Friday, January 22, 2010

The Jets Have Won... Me Over

I've never been a Jets fan, having been driven nuts as a kid with all the glorification of Joe Namath and his whopping two postseason victories. It was awfully hard to square that with the broken-down wreck I was then watching. (See also, "Orr, Bobby, Number 4 of the Chicago Blackhawks." At least Walt Frazier of the Cleveland Cavaliers still had some moves.)

I hated Mark Gastineau. I laughed at the Jets drafting Ken O'Brien instead of Dan Marino. Even I was cringing over Marino's "fake spike" play. And even the most rabid Giants fan (whose own team was pretty bad at the time) had to have sympathy for Jet fans watching Rich Kotite go 4-28 in '95 and '96... seriously, Bubby Brister at quarterback?

And, of course, there was the fact that, just as most Giant fans turn to the Yankees in baseball season (old-school with old-school), most Jet fans are also Met fans (new jack with new jack). And, for 20 years, the Jets shared Shea Stadium with the Blue & Orange. Have I ever mentioned that I hate the Mets? And that I didn't like Shea, either? These were 2 more reasons to hate the Jets as well.

Most of all, as with the Giants, I hated the Jets for moving to my home State of New Jersey but keeping the New York name.

I've never hated New York City. I love it. It really is the greatest city in the world, and it might still be that even if the Yankees had only been as successful as, well, the Mets. But, damn it, if you play in New Jersey, you should call yourselves "New Jersey."

That's why none of the Giants' 3 Super Bowl wins (not even the humiliation of the Cheatriots) will ever mean as much to me as the New Jersey Devils' 3 Stanley Cup wins, and the 2 NBA Eastern Conference Titles of the New Jersey Nets. (What the Nets end up calling themselves if they actually do move to Brooklyn, I no longer give a damn.)

But my antipathy toward Gang Green began to change when Bill Parcells, who abandoned the Giants to coach the New England Patriots, abandoned New England to return to New Jersey as bossman of the J! E! T! S! Jets! Jets! Jets! In just 1 year, he made the Jets no longer a laughingstock. In just 2 years, he got the Jets to within a half of the Super Bowl. They actually led the 1998 AFC Championship Game at halftime. Against the defending World Champion Denver Broncos. At Mile High Stadium, where they'd lost a grand total of 1 Playoff game ever. That the Broncos came from behind to win is no mark against the Big Tuna and his Jets.

What is, is that they fell apart after he left. And, with Marino's retirement meaning the rivalry with the Miami Dolphins has been greatly diminished, and Al Davis' descent into senility has totally ended the rivalry with the Oakland (and briefly Los Angeles) Raiders, ex-Parcells assistant Bill Belichick spurned the Jets after one day and shuffled off to Foxboro where he revived the Patriots, and made "New York" vs. "New England" matter in the NFL the way Yankees vs. Red Sox did, the way Knicks vs. Celtics and Rangers vs. Bruins both did not that long ago.

The Giants made their point in Super Bowl XLII, which made me bury my Garden State Grudge against the G-Men once and for all. And the Jets did split the season series with the Pats this fall. The Pats won the AFC East, but a fat lot of good that did them in the Playoffs.

Rex Ryan and his 2009-10 New York Jets have won me over with their desire and their infectious enthusiasm. As Rex's father Buddy Ryan did as a Jet assistant in that long-ago Super Bowl (Wow, there's a phrase that would have seemed strange when I was a kid), as defensive coordinator for the 1985-86 Chicago Bears, and as head coach for the 1986-90 Philadelphia Eagles, Rex has won a lot of fans over. And, unlike his dad, Rex is now a head coach that has won an NFL Playoff game. Two, in fact. Both on the road.

And the Jets really have no pressure on them on Sunday. A rookie quarterback loses the AFC Championship Game? Didn't hurt Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers all that much in 2004. If the Colts win, it's not that big a deal. A month ago, when the Jets needed to win their last 2 regular-season games and have a few teams ahead of them lose, making the Playoffs at all was a longshot. I think if I told most Jet fans then that the team would make the Playoffs, and would get all the way to the AFC Championship Game, and would have to face the Colts in Indianapolis, with no -- pardon me, Jet fans -- guarantee as to what would happen in said AFC Title Game, they would have jumped at the chance.

If the Jets lose, they have many reasons to believe they will be back. By contrast, if the Jets win, the Colts will once again have lost a home Playoff game that they should have won. They're only 5-3 in Playoff games in Indianapolis, all in the Peyton Manning era. If you include their Baltimore years, the Colts are 9-5, and that's not an appreciably better winning percentage.

Note also that, when the Jets did win their one and only Super Bowl thus far, they had to beat the Colts, and a Colt team favored by far more than Manning's team is. And the Super Bowl itself? Joe Robbie Stadium (or whatever they're calling it these days) isn't the historic Orange Bowl and it's in the suburbs rather than the ghetto, but it's still "Miami."

How can the Jets win? If their defensive backs can shut down Manning's favorite target, Reggie Wayne, and keep the Colts off the board in the 1st quarter, then, to borrow a phrase from English soccer, "It's up for grabs, now!" If the Jets are no worse than trailing by a touchdown at the half, as they were in San Diego last week, they'll have the Colts right where they want them. Manning's the best quarterback of his generation (Shut up, Pats fans, Brady benefited from Belichick's cheating), but he does not have a reputation as a great deal-closer.

Like Namath, who has been publicly asked about this one, I'm not making a guarantee. But I will make a prediction.

Jets 20, Colts 17.

Bring on the Saints, and let the team representing the City of 9/11 face the team of the City of Hurricane Katrina battle it out for football supremacy. Or, let Brett Favre's old team show Favre's new team what the old man is missing.

Of course, if the Colts win, then the Super Bowl will either be Manning vs. Favre, which would be quite a show; or Manning, son of former Saints quarterback Archie Manning, against his hometown team.

I really don't have a dog in this fight -- although I can't stand Favre and I want to see him lose. But even if the Vikings win, and take their first-ever Vince Lombardi Trophy, that's a great story.

I want every championship to be a great story. The team that wins Super Bowl XLIV will be a great story, no matter which one it is.

No comments: