The word "tough" might be one of the most overused and vague terms when describing NFL players. It takes a certain amount of toughness just to put on the pads and participate in a single practice, so anyone who has any kind of NFL career has to be considered tough.
But what separates the average NFL player from ones who eschew extreme pain to get out on the field every week? How does one identify a player who is willing to risk his future physical and mental well-being from one who is simply cashing a pay check?
What is tough?
While toughness is an intangible that is difficult to measure and quantify, there are certain players who are clearly among the elite when it comes to being a card-carrying member of the "Tough Guy Club."
Tough guys overcome tremendous odds to make it in the NFL. They play through injuries, and they go over the middle to catch passes that resemble a floating helium balloons. They gladly take on menial duties like blocking and turn them into an entire career. They can be highly productive for a long time, or they can play the game with such reckless abandon that their body gives out after only a few seasons.
When people tell a tough guy "you can't," they work harder than ever to prove everyone wrong.
The Jets may not have always had the most success as a franchise, but I would take the players listed in this slideshow into a fight against any other group any team could put together over the past 25 years.
Bryan Cox: One of the most vicious Jets to put on a uniform over the past 25 years. Would have made the list easily with a longer stint on the team.
Ronnie Lott: Unquestionably one of the toughest players to ever wear an NFL uniform, but two mediocre seasons as a Jet at the end of his career aren't enough to make the list.
Darrelle Revis: A tougher player than most will give him credit for. Not afraid to step in front of anyone to make a tackle and will play a physical game with any receiver in the league.
Jeff Criswell: Worked his way from being an undrafted free agent out of Graceland University to a nice stint with the Jets. Was a 6'7", 290-pound beast on the offensive line.
Chad Pennington: Bounced back from numerous serious injuries and surgeries during eight-year Jets career. Only played 16 games in a season once for the Jets.
John Abraham: A tough guy for sure, but too injury-prone during his Jets career to land in the top 25.
Marvin Jones: Tough to leave out of the top 25, but early injuries cut down what could have been a great career.
Sione Pouha: At 6'3" 330, might be the last person on the current squad you would want to meet in a dark alley.
Jay Feely: If I had to put one specialist on this list, it would be Feely. He was never afraid to make a tackle on kickoffs, and I would certainly take him in a fight over Pat Leahy or Louie Aguiar.
Richie Anderson: Spent a decade in green and white and was as tough as they come when asked to block or catch a pass in a 35-0 game. Put the ball in his hands in a clutch spot, though, and you can count on a fumble.
Marvin Washington should land on this list just because of the seasons he had to endure during his Jets tenure. Washington played for the Jets from 1989-1996 and played on a grand total of zero winning teams.
Washington's career started with Joe Walton, ended with Rich Kotite, and in four of his eight seasons, the Jets won four games or less.
The fact that Washington showed up to work and played as hard as he did for eight years is a testament to his pride and toughness.
Working as a defensive end, the 6'6", 285-pound Washington played in 124 games for the Jets and registered 37.5 sacks.
Checking in at 6'0", 240, Jerald Sowell was the last person defenders wanted to see bearing down on them to make a block in the early 2000s.
After a 1998 season in which he had 40 carries, Sowell totaled just 14 carries over the next seven season for the Jets. His rushing production obviously isn't what lands him on this list, though.
Sowell spent the majority of his career leading the way for Curtis Martin, who averaged nearly 1,300 yards a season running behind Sowell.
In addition to serving as a top fullback, Sowell was also a special teams ace who registered 135 special teams tackles, which is still a Jets record.
Erik McMillan's time as a Jet may have been short, but his legacy still stands as a ball-hawking safety.
McMillan was under a microscope more than most third-round picks, as he is the son of feared four-time All-Pro offensive tackle Ernie McMillan.
McMillan didn't disappoint, as he quickly developed a reputation as a sure tackler and had a nose for the football as good as anyone in the game. He was named Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1988 after intercepting eight passes as a rookie, returning two of them for touchdowns.
McMillan intercepted 19 passes in his first three seasons, scored seven touchdowns during his Jets tenure and had his hand in 11 fumbles.
He may not have been Ronnie Lott, but his relentless style of play served notice that the middle of the field was not where quarterbacks wanted to throw or wide receivers wanted to be.
Some people on this slideshow are obvious choices. Players who dominated the trenches or have a reputation as hard hitters stand out among the group. One player whose toughness often went underappreciated, though, was wide receiver Laveranues Coles.
Coles played for the Jets for seven years, and despite his 5'11" frame, was never scared to take a hit.
Originally drafted as a burner, Coles developed into a possession receiver later in his career and accounted for nearly 6,000 yards during that time.
Coles gets extra credit for this list, as he was paired with Chad Pennington for most of his career. Pennington didn't have the strongest arm, and Coles often sacrificed his body, knowing a big hit was coming while he waited for a floating pass.
Coles was also recognized by the NFL as a recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award after the 2007 season and gained a ton of notoriety and respect when he admitted that he was the victim of sexual abuse as a youngster.
During Week 9 of the 2010 season, the 6-2 Jets found themselves knotted in a 20-20 game in overtime against the lowly Cleveland Browns. Facing a crucial 3rd-and-9, Mark Sanchez faced initial pressure and had to scramble immediately, causing the receivers to break from their routes. When Cotchery changed direction, he suffered one of the most painful injuries a male athlete can have—a torn groin.
While most mortals would crumble to the ground the second that happened, Cotchery limped himself open about nine yards downfield. In an act of desperation, Sanchez flicked Cotchery a pass against his body. The pass was slightly off the mark, and despite the fact that Cotchery could barely stand, he made a remarkable diving catch for the first down. The Jets would go on to a 26-20 win.
Cotchery's career and toughness extended just beyond that one play, though. Always known as a sure-handed receiver who was never afraid to go over the middle, Cotchery became a locker room leader and fan favorite who was missed tremendously, as the Jets released him during training camp in 2011.
When Rex Ryan took over the Jets in 2009, he vowed to fans that the team would have a "ground-and-pound" mentality. The new coach didn't have to wonder who was going to take the lead in carving that identity for the offense.
It would be the hard-running Thomas Jones.
Although only a member of the Jets for three seasons, Jones earned a reputation as a high motor, physical runner who approached each rush as if it was the final drive of the Super Bowl.
In his first two seasons as a Jet, Jones ran the ball 600 times for over 2,400 yards. However, after the 2008 season Jones turned 31, and with a lot of carries under his belt, it appeared he was about to hit the downside of his career.
What lands Jones on this list is what he did in 2009 at the age of 31, when he ran the ball a career high 331 times for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns.
His signature moment came in the 2009, when the Jets traveled to take on San Diego in the second round of the playoffs. With the Jets nursing a tentative 17-14 lead against the explosive Chargers, Ryan elected to go for the win on a 4th-and-1 late in the game. He handed the ball to Jones, who punched the Jets' ticket to the AFC Championship game with the conversion.
Joe Fields holds the distinction as the only person on this list who was a teammate of Hall of Famer Joe Namath. That is a testament to Fields' toughness and longevity.
What also lands Fields on this list is his story of a self-made non-prospect who became a Pro Bowl player due to his hard work and intensity. Fields was a 14th-round pick out of Widener University—not the ideal path to NFL stardom.
After playing as a reserve in 1975, Fields was named the starting center by head coach Lou Holtz as the Jets transitioned from Namath to Richard Todd.
Fields stuck around through the lean years of the late 70s, finally enjoying a run to the 1982 AFC Championship game, where he unfortunately was the Jets center for Todd's five-interception game against the Dolphins.
Fields held on with the Jets until 1987, when he started 10 games at right guard as the Jets sputtered to a 6-9 record. After a one-year stint as a part-timer with the Giants, Fields called it a career after 14 years and two Pro Bowls.
Not bad for a Division III player who was the 349th player selected in the NFL Draft.
The first member of the New York Sack Exchange to make this list, Marty Lyons was a beast of a defensive lineman on the field and one of the game's great humanitarians off of it.
Lyons arrived in New York as a first-round pick after a first-team All American season and National Championship for Bear Bryant at Alabama in 1978.
With Joe Klecko and Abdul Salaam already in place in the middle of the defensive line, Lyons was plugged in at defensive end right from the start of his career.
At 6'5", 270, Lyons had huge size for his time and was nearly impossible to handle on the outside.
Bonus points are awarded to Lyons for this list for his involvement for one of the NFL's most memorable officiating calls of all time. Lyons just missed a sack on Buffalo's Jim Kelly, but decided to give the Hall of Fame quarterback a few shots while laying on top of him. Referee Ben Dreith correctly flagged Lyons for a personal foul and announced the penalty as "giving him the business down there."
Another incident that is a part of Lyons' legacy was his hand in the end of Dolphins' Hall of Fame center Dwight Stephenson's career. After a Bobby Humphrey fumble recovery, Lyons threw a low block on Stephenson, blowing out his former college teammate's knee. While Lyons appeared devastated and visited with Stephenson frequently during his recovery, Dolphin fans have never relented on their claim that the play was dirty.
Off the field, Lyons was the recipient of the 1984 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, due mostly to his work with the Marty Lyons Foundation. Lyons is currently the Jets radio analyst and continues his work with his foundation, which has been in operation for almost 30 years.
Victor Green was an undrafted free agent who never made a Pro Bowl and played in the postseason only two times during his nine-year Jets career. The fact that he was named as one of two safeties on the New York Jets All-Time Four Decade Team tells you just what the fans thought of him though.
As an undrafted free agent, Green made a name for himself as a part-time player and special teams contributor during his first two seasons. He finally was inserted into the starting lineup in 1995 in what may have been Rich Kotite's only smart move during his Jets tenure.
Green rewarded that move by leading the team in tackles despite only starting 12 of 16 games. Fully entrenched as a starter from the start of the 1996 season, Green had his best season as a Jet. He registered 123 tackles, a total that bested the next closest player on the team (Marvin Jones) by nearly 50 tackles. Green also contributed two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
On the Jets team that made the 1998 AFC Championship game, Green again led the squad in tackles from his safety position. On a defense that featured Bryan Cox, Mo Lewis, James Farrior and Pepper Johnson, that's no small accomplishment.
As exhibited by his phenomenal tackling and takeaway numbers, Green played a fearless safety and was always appreciated as a tough hitter who was not afraid to throw his 5'10" frame around all over the field.
For the better part of the 1980s, Lance Mehl was an absolute tackling machine for the Jets.
Mehl earned his reputation as a top linebacker on Penn State's undefeated 1978 team, where he was an All-American. He continued to produce at a high level after the Jets selected him in the third round of the 1980 draft.
Playing linebacker behind the New York Sack Exchange, Mehl was often overlooked on the national level, but his workmanlike play always endeared him to Jets fans, even in the final days of their run at Shea Stadium.
Mehl threw his body around the field so much during his eight-year career that he still suffers from the lingