Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Top 10 Greatest New York Jets

Continuing the series I began, on the Top 10 players of each of the Tri-State Area's major league teams. On to the J, E, T, S, Jets, Jets, Jets!

Honorable Mention to members of the Jets' Ring of Honor at MetLife Stadium who are not otherwise in this Top 10: Winston Hill, Gerry Philbin, Mark Gastineau, Al Toon, and coach Weeb Ewbank. Also to Wayne Chrebet and Dennis Byrd, who are not yet in the Ring of Honor, but have had their numbers removed from circulation, though not officially retired. (UPDATE: In 2012, the Jets officially retired Byrd's Number 90.)

Also to Jim Turner, Art Powell and Bob Talamini, who, like Hill, Philbin, Ewbank, and the men at Numbers 8, 3 and 1 on this list, were named to the American Football League's All-Time Team.

Also to the members of the Jets' "All-Time Four Decade Team" named in 2003, who are neither in this Top 10, nor in the Ring of Honor, nor on the AFL All-Time Team: Matt Snell, Randy Rasmussen, Bill Baird, Bruce Harper, Pat Leahy, Chuck Ramsey, Jim Sweeney,  Mickey Shuler, Greg Buttle, Kyle Clifton, Marvin Powell, Kevin Mawae, Jason Fabini, Mo Lewis, James Hasty, Aaron Glenn, John Abraham and Victor Green.

Also to Richard Todd and Ken O’Brien, and to active Jets Mark Sanchez and Darrell Revis. And to coach Bill Parcells: "You are what your record says you are." And to coach Herman Edwards: "You play to win the game!" And to Ed Anzalone, a.k.a. Fireman Ed, the best-known Jets fan.

And to Sonny Werblin, for building the Super Bowl III Champions; to Leon Hess, part of the Jets' ownership from 1963 until 1984 and sole owner from then until his death in 1999; and to Robert Wood Johnson IV, a.k.a. Woody Johnson: Although he's a major Republican donor, I have to credit him for, along with Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch, getting MetLife Stadium built; it is a huge improvement over Giants Stadium, and not just from the Jets' perspective.

I am not, however, awarding an Honorable Mention to coach Rex Ryan -- not unless he finally keeps his promise. (As former Yankee star Jim Bouton would say, "Yeah, surrrre!")

10. John Riggins, Number 44, running back, 1971-75. It's easy to forget, for all his runs behind those Washington Redskin "Hogs," but Riggo played 5 years for the Jets, and until Curtis Martin just got in, he was the only member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who played at least 3 seasons with the Jets with none of those seasons being the 1968-69 Super Bowl season.

9. Vinny Testaverde, Number 16, quarterback, 1998-2003 & 2005. No, he wasn't Namath's backup in Super Bowl III – he wasn't quite that old. (Babe Parilli, an All-American at Kentucky and an AFL start with the then-Boston Patriots, was Joe’s backup then.) But he did come within a half of doing what only Namath has done, quarterbacking the Jets into a Super Bowl. Like Y.A. Tittle with the early-Sixties Giants, he seemed to do more after age 34 than before it.

8. Larry Grantham, Number 60, linebacker, 1960-72. Along with Gerry Philbin, he led the Jet defense that should be remembered as the real heroes of Super Bowl III. Remember, the Baltimore Colts went 13-1 in the regular season, and went into Cleveland Municipal Stadium (at the time, NFL Championship Game sites were rotated between divisions, not based on record), against the Browns, the only team that had beaten them, and crushed them, 31-0. And the Jets held that offense to 7 points. Which is good, because, despite all the hype, Namath only led them to 1 touchdown (and 3 field goals).

Grantham was there at the beginning, playing as the New York Titans in front of under 5,000 people at the disintegrating old Polo Grounds, and was there at the Orange Bowl when glory was finally achieved.

7. Wesley Walker, Number 85, receiver, 1977-89. How soon we forget: Al Toon, Keyshawn Johnson, Wayne Chrebet, and now Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress have gotten bigger headlines, but Walker did more for the Jets than any of them.

