For the Jets, it has been a rough 57 years of existence. Their fans have endured a lot of losing seasons. They’ve endured The Heidi Bowl. Fans watched The Butt Fumble while still digesting their Thanksgiving dinner. And men like Dan Marino and Thurman Thomas, both of whom were passed up by the Jets in the NFL Draft, spent their entire career never letting their fans forget it. But there have been bright spots over the years. Here is our list of the 10 greatest moments in New York Jets History.
The NFL’s Baltimore Colts won 13 of their 14 games during the 1969 season and cruised through the playoffs. They were 19-point favorites to continue the NFL’s dominance over the AFL’s Jets in Super Bowl III. Quarterback Joe Namath would have none of this, telling a crowd of reporters that his Jets would win. Namath was methodical in leading his team to a 16-0 lead through 3 quarters. The Jets would fend off a late charge by Johnny Unitas to win 16-7. They provided us with the single greatest upset in the history of professional sports. It gave the AFL legitimacy, as well as the eventual merger of the two leagues in 1970. The NFL as we know it today exists, in part, due to the efforts of Namath and the Jets on that January day in 1969.
For all his talk, there was a lot of substance to Rex Ryan’s Jets. Despite the inconsistent play of first round draft pick Mark Sanchez, they won road victories over Cincinnati, San Diego, Indianapolis, and the Patriots en route to two consecutive trips to the AFC title game. The Jets would lead Indianapolis for much of the first half in the first game but were eventually overcome by Peyton Manning. The second game saw the Jets fall into a 24-3 hole only to mount a furious second half comeback that came up short. Both years ended in disappointment, but their playoff runs mark a high mark in the team’s 57-year history apart from our number one moment.
After a 1-15 1996 season, The Tuna arrived and slashed and burned New York’s roster. He brought in a solid draft class and a handful of Parcells loyalists from New England and the Giants. The result was immediate. They improved by 8 games, narrowly missing the playoffs on the season’s final afternoon. In 1998, behind the Pro Bowl brilliance of Martin and re-tread quarterback Vinny Testaverde, the Jets finished the regular season 12-4. The Jets dispatched a tough Jacksonville Jaguars team in the Divisional round, and actually entered the 4th quarter of the AFC title game in Denver’s vaunted Mile High Stadium with a 10-7 lead. But the defending champions were too much for them and forged to a 23-10 victory en route to their 2nd straight title.
Curtis Martin played one final year for the Patriots under coach Pete Carroll before following coach Bill Parcells to East Rutherford, NJ. He played for 8 years in the green and white, during some good years and some bad. He amassed over 10,000 rushing yards, becoming the team’s all-time leading rusher and cementing his own Hall of Fame legacy.
In many ways, this was the beginning of the Patriots-Jets rivalry. Originally, it was thought that Parcells, who had taken a leave from the NFL once before for health reasons, was leaning towards doing the same after the 1996 season. But instead of retiring from his position with the New England Patriots, Parcells signed on to coach the other team in his old stomping grounds. The results for the Jets would be immediate.
When Rex Ryan arrived in New York in 2009, he immediately set about changing the perception of the Jets as the “other team in New York”. He was brash, arrogant, and liked to pick fights with other coaches and the occasional player. He was never as brash as he was when discussing the vaunted New England Patriots. He took shots at coach Bill Belichick, and even challenged Tom Brady. One January night in 2011, he got his chance to put his money where his mouth was. The two teams squared off in a Divisional round playoff game in Foxborough, and Ryan’s defense made the vaunted Patriots look anything but super. Brady was solid, but could not combat the pressure from the Jets to make the big plays he needed to make. The Jets’ 28-21 victory marked the first home playoff loss in the Tom Brady Era.
Despite not reaching a Super Bowl in the 1980’s, the Jets built one of the most fearsome defensive fronts in the NFL through some very shrewd drafting. Abdul Salaam, Marty Lyons, Joe Klecko, and Mark Gastineau led a Jets franchise, that did not make a single postseason appearance in the 1970’s, back into national prominence. Klecko’s number 73 is one of only 5 numbers retired by the team. While the peak of Gastineau’s career was far too short, he does hold the record for the most sacks over a two year period (41 between 1983 and 1984) and held the record for most in one season (22) until 2001.
The Jets began the 1986 season 10-1, before losing their final 5 regular season games. Despite that, and their eventual second round defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, the season did have its share of positive memories. On September 21st, quarterback Ken O’Brien locked horns with budding legend and fellow 1983 NFL Draft alumnus Dan Marino in a classic quarterback shootout. The two men combined for 927 passing yards and 10 touchdowns, but it was O’Brien who had the last laugh in this overtime thriller. He connected with Wesley Walkeron a 43 yard TD strike in overtime to lead the Jets to a stirring 51-45 victory, a rare moment of success for the Jets over the Hall of Fame gunslinger they passed on three years earlier.
While much of New York’s focus was on its two baseball teams squaring off in the World Series, the Gang Green squared off with the Miami Dolphins on October 23rd, 2000. For the first three quarters, The Dolphins held a seemingly insurmountable 30-7 lead heading into the 4th Quarter. But Vinny Testaverde led a furious comeback that saw New York score 30 points to force a stunned Miami team into overtime. For God’s sake, he even threw a touchdown pass to offensive lineman John “Jumbo” Elliot. The Jets would kick a field goal in overtime, sealing the greatest comeback in the history of Monday Night Football.