An Assertive Voice Declaring the Arrival of the Jets

   

Aaron Houston for The New York Times

The Jets had not had a signature personality since Joe Namath, until Coach Rex Ryan grabbed the microphone

 

 

January 15, 2011

An Assertive Voice Declaring the Arrival of the Jets

Time out, people. This JetsPatriots feeding frenzy has gotten out of control.
We’re talking about a football game. Yes, there are elements of payback, of teaching upstarts a lesson. On Sunday, the Jets and the Patriots will play for the third time this season in a playoff game that has been cast as Armageddon. The passions have been fueled primarily by Jets Coach Rex Ryan, though others have stoked the fire.
The two teams have been going at each other since the founding of the American Football League in 1960, when the Jets were the Titans and the Patriots were based in Boston. From the wacky ownership of Harry Wismer to a bizarre cavalcade of coaching resignations and firings, the Jets have been colorful clowns incapable of sustained success.
But that is changing, and it doesn’t matter whether the Jets win or lose on Sunday. It’s a matter of odds, history and a loudmouth coach.
The Jets are simply due. Of the A.F.C. East’s four members, the Jets are the only franchise that has not had sustained dominance as a division winner. Buffalo has had two reigns: in the mid-1960s, when Cookie Gilchrist terrorized opponents, and in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the Bills reached four consecutive Super Bowls without winning one.

Miami, which entered the A.F.L. as an expansion team in 1966, was dominant in the early ’70s and the early ’80s. The Dolphins won two of three Super Bowls from 1971 to 1973, including the 1972 squad that is the only N.F.L. team to finish a season undefeated.
New England, like the other members of the division, enjoyed success here and there. But the Patriots became the dominant force in the A.F.C. East beginning in 2001, winning three Super Bowl championships in four seasons.
The Jets, except for division titles in 1968 and 1969, have had their ups and downs.
What each mini-dynasty had in common was the presence of a great quarterback. For Buffalo, he was Jack Kemp during the Bills’ first reign, and Jim Kelly from 1988 to 1993. Miami had Bob Griese in the early 1970s. Now the Patriots have Tom Brady, who engineered the Patriots’ three Super Bowl championships.
The Jets’ only great quarterback was Joe Namath, who led them to the franchise’s lone championship in 1969. After that, Namath was plagued by injuries. The Jets’ defense was sporadic. Namath was finally waived in 1977, and odd as it sounds, the franchise has been looking for a signature ever since.
Like it or not, the Jets have found one in Ryan, though from the outside, he seems heir to their tradition of unintended buffoonery, especially when compared with the stony stoicism of Patriots Coach Bill Belichick. Ryan’s challenge is far different from Belichick’s. He was hired to change the course of a river that has consistently carried the Jets away from success.
As Ryan suggested in one of his off-the-cuff rants, his counterpart has not always been the impenetrable Belichick. The Patriots’ coach, like the A.F.C. East, has evolved as well.
During a phone conversation a couple of years ago, Jim Brown shared an anecdote about Belichick that shed light on his vulnerability and doubt when he was the coach of the Browns. Cleveland finished 5-11 in 1995, Belichick’s last season. That November, the Browns’ owner, Art Modell, announced that he was moving the team to Baltimore after the season.
Brown recalled: “What was so funny is that when Modell took the team away, Bill didn’t even know it, and I didn’t know it. We were standing on the sidelines — he was bewildered, I was bewildered. Bill said, ‘Well, I wonder what he’s going to do with me?’ I told Bill: ‘I don’t think we’re going to be dealing with him much more. I think this is a whole new move.’ ”
The Browns dismissed Belichick in February 1996. He did not take over another team until he spurned the Jets and became the coach of the Patriots in 2000, and turned a lukewarm relationship red-hot.
If any group of sports fans should understand the rise and fall of empires, Bostonians should. Generations wallowed in agonizing frustration waiting for the Red Sox to finally win a World Series; they won two, then missed the playoffs. The Celtics were initially a losing franchise, then became one of the most dominant teams in any sport. They tailed off, then surged back.

The Patriots’ success begins and ends with Brady, who turns 34 in August. The Jets have an impetuous 24-year-old quarterback in Mark Sanchez, a talented group of young receivers, an outstanding offensive line, a solid defense anchored by a great defensive back. They have a bodacious second-year coach who keeps telling us that change is about to take place.
The history of the A.F.C. East suggests that Ryan, in all his eccentricity, may be right.
Forget Armageddon on Sunday, forget wars of words, forget one-game symbolism. The transition has begun.
The boisterous Rex Ryan bellows convincingly that the Jets’ time has finally arrived. When you look at history, it’s hard to disagree.

E-mail: wcr@nytimes.com

Copyright. 2011. The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved.

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