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Jets vs. Dolphins: Anatomy of a Rivalry

The teams have been

With 42 seconds left against the Miami Dolphins, New York Je Photo by Corey Sipkin/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Over the last two decades, the Jets’ biggest rival has been the New England Patriots. That is just how it works out when a team in your division goes on a historic run of success. It goes double when that team’s coach was slated to be your coach prior to a last minute change of heart.

With the Patriots dynasty receding and normalcy returning, the Miami Dolphins seem primed to return as the Jets’ primary rival. If you became a Jets fan prior to 2001, there is a good chance the Dolphins are the team you hate most.

The Jets and Dolphins have been division rivals since Miami joined the American Football League in 1966. The rivalry grew so fierce that it was a factor in the Dolphins remaining in the AFC East during the league’s 2002 realignment even though it made little geographic sense. The realignment kept the Dolphins in a division with a bunch of Northeastern teams and away from in-state rival Jacksonville.

It was the right move, though. Jets-Dolphins is one of the league’s most underrated rivalries in my view.

There are numerous undercurrents.

Miami is a city with an inordinate number of people originally from New York. Dolphins fans have to deal with a ton of Jets fans in their own backyard. Meanwhile, the Dolphins’ success during the 1970s provided them with a national fanbase that has been passed down through generations even as the team’s success has waned. There are plenty of Dolphins fans in the New York area. It is a virtual guarantee that when these teams play, the visiting team will have a lot of fans in attendance.

One moment that shaped the history of both franchises came during the 1983 NFL Draft when the Jets passed on University of Pittsburgh quarterback Dan Marino to select Ken O’Brien out of UC Davis.

Marino went on to have a Hall of Fame career. O’Brien wasn’t a horrible pick. He had successful for the Jets, but he wasn’t anywhere near Marino’s caliber.

The teams have also shared notable personnel. Bill Parcells will never be known best for his work with the Jets or the Dolphins. Still, he coached and served as general manager for the Jets from 1997 through 1999. Around a decade later, he had a three year stint running Miami’s front office.

As Jets general manager, he drafted Chad Pennington. He then brought Pennington to Miami in 2008 after the Jets traded for Brett Favre. Pennington led the Dolphins to a shocking 10-win improvement from the year before. Miami had gone 1-15 in 2007 but won the AFC East at 11-5 in 2008. The clincher was a victory over the Jets the final game of the regular season in Pennington’s return to the Meadowlands.

Former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum had a prominent role in Miami’s front office from 2015 through 2018.

And of course the Jets hired Adam Gase in 2019 immediately after the Dolphins fired him as their head coach.

On the field, the rivalry has had several notable chapters. The Jets lost 14-0 to the Dolphins in the 1982 AFC Championship Game. The game was played on a muddy field as the Dolphins did not put a tarp on it prior during rain prior to kickoff. Controversy over how the field remained uncovered remains to this day. Many Jets fans blame Hall of Fame Dolphins head coach Don Shula for the conditions.

Marino and O’Brien had one classic duel in 1986 in a 51-45 Jets overtime win. Marino threw for 448 yards and 6 touchdowns. O’Brien outdid him, however, with 479 yards and 4 touchdowns, including a 43 yarder to Wesley Walker for the win in overtime.

The rivalry produced a pair of all-time regular season games in a six year span. With first place in the AFC East on the line in 1994, Marino led the Dolphins back from a 24-6 deficit to beat the Jets. On the decisive play, Marino faked a spike that froze the Jets defense.

Six years later, the Jets staged their own epic comeback. Trailing 30-7 in the fourth quarter, the Jets rallied to win 40-37 in overtime on a Monday night. The Jets amazingly tied the game on a touchdown catch by offensive lineman Jumbo Elliott on a tackle eligible play.

You don’t need to be a Jets or a Dolphins fan to know about the “Fake Spike Game” or the “Monday Night Miracle.”

Maybe with both teams seemingly on the upswing, there will be more classics in the years ahead.