In this 4th and final installment (before we get to the top 13) of the best players in New York Jets history we look at some iconic players from the Super Bowl era, as well as offensive and defensive standouts from later years. These players are some of the best in Jets history that for some reason fell short of making the top 13. This article is a continuation of the players ranked somewhere between 14th and 30th among the Jets best. The final group will be a baker’s dozen of the best players to don a Jets/Titans Jersey, and will be identified three at a time to give each their proper acknowledgment. The top player will have his own post.
D’Brickashaw Ferguson OT 2006-2015
D’Brickashaw Ferguson came to the Jets with the 4th overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft from the University of Virginia. There he was the first Cavalier to ever start all 14 games as a freshman. He went on to set a Virginia record of starting 49 consecutive games, a feat he would later almost quadruple in the NFL. Ferguson was a smart player who gained his B.A. in religious studies in 3 1⁄2 years. He earned All-American as well as All-ACC 1st team honors throughout his stay in Charlottesville.
Ferguson was one of if not the steadiest and most reliable players in the history of the NFL. In his 10 years with the Jets Ferguson started all 160 games, which is every game in those 10 years. In fact he played every snap except one. In that play head coach Eric Mangini pulled Ferguson from the game on the last play of the game. He did so because the Jets were behind and he wanted players who could run and handle the ball better and he wanted to try and throw the ball back (the Stanford play) to players in hopes of making a TD. It didn’t work. Ferguson ended up playing in 10,707 of a possible 10,708 snaps in his career.
Ferguson was known as a quiet leader on the offensive line. He was an ardent reader of literature and was well versed in world affairs. He was a player who took great care of his mind and body. He was a fitness fanatic who counted calories and avoided junk food. He holds a black belt in martial arts and had great agility for a big man.
Ferguson used his first contract to start the D’Brickashaw Foundation in 2007. From the foundation’s mission statement:
The foundation strives to improve the quality of life for students by awarding academic scholarships to those deserving, eligible students who reside in the New York area as well as students around the United States. The foundation provides resources that will enhance and contribute to each students pursuit of higher education.
The foundation also provides financial support to churches by way of grants for the repair and construction of church owned edifices. Ultimately the foundation will provide resources to churches, schools and to fund food banks and clothing ministries in hopes of building up respective communities there by showing God’s love in action.
On the field Ferguson was never considered a smash mouth type run blocker, but he excelled in pass blocking and he could get out on the move to make blocks on the 2nd level of the defense. Here he is doing an exceptional job as he first gets rid of the defensive end to the outside then picks up the outside linebacker and stays with him the entire way down the field until Thomas Jones hits the end zone.
This is text book as he keeps his feet moving, keeps his arms extended, never letting the defender into his body, then continuing that all the way to the goal line. The LB is a much smaller player who has the agility advantage but he doesn’t even get close to Jones.
In the end Ferguson decided to retire rather than take a huge pay cut that was mandated to him by former GM Mike Maccagnan just prior to the 2016 season. Ferguson was always a class individual, an elite left tackle who answered the call every game for 10 years. Maccagnan waited until long after free agency started to inform Ferguson he was either to take a pay cut or be released. Maccagnan figured with little money left on teams’ salary caps that Ferguson would have a tough time securing as much money that the Jets were offering from any other team in the NFL. This was a horrible way to treat a cornerstone player on the Jets roster (or any player for that matter) who proudly came to play every week for an entire decade.
Unknown to Maccagnan, Ferguson had gone to see the movie Concussion and in it he realized (more so than he ever thought) he was putting his health at risk every time he suited up to play. Ferguson, who was nearly fanatical about his health, decided he would just retire rather than take the chance of endangering his future health for seriously reduced salary. Ferguson was such a team player that he was going to play out his contract he originally signed but when Maccagnan did him dirty he just threw up his hands and went home. I lost what little respect I had left for Mike Maccagnan after that debacle. His despicable treatment of the long tenured Ferguson put the Jets in a serious dilemma of not having a solid left tackle.
Ferguson retired a player the Jets could point to as a solid team player, a great player on the field and a better person off of it. Sometime soon Ferguson will see his name included in the ring of honor with other Jet luminaries. Mike Maccagnan will be remembered as a poor choice as a GM, someone the franchise wished they had never hired.
George Sauer WR 1965-1970
George Sauer was an eclectic soul who was a gifted football player. He had superior hands and knew the intricacies of route running from an early age. The story of George Sauer is a tale of that defies reason.
The first time George Sauer was ever on a football field was as a mascot for the Baylor Bears when his father was the head coach there at the time.
George Sauer’s father was a great football player and coach who was an All American player at Nebraska in 1933. George Sr.’s coach there at Nebraska was a man named D. X. Bible who was very fond of George Sr. When George Jr. was born, Bible was coaching at the University of Texas and told George Sr. that his son (George Jr.) had a football scholarship waiting for him at Texas when he graduated high school in 1961.
George Jr. never knew of the scholarship. Nonetheless, when he was looking for a place to play football Sauer actually chose Texas over all the other schools. His father at the time was the GM of a new football team named the New York Titans of the AFL. George Jr. was astonished when, choosing Texas, his mother showed him the letter showing that he already had a scholarship there. His parents never wanted him to feel he had to go to a certain school and wanted him to pick the school of his choice.
While at Texas and playing for Darrell Royal George Sauer helped win the first football national championship in the storied Texas program’s history in 1963. Texas that year earned that National championship by beating the University of Alabama, whose QB was a guy named Joe Namath. A few days after that game Namath signed a record setting contract to play for the New York Jets.
George Sauer was not a typical college football player. He was an avid reader of some heady books and wore thick black rimmed glasses. He didn’t room with a player but with the student manager. He was an ardent student who never wanted to get any grade less than an A. Even though he liked being around much more serious students he was a different sort of character; as explained by his college roommate:
George was so crazy he fit right in with all the other non-jocks in our wing of Moore-Hill Hall. He could beat anyone at anything — pitching quarters at a coffee can; flipping playing cards at a hat; throwing shuttlecocks at a tiny basketball goal attached to a wastebasket. His hand and eye coordination was uncanny. We’d have batting practice in the hall with the handle of a golf club and a ping pong ball. Every pitch looked like a Hoyt Wilhelm knuckleball and most of us batted about .100. George could hit every pitch. Often, right in the middle of one of the games in our room, his personality would change. He’d say, “Alright, everybody out; I’ve got a quiz tomorrow.” As soon as the door closed, he could get out his electric guitar and play for hours. His red-shirt year he and some of the others who weren’t going to be playing in the Cotton Bowl the next day, emboldened by some brew, had a contest to see who could knock a heavy hotel chair the farthest with a forearm shiver. George won, of course, against all bigger players, but he broke a window — and his forearm in the process. Anything to win. The craziest thing he pulled was dressing up like a Catholic priest with a black T-shirt over a white shirt worn backwards, and a dark sport coat. About six of us — he was the lone jock — went to the all-night Pancake House about 2 a.m. All of a sudden, George jumped up in the middle of the table, and yelled for quiet. Then he told the stunned diners he was going to give them a blessing. I’d had two semesters of Latin, just enough to know that all the Latin he was spouting made absolutely no sense. Then he said Amen in English and the diners echoed his benediction. Several stopped by the table to thank him. It was so hard to keep a straight face.
George Sauer was drafted by the New York Jets in 1964. The man who made the selection was his father, George Sauer Sr. George Jr. actually wanted to be drafted by the NFL (he was not) so he could escape the situation of always following his father’s travels. As George Jr said, “I think the NFL people were certain that I would sign with the Jets (because of my father), so they wouldn’t spend a draft choice on me.”
George Sauer liked to write. He wrote a book that didn’t get much acclaim, much to his chagrin. He showed up to training camp one year with the book “The Myth of Sisyphus” in his back pocket. Yet through it all he was a great receiver and a well liked teammate. He played only 6 seasons in the AFL/NFL, all with the Jets. Sauer retired at age 27 to pursue other interests. During his time in New York he had over 300 receptions, ranking 10th all time and 6th in receiving yardage on the Jets career leaders.
In Super Bowl III, with the Jets All Time leading receiver Don Maynard injured and used as a decoy, it was Sauer who came up big. Maynard ended the game with zero receptions, but Sauer had 8 receptions for 133 yards to keep the Jets moving the ball. This play was a huge third down conversion on a 3rd and 7 that led to a New York Jets field goal.
Sauer was a 4 time Pro-Bowl player and a 3 time All-Pro. He led the AFL in receptions in 1967. If he had stayed healthy and played longer he had a great chance of making it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
George Sauer was a man who wanted to move from the shadow of his famous father, and he ultimately did with his Super Bowl win. His father thanked him for the Super Bowl win in the locker room after the game.
George’s father died of Alzheimer’s disease in 1994. George Jr. was seriously afraid of dying of the same malady. Before his father’s death he wrote a poem to him.
Wind-Driven Fight Blows In My Marrow,
Light Narrows And Clouds Invite.
Bent By Long Shadows, Longer Time,
An Old Man Dances In My Heart —
His Broken Brain Rattles Mine.
George Sauer Jr. died on May 7th 2013 at age 69. He died of Alzheimer’s disease
He was a Jets great with a maverick’s spirit who was also a deep thinker.
John Abraham DE 2000-2005
John Abraham was a high school kid who had little to no interest in football even though he had played it when he was younger. Abraham was a track athlete that competed in numerous events. He didn’t just compete, he was an excellent track athlete who competed in the shot put and the discus because he was a big kid. He also ran the 100 & 200 meter dashes with superior speed. Abraham’s 200 meter mark of 22.6 seconds is still less than a second and a half from the state record even today.
As John Abraham tells it, the only reason he played football was because his girlfriend had more high school yearbook awards than he did. As Abraham stated,
I was just messin’ around because my girlfriend had more accolades than I had in the yearbook, I was like, ‘I’m gonna try football this year’ Cause when I was in eighth grade, I had a hairline fracture in my ankle and as I got older I was able to control that, so I figured I would do something different and try football and I always knew I was good at football so it ended being a big impact.
John Abraham only played high school football one year but it was impressive enough to earn a scholarship from his own state school, the University of South Carolina. “Being close to home had a lot to do with my decision to go there. Simply because me coming from a household that needed a lot of help and I was like the only in guy in the house at the time. It was me, my sister, my aunt, and my cousin that lived in the house so I was the only guy in the house so I felt it was my purpose to help so I wanted to stay close and provide a hand for my mom.” Abraham said.
Abraham played well enough that he attracted attention from the New York Jets. The Jets had four first round picks in the 2000 NFL draft. The Jets used their first pick (#13) to take DE Shaun Ellis out of Tennessee. When that pick happened Abraham was delighted because he was standing right next to Ellis when the pick was announced; they had the same agent and were all watching the draft together.
The next pick was also the Jets pick since they had traded Keyshawn Johnson to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for picks #14 & #27 in the 2000 NFL draft. Surely the Jets wouldn’t take back to back defensive ends with their top two picks; would they? Well as you know, they did, and it shocked Abraham. “I was around my mom, a lot of friends, family and my agents, but it was also a surprise because Shaun Ellis was with me also because we had the same agent and I went right after him which was a shocking experience, New York literally called me the day before the Draft and I didn’t see them at all at my workouts, and they asked for my info” Abraham said.
Abraham’s career was marred by injuries. There were numerous seasons where he missed games or was not at full capacity because of injury. This was the case in his rookie season when he played only six games (no starts) before he was done for the year. However, whenever Abraham was on the field he made his presence felt. Abraham had 4.5 sacks, 15 tackles and two forced fumbles in his inaugural season. Here he is taking down Drew Bledsoe in the 2nd game of the 2001 season for his 2nd sack of the year.
This game was significant for a number of reasons. First of all it was played in New England and was the first game back after the terror attacks on 9-11. The Jets were actually cheered by Patriots fans when they took the field. It was an emotional game, and every New Yorker had a tough time, so it must have been difficult for all involved to prepare for the game.
This was also the game in which Mo Lewis steamrolled Drew Bledsoe on the sideline, collapsing his lung, which ushered in the Tom Brady era. Bledsoe would actually stay in the game for an additional series, handing off twice and throwing a pass in which John Abraham tackled the receiver, causing a fumble which he recovered. Here is that play.
It was the last play in Drew Bledsoe’s New England regular season career. Tom Brady came into the game with 2 minutes 16 seconds left. He threw 10 passes in leading the Patriots from their own 26 to the Jets 29, but he missed on his final 4 passes and the Jets prevailed by a final score of 10-3.
Abraham had a monster year in 2001 with 13 sacks, 14 TFL and 6 forced fumbles. For that season he was selected to the Pro Bowl and a 1st team All-Pro. He followed that up with a 10 sack season in 2002 and was again a Pro Bowl player.
The next two years he played in a total of 19 games out of a possible 32, but Abraham still managed 16 sacks and 21 TFL, culminating in another Pro Bowl in 2004. That year the Jets made the playoffs, but Abraham felt he was too injured to play safely and that’s when a rift between the Jets and Abraham started to form. Abraham still had many friends amongst his teammates, but he felt the coaches weren’t on his side and he wanted to leave
In the 2005 season Abraham had another solid season with 10.5 sacks and again forcing 6 fumbles. The schism that had developed between the coaches/management and Abraham was large enough that the Jets decided to trade their star defender. They let John Abraham see which team wanted his services and where he wanted to play. The Atlanta Falcons were willing to trade for Abraham. The deal moved Abraham closer to his family, which was good for him, and the Jets got the Atlanta first round pick #29 in the 2006 draft. That pick turned into a player named Nick Mangold, who was an immediate starter and stayed for 11 seasons in New York.
