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Remembering the Time the Jets Signed Team USA's World Cup Goalie

Mike Stobe

We have a World Cup going on right now. It is also the 20th anniversary of the United States hosting the 1994 World Cup. It was probably the most important event in the history of American soccer. Having first-hand exposure to the game being played at its highest level led to a spike in popularity that has only grown, the explosion in kids playing the sport, and the creation of MLS.

It certainly did not hurt that the United States made a surprising run into the knockout stage of the tournament. They even almost toppled mighty Brazil on the Fourth of July, losing a thrilling 1-0 contest. If the tournament was monumental in what it meant for soccer in this country, it led to a strange footnote in Jets history.

Shortly after the World Cup, the Jets signed Team USA's goalie Tony Meola, a New Jersey native, as a placekicker. They had recently signed Nick Lowery, who at that point was perhaps the greatest kicker in NFL history from a statistical standpoint. Lowery was 38 years old, however, at this point, and his leg strength was diminished. This was the season when the NFL moved kickoffs from the 35 yard line to the 30, putting a greater emphasis on leg strength for kickoffs. Maybe Meola could even work on his field goals in low pressure practice situations and take over for Lowery when he retired in a year or two the Jets thought.

The Jets brought Meola aboard hoping his big leg could allow him to stick as a kickoff specialist and gain field position that might be lost if Lowery handled kickoffs.

Meola had never kicked a football on any level before, and it showed. His technique was shaky. As a result, he couldn't generate enough hang time on his kickoffs to make him effective. He also earned the nickname Captain Hook for his tendency to send his kicks wildly off target.

Meola was cut after the third preseason game and returned to soccer, ending an interesting experiment.