Being a Jets Fan Is Not Easy…
I started rooting for the Jets when I was eight years old. The year was 1997, and I was a student in Mr. Scott Kurtis’ third grade class. Mr. Kurtis liked to make class fun – extra free time on Fridays, create games based around the curriculum, and make homework as burden-less as possible. Early on in the year, Mr. Kurtis decided to not assign homework any Monday following a Jets victory.
The Jets were coming off a disastrous 1-15 season, and had fired Rich Kotite in order to bring in Bill Parcells. Pre-season expectations were for there to be a lot of homework on Mondays for our tiny third grade class. But the Jets surprised many by going to their mid-season bye week with a record of 5-3. Wins in three of the next four weeks gave the Jets a pretty record of 8-4, and a trip to the playoffs seemed academic.
Then, I discovered that being a Jets fan is not easy. The Jets dropped back-to-back games against Buffalo and lowly Indianapolis to bring them back to the pack. A 35-0 shutout of the Buccaneers breathed hope back into Jets fans, and made life a lot easier for a certain third grade class, who received no homework for the entire week leading up to Christmas break because of the football result. However, the Jets couldn’t defeat Barry Sanders and the Detroit Lions in a turnover-laden finale, and the Jets missed the playoffs with a record of 9-7.
Not much has changed for this Jets fan since then. Granted, time has passed, but the story has always been the same. No matter what, the Jets will always find a way to take something good and crush it into tiny pieces. For example, the Jets would reach the AFC Championship Game in the 1998 season, only to follow it up with a disappointing 1999 season known for Vinny Testaverde’s season-ending knee injury in the season opener. The off-season saw numerous departures to the staff. Bill Parcells left the coaching role to become the general manager. That, in turn, caused his successor Bill Belichick to take a head coaching job with the New England Patriots, who promised him to have more control over personnel than the Jets would have allowed him. The same month, Woody Johnson purchased the team from the Hess family, after long-time owner, Leon, had passed away earlier the previous year.
The Jets were a model of consistency, if nothing else, throughout the 2000’s. There was disappointment, as Al Groh’s first and only season as head coach saw the team suffer another December collapse to snatch the off-season away from the jaws of the playoffs. However, with Herm Edwards at the helm, from 2001-2004 the Jets had just one sub-500 season. That was in 2003 when quarterback Chad Pennington missed the first half of the season with a dislocated elbow. The Jets were two missed field goals away from the AFC Championship game in January of 2005, but heartbreak is tied into the Jets’ fanbase as much as anything else. After another injury-plagued season to Pennington in 2005, the Jets traded Edwards to Kansas City in exchange for a fourth-round compensatory draft pick.
This Is Where It Gets Crazy…
The Jets brought in Mike Tannenbaum as the general manager, and Eric Mangini to coach the Jets in 2006, and he took the team to the playoffs in his first season. But after Pennington was once again unable to stay healthy in 2007, the Jets suffered their second losing season in three years, and Mangini was on the hot seat. To fix the quarterback position, the Jets signed Brett Favre, who had retired just five months earlier after a distinguished career with the Green Bay Packers. It was a move largely orchestrated by Woody Johnson, and a departure from how the Jets normally built teams. The Jets became enamored with a win-now philosophy, possibly because of the recent Super Bowl success of their in-stadium rivals, the Giants. But the Jets didn’t win with Favre; at least not enough to make the playoffs. The Jets turned an 8-3 start into a 9-7 disaster, and Mangini was fired at the end of the season.
In came defensive guru Rex Ryan. The former defensive coordinator with the feared Baltimore Ravens, Ryan turned a passive defense into an all-out attack. It helped that he was able to convince Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard, a couple of his Ravens cronies, to sign with the Jets. It helped that David Harris, drafted in 2006, was quickly becoming a tackle machine. It also helped that the Jets had developed the best cover corner in the game. It’s still stunning that Darrelle Revis did not win Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. The Jets defense was enough to make up for rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez’s growing pains, and the team began to click in time for a post-season run. Yes, they played teams with nothing to play for, but they also beat two teams in the playoffs to reach the AFC Championship Game before blowing a second half lead against the Colts.
The Jets continued to go for a championship in 2010 by bringing in aging running back LaDanian Tomlinson, and superstar cornerback Antonio Cromartie. Again, they made the playoffs behind a little bit of luck. But again, they defeated two quality teams on the road to make the AFC Championship Game, where they finally ran out of steam.
