 start gave us the same Jets-Giants Super Bowl talk heard for about a week last year. The Jets then lost their final 5 straight games (sound familiar?) but somehow managed to squeak into the playoffs as a wildcard. An unlikely win against Kansas City had Jets fans everywhere dancing with visions of a Lombardi trophy in their heads. With a 10 point lead against the Cleveland Browns and only minutes to go, we all felt the heart pounding excitement…another AFC championship game was within grasp. Enter Mark Gastineau and his infamous roughing penalty….and well, you know the rest.
Most Jet fans could not figure out why one of Bill Parcells’s "guys", David Meggett, suddenly could not field a punt cleanly in the second half of the 1998 AFC Championship game. We know now and probably knew then that it was the beginning of the end of the dream for us that year. Just as it was when Doug Brien’s field goal attempt fell about 6 inches short in 2004 and bounced off the crossbar.
However, Jets fans have always been able to display something that even their team has not always been able to come up with.
Resilience. Hope. Enthusiasm. Passion. All of which lead us to slightly exaggerated expectations at times but that’s what being a fan is all about isn’t? the expectation of good things to come?
Jets fans of today are what Brooklyn Dodger fans were in the early and mid 1950’s…and that is something which should be a source of pride, never embarrassment. Anybody can jump on the band wagon of a perpetual winner (ahem – New England), but it takes a certain amount of character to sit in the stands after watching Dan Marino steal first place with a "fake spike" pass that Aaron Glenn is still looking for, and still come back the next week to root for them as if they are family.
This coming Sunday the Jets open at home against the hated Patriots. The defense is coming off one of the most dominating performances by a Jets team in recent memory, possibly ever (with all due respect to the ‘68 team and the Sack Exchange). Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, is the most dynamic player we’ve seen behind center since the days of Joe Namath. With that said, don’t take it as a show of disrespect for the heart and fight that Chad Pennington showed or the one truly great season Vinny Testarverde gave us in 1998.
Finally, for the first time since 1997 the Jets have a coach, in Rex Ryan, who is not afraid to go out and say how good he expects his team to be. A coach who is willing to let his players know how good they are and then sets them loose to prove him right, is a beautiful thing.
Should Jets fans book tickets for the Super Bowl yet? Of course not.
Should fans expect an undefeated season without disappointing losses? That would simply be unrealistic.
Should a statue to Sanchez be erected outside the new stadium? No. It would be extremely shortsighted to think that we are not going to see some bad rookie moments that may even cost the team a game or two this season.
For the first time since Weeb Ewbank was the coach, the team seems to have a long term plan and not just a quick fix in place. A plan that is finally establishing an image and an identity for a team that has been struggling to find those things for over 40 years now.
It might not all come together perfectly in this first year, but for once the prospect of consistency and long term success seems to be within reach. When consistency and success are finally ours, Jets fans won’t agonizing quite as long over difficult losses because they know that they have a team that has the temperament, confidence and skills to bounce back quickly and with a vengeance.
It has been argued that the Jets have no identity because they don’t have a stadium that "is their own". In reality, the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Patriots would still retain their identity as a team regardless of the name on the stadium they play in. The Jets now seem to be on the verge of learning how to find that identity that will travel with them wherever they go.