I didn’t mean for the night. I meant for the season. How did I know? Because I tore an Achilles’ tendon years ago? Nope — although I did. Because I had some great insight based on years of watching football? Nope.
It was much simpler than that: It was the JETS — the J-E-T-S Jets, who last brought me real joy on Jan. 12th, 1969. If something can go wrong with the Jets, it will.
This isn’t all that different from my other boyhood team, the Mets, the team that traded Tom Seaver once upon a time and Nolan Ryan anotherupon a time. In recent seasons, they had the great Jacob deGrom. The only problem with deGrom was that every time he coughed, he was out for two months.
I will return to the Mets — who had baseball’s highest payroll this season and will finish under .500 — in a few paragraphs.
Back to the J-E-T-S Jets.
They have had 20 head coaches in their 64-year history. Two — Bill Parcells, who coached the team for three seasons, and Al Groh, who coached it for one — had winning records. Weeb Ewbank, who led the team on that magical January day almost 55 years ago, had a losing record with the Jets. They once fired Pete Carroll — after one year — so they could hire Rich Kotite, who proceeded to go 4-28 and is still remembered as one of the worst NFL head coaches ever.
More recently, they took Sam Darnold with the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft. Then again, they took Zach Wilson with the No. 2 pick in the 2021 draft. Joe Namath would be a better choice to play quarterback — now.
As I mentioned, the Jets won Super Bowl III, arguably the most important game in pro football history, in 1969. Namath was the quarterback and he called his shot, guaranteeing that the Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts — who were favored by somewhere between 17 and 19 points.
I was 12 and as rabid a Jets fan as you could find. Every Monday when the Jets were home the following Sunday, I rode the number five bus to the Jets’ offices at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue to buy a standing-room ticket for $3. This might have been the best buy in the history of sports, because the standing room area at Shea Stadium was right behind the corporate boxes. Invariably, some were empty, and by the second quarter, the ushers were bored enough that my friends and I sneaked into excellent seats. For $3.
When the Jets were on the road, I watched on TV — pacing up and down in front of the set. I was coaching. That season, I coached the Jets to the AFL’s Eastern Division title, then paid $6 for standing room to the AFL championship game, in which they beat the Oakland Raiders.
My parents went to a concert on the afternoon of Super Bowl III. When they came home, I was pacing frenetically. My dad walked into the room and casually asked the score. When I said, “16-0, Jets,” he gave me a look of disbelief and sat down. Even he knew the score was stunning. A minute later, he said, “John, you’re making me crazy with the pacing, sit down.”
I said, “Dad, I have to pace, I’m coaching the team.”
He said, “They’re winning 16-0, sit.”
A few moments later, Johnny Unitas came off the Colts bench — he’d been hurt most of the season — and took them 80 yards for a touchdown.
My dad said, “Go ahead and pace.” I paced the Jets to victory. And that’s been it.
They haven’t been to a Super Bowl since. They’ve won 10 playoff games in 54 seasons. Their last playoff appearance was after the 2010 season — under Rex Ryan. Their best-known quarterback since Namath was most famous for a “butt fumble.”
But that was all going to change this season. At his first news conference as a Jet, Rodgers noted that the Super Bowl III trophy looked “lonely” in the lobby. He said and did all the right things during HBO’s “Hard Knocks” — which barely seemed to note anyone else on the team unless they were talking about Rodgers.
The New York media, not usually given to hyperbole, went wild. Rodgers had given up the number 12 he’d worn in Green Bay out of respect for Namath. It all seemed quite karmic.
Which it was. Jets karma isn’t like karma anyplace else, especially now that the Cubs have won a World Series in the 21st century.
Which is why I shuddered on the night of the opener, when Rodgers ran onto the field solo carrying an American flag. The stadium shook with noise and the march to the Super Bowl began.
Four plays into the Jets’ first drive, it was over.
Then there are the Mets, now under free-spending owner Steve Cohen. They have won a World Series since their miraculous run in 1969: in 1986, a mere 37 years ago and counting.
The Mets won 101 games last season but collapsed down the stretch, losing the National League East title to (who else?) the Atlanta Braves, then losing in the first round of the playoffs. But they signed 84-year-old Justin Verlander for more than $40 million a year to go with 82-year-old Max Scherzer, thinking they would win 110 this season. They also let solid mid-rotation starters Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker leave — for a lot less money than they paid Verlander and Scherzer.
Bassitt and Walker have won 29 games combined in Toronto and Philadelphia. Verlander started the season hurt; Scherzer is ending the season hurt. They’ve combined to win 24 games and were both dealt at the deadline. Both pitched markedly better after being traded.
That sums up the M-E-T-S Mets pretty well.
So, it is another beautiful fall in New York. Even the Yankees aren’t going to the postseason. Then again, the Islanders — my hockey team since their inception — begin play next month. Heck, it’s only been 41 years since they won the Stanley Cup.
Maybe I’ll try pacing again.