He hauled in 15 Richard Todd passes in the Jets' 1982 Playoff wins against the Cincinnati Bengals at Riverfront and the Raiders at the Los Angeles Coliseum. He caught the winning pass from Ken O’Brien in the 51-45 win over the Miami Dolphins at the Meadowlands in 1986. He caught 438 passes for 8,306 yards and 71 touchdowns. He should be in the Hall of Fame.

6. Marty Lyons, Number 93, defensive tackle, 1979-89. An incredibly underrated player, he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and isn't even in the Jets' Ring of Honor yet. The anchor of the University of Alabama's National Championship defense in 1978, he became the centerpiece of the New York Sack Exchange. He's become the Jets' radio analyst, and runs a charitable foundation.

5. Joe Klecko, Number 73, defensive end, 1977-87. With Gastineau, Lyons and Abdul Salaam, he formed the New York Sack Exchange, which got a lot of headlines but did not achieve what the Giant defenses of 1956-63, 1986-90 and 2007-present did.

A knee injury probably kept him out of Canton, but he is the only defensive player to have his number retired by the Jets. Dwight Stephenson, the Hall of Fame center for the Miami Dolphins (whose career was ended by an alleged cheap shot by Lyons), has called Klecko one of the 2 best interior linemen he ever faced. Anthony Munoz, the Hall of Fame tackle of the Cincinnati Bengals, says he had "perfect technique," and puts him in a group with Mean Fred Dean, Lee Roy Selmon and Bruce "Bad Things" Smith as the best defensive ends he played against. Yet another Hall-of-Famer, Buffalo Bills guard Joe DeLamielleure, puts him on equal footing with Merlin Olsen and Mean Joe Greene – truly high praise.

Joe is the father of Dan Klecko, a defensive tackle won won 2 Super Bowls with the Patriots and another with the Colts.

4. Freeman McNeil, Number 24, running back, 1981-92. With Johnny Hector, he formed "The Two-Headed Monster," and rushed for over 8,000 yards, making him the Jets' all-time leader until Number 2 on this list came along.

3. Don Maynard, Number 13, receiver, 1960-72. For those of us who tend to think of Riggins as a Redskin, for a long time, Maynard was the only Jet besides You Know Who in the Hall of Fame. Somebody had to catch You Know Who's passes, to be Raymond Berry to his Johnny Unitas, Lynn Swan to his Terry Bradshaw, Jerry Rice to his Joe Montana.

Maynard was a rookie with the 1958 Giants, and played in that year's NFL Championship Game, often called "The Greatest Game Ever Played," but the Giants lost to the Baltimore Colts.  As far as I know, the only men to be involved in that game and Super Bowl III 10 years later, often cited as the 2 most important games in NFL history, are Maynard, Johnny Unitas, Colt center/linebacker Dick Szymanski, and Ewbank, who coached the winning team each time.

Lou Michaels played for the Colts in Super Bowl III, and his brother Walt was the Jets' coach when they reached the 1982 AFC Championship Game. Had they won that game to get into Super Bowl XVII, Walt would have gotten an Honorable Mention here.

2. Curtis Martin, Number 28, running back, 1998-2005. Yet another figure in the Jets-Patriots rivalry, Parcells brought him in when he moved from Foxboro to East Rutherford. He is the Jets' only 10,000-yard rusher, and slightly trails Tiki Barber of the Giants as New York football's all-time leading rusher (although he's ahead of Tiki if you count his Patriot years). He was just elected to the Hall of Fame, and deservedly so.

1. Joe Namath, Number 12, quarterback, 1965-76. You were expecting someone else? True, he only reached the Playoffs twice. Statistically speaking, Joe's credentials for the Hall of Fame are actually kind of skimpy.

But, like his contemporaries Muhammad Ali and Walt Frazier, there was a perfect mix of man and moment: The late Sixties, great sports achievement, a change in style, and the growth of mass media and advertising to properly complement them. Just as Johnny U was the perfect quarterback for the preceding era, Broadway Joe was the right man, in the right sport, in the right position, in the right place, in the right time.

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