Abraham went on to have a number of great seasons in Atlanta and finished his career with 133.5 sacks, which is 13th all-time in NFL history. It was easy to see why Abraham was so special as a player. He was smart and strong, with great length. He used his hands well and had both speed and quickness to get around the edge. Things could have been different in New York as Abraham had problems with coach Herm Edwards and DC Donnie Henderson. If he was able to work things out better and avoided just a few of his injuries there is no doubt that Abraham would have been near the top of the Jets top 13 players. As it is he was a game changing player who was on the cusp of being a Hall of Fame player.
Gerry Philbin DE 1964-1973
Gerry Philbin was a star defensive end at the University of Buffalo. He was drafted in the 3rd round in 1964 by the AFL New York Jets (#19 overall) and the NFL Detroit Lions (#33 overall). He was a 4 year starter who earned All-American honors. Philbin also earned All-American academic honors.
The Jets at the time were run by Sonny Werblin, who spared no expense in bringing the Jets quality players. In the words of Gerry Philbin, there was a world of difference between how he was approached by the Jets and the NFL.
The NFL came with their scouts to the campus and this scout looked and said, ‘Well, you might be too small for the NFL.’ And he was putting down the AFL. I was a big New York Giants fan growing up, so I was always an NFL fan, but the Jets took the time to fly me in a private jet to New York and I was met at the airport and so on. They showed me a lot more respect. There was never any doubt in my mind that I was going to sign with the Jets.
Philbin wasn’t an arrogant athlete and he realized he was probably smaller than many in the NFL. So instead of ignoring the taunts by the NFL scouts he began to do something about it.
I worked on my strength a lot. I joined a health club in downtown Buffalo and put on about 30 pounds for my senior year. I weighed 230, 235 and then I put on 10 pounds to play with the Jets. So, I weighed about 245 and was close to 6-2. I was small in comparison. Even then there were a lot of big defensive linemen around the league. But mostly, I worked on quickness and different moves.
The Jets at first tried Philbin on offense as well as defense, but eventually the Jets and Philbin mutually agreed where he was most useful. “They tried me out at linebacker, offensive guard and I ended up at defensive end. And I enjoyed it. Once they put me there and I played a few exhibition games, I stayed there” Philbin stated.
Philbin played 9 years with the Jets and was twice a Pro Bowl and All-Pro player. Philbin has been retroactively credited with 65 sacks during his Jets tenure (sacks were not a stat until 1982). That places him 4th all time in Jets history, 7.5 sacks behind Shaun Ellis, who played in 60 more games than Philbin. Here is Philbin in the Super Bowl making a tackle for a 3 yard loss against HB Jerry Hill (TFL is also a stat not kept while Philbin played).
Weeb Ewbank raved about Philbin when he played: “He’s got the knack of penetration, getting to the ball. He never quits. He always rushes. He’s got heart and pride, a will to win. He’s always chasing the ball.”
Gerry Philbin was a stalwart defensive player on a Jets team that was as good a defense as the NFL ever saw. The AFL was known as a wide open offensive league with players running up and down the field. Yet when you look at the Jets 1968 defense as compared to the Chicago Bears defense in their great Super Bowl team of 1985 it may surprise some people. The Jets gave up an average of 3.2 yards a rush compared to the Bears 3.7. The Jets gave up an average of 4.1 yards a play in 1968 while the 1985 Bears gave up 4.4 yards a play.
Rex Ryan’s father Buddy was the architect of the great ‘85 Bear defense. Buddy Ryan used some of the same defensive philosophies as the Jets. This should not be surprising, as he was the defensive line coach for the 1968 Jets. He was also the defensive line coach of the University of Buffalo when Gerry Philbin played there. This is what Buddy Ryan said about Gerry Philbin, “Gerry was a great one, Gerry should be in the Hall of Fame.”
Gerry Philbin was the sacks leader of the AFL in 1968. He is also on the All-Time All-AFL Team. Philbin was inducted into the New York Jets Ring of Honor in 2011.
Mo Lewis LB 1991-2003
Mo Lewis came to the Jets as a 3rd round pick (#63 0verall) in 1991, which for the Jets was otherwise a pretty barren draft. The Jets selected QB Browning Nagle with their first pick of the draft in the second round with pick #34. Pick #33 was Brett Favre. The draft that year was 12 rounds and besides Lewis and Nagle, the Jets drafted DT Mark Gunn in the forth round who was mostly a rotational player but lasted 70 games with the Jets. The other 8 draftees played a combined total of zero games for the Jets.
