Former New York Jets owner Leon Hess was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame last week. Randy Lange writes a great tribute on the official team site.
He was one of the group of five men who originally bought the New York Titans out of bankruptcy early in 1963, and appropriately enough, his induction was presented to the crowd at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark by none other than Joe Namath, who was drafted by Hess, Sonny Werblin and the Jets ownership group in 1965 and signed a contract for the then shocking sum of $427,000. Connie Hess Williams, Hess’ daughter, accepted the induction honor from Namath.
Hess became sole owner of the team in 1984 and he always treasured the Jets and wanted to see them return to the Super Bowl. He held few news conferences over the years but he became known for addressing team and giving them a Hess peptalk following each Thanksgiving Day practice.
After hiring Bill Parcells to coach the Green & White in 1997, he almost got his Super wish when the Big Tuna, Vinny Testaverde and the Jets reached the AFC Championship Game before losing to the Broncos, 23-10, in Denver. Hess died four months later at 85. Soon after, Woody Johnson, the Jets’ current president/CEO, bought the team from the Hess estate.
I distinctly remember as the time was running down in that AFC Championship Game in Denver my father telling me how badly he felt for Mr. Hess because we as fans were young enough that we would see the Jets get another chance but that he might never again.
Much of the Hess Era was frankly not a golden age for the team. He was behind the move to Giants Stadium that saw the Jets call a stadium named after another team home until 2010. There were also runs of mediocre football under Bruce Coslett, Pete Carroll, and Rich Kotite. The Kotite hiring seemed to take place by the seat of his pants.
Ultimately, though, Hess delivered Bill Parcells and left the organization on the upswing, one that has continued with a few bumps in the road for the better part of the last decade.