It’s Been Ugly Since Then…
Mark Sanchez’s inconsistent 2011 season caused the Jets to miss the playoffs for the first time under Ryan’s tenure, and the cracks were starting to show in the team. The win-now philosophy was taking a toll on the Jets’ personnel. They hadn’t developed a player through the draft since Darrelle Revis. The offensive line had eroded. Mark Sanchez had taken steps backwards, not forwards, in his development. And the New York Giants had won their second Super Bowl in five seasons. The Jets made a trade for the controversial Tim Tebow, a move that was the brainchild of Johnson. Tebow was nearly never used, Sanchez struggled to hang onto the ball, and Buttfumble became a household name in a disastrous 2012 season. Rex Ryan survived, but Tannenbaum did not. In came John Idzik to help Ryan re-build the team.
The Jets drafted Geno Smith in the second round of the 2013 Draft as the heir-apparent to Sanchez. While Smith did not exactly put up stellar numbers in 2013, the Jets ended their season with a record of 8-8, and saved Ryan’s job yet again. The play of the offense could not be placed entirely on Smith, who had no offensive weapons to work with at either the receiver or running back position.
Enter Michael Vick…
At last, we get to the meat of the issue. Despite Ryan voicing support for Geno Smith throughout the offseason, the Jets decided to bring in Michael Vick by signing him to a one year, $5 million contract. Forgetting Vick’s past off-the-field issues, bringing in the mobile quarterback is just the latest step backwards by the Jets. While the front office can say that the move is so Geno Smith can learn from Vick, make no mistake about it: Mike Vick is here to win the starting job. If Vick starts the entire year and plays average, then, at worst, it’s a waste of a second-round pick that was spent on Geno Smith. At best, it’s a delay on the return on investment in that pick. If Geno ends up winning the job, then it’s a waste of five million dollars that could have been better spent improving other areas of the club.
Vick does not markedly improve the Jets’ backup quarterback position. In the 31 games that Mark Sanchez started in 2011-2012, he turned the ball over 60 times while only passing for 39 touchdowns (and rushing for an additional 6). From 2011-2013, Vick played in 29 games, turned the ball over 52 times, and had 39 total touchdowns (passing plus rushing). Additionally, Vick has not played a complete season under center since the 2006 season. Vick had tons of talent around him in Philadelphia, yet was only able to take his team to the playoffs in 2010. The “Dream Team” of 2011 crumbled even before his injury problems, and they didn’t improve while Vick was healthy early on in the 2012 season. He is not a winning player, or a leader. Leaders find ways to win games. Vick has found ways to not complete games.
There were other options with less sketchy backgrounds than Vick. Josh McCown and Matt Schaub might have been high-price options, but they would have pushed Smith harder to win the starting role, and would deliver higher quality play. A cheaper option, and the one that I would have chosen, would be Jason Campbell. Don’t let his 1-7 record with Cleveland last year fool you, Campbell is a quality backup who can perform when he has talent around him.
As a Fan, It’s Not The Losing That Bothers Me…
Losing is a part of sports. Any team can go through a bad year or decade. Some signings make sense, but just don’t work. Sometimes you run into better teams, or teams that happen to be better on that particular day. It’s what make sports so magical.
What bothers fans is when ownership and management make moves that make absolutely no sense. Signing Tim Tebow made no sense. Not starting Tim Tebow (or third-stringer Greg McElroy) when Mark Sanchez was incapable of playing quarterback in 2012 made no sense. Michael Vick makes no sense. Because of his legal history, he’s a media circus waiting to happen. Because of the structure of the team, he’s a distraction to Geno Smith’s development. Because New York is the media capital of the world, this is the perfect storm for a disaster. Sadly, if this experiment fails, it will probably be Rex Ryan who takes the fall for it. Rex Ryan, particularly his defensive scheme, has been the only reason why the Jets have been watchable for the past five years. But intelligent fans know that this is not Rex Ryan’s fault. This is Woody Johnson and his megalomaniac decisions to bring in names that attract attention. In this way, he mistakes attention for relevancy. But we’re not third graders anymore. We know that when ownership makes moves just for the sake of money, it doesn’t end well. When your owner is the biggest problem, there’s no escaping defeat.