Mo Lewis played well early in his career, and even though the Jets were not winning consistently, he was gaining knowledge while working with some quality defenders. In his 3rd year the Jets defense had Kyle Clifton, Ronnie Lott and Lewis all pass the 100 tackle mark, with Lewis leading the way with 158 tackles. The defense that year gave up an average of 15.4 points a game, with two shutouts on the year. Problem was the offense was horrid especially, in the last half of the year. The offense scored a combined 36 points in the final 6 games. Two of those games were wins because of the defense.
After that the Jets switched coaches 3 times in 3 years and the situation was getting worse. The Rich Kotite era was a new low, with the Jets having a point differential (points scored to given up) of -326. Lewis missed 7 games due to injury the 2nd of those years, which was an anomaly since Lewis missed a total of 8 games in 13 years with the Jets.
The next year was 1997 and in came Bill Parcells to right the ship. One of his first moves was to make Mo Lewis the defensive captain. Lewis held that title until he retired in 2003. The Jets in 1997 gave up 167 less points under Parcells with similar talent. The next year in 1998 the Jets made the AFC Championship Game. They held a 10-0 lead in the 3rd quarter, but fell to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos.
With the Jets back to respectability Lewis was finally recognized for his talents and made the Pro Bowl as well as All-Pro in 1998. In fact he went on to make three consecutive Pro Bowls from 1998 to 2000.
Yet what many people remember Mo Lewis for is the bone crunching hit on Drew Bledsoe that ended the Patriots career (sort of) of Bledsoe and ushered in the Tom Brady era. Here is that hit that changed the NFL and its history books.
What people don’t remember is that Drew Bledsoe re-entered that game on the next series, which was a 3 play series that ended when John Abraham caused a fumble. When Brady entered the game it was vehemently stated by the Patriots sideline that Bledsoe left the game because of poor play; they stated that his removal had nothing to do with Bledsoe being hurt. In fact Bledsoe stood on the sidelines and watched the rest of the game without doctors around him. It was stated in sportscasting.com that:
Following the game against the Jets, Drew Bledsoe’s heart rate spiked dramatically and he was rushed to Mass General Hospital in Boston. On the way, however, he just went “lights out” as he later put it and his brother, Adam, who was riding along, actually asked the paramedics if his big bro had just died. And as it turns out, that was truly nearly the case.
As a result of the hit from Mo Lewis, Bledsoe’s lung had collapsed. He’d suffered a hemothorax, blood was filling his abdomen, and doctors even went as far as telling his wife that they weren’t sure he would make it. A CAT scan was performed, which revealed that about three liters of blood had pooled in his chest. There was talk of opening up Bledsoe’s chest at one point but once doctors found the problem, they drained the blood, which thankfully controlled his breathing and stabilized his blood pressure.
Tom Brady did lead the Patriots to the win in the Super Bowl that year, but it was Bledsoe who came in for Brady in the playoffs when Brady hurt his leg against the Steelers. Brady left in the 2nd quarter with almost 2 minutes left and Bledsoe finished the game and even threw a TD pass before the half ended, though he was fairly ineffective the rest of the game. A punt return and blocked field goal return gave the Patriots their other two TDs in the win.
Mo Lewis has been wrongly battered by the league for making Tom Brady the “GOAT” but nothing could be further from the truth. Brady was only in his 2nd year when he became the starter and the way Bledsoe was playing it was just a matter of time before the Patriots realized what they had.
Lewis was a true warrior on the Jets defense and the hit on Bledsoe was a solid shot but it wasn’t a cheap shot or some brutal hit. It was just one of those things that happen sometimes when large men run into each other.
Lewis retired after the 2003 season with 1231 tackles (2nd all-time in Jets history). He had 883 solo tackles, 52.5 sacks, 14 interceptions for 241 yards, 79 pass deflections, 29 forced fumbles, 13 fumble recoveries for 74 yards, and 5 defensive touchdowns in 200 career games. If Mo Lewis played on a Super Bowl winning type program he would be in consideration for the Hall of Fame, but that was not the case. I am still waiting for him to be inducted into the Ring of Honor like other Jets greats. Those of us who watched him play will always remember Mo Lewis fondly as a player who played hard and left it all on the field.
This is the final installment of the list of players outside the top 13 who we as Jets fans were lucky enough to see in person or on TV playing for our team. It was an honor to see their passion, their athletic skill and their desire to make the play.
Next up: Players ranked #13, 12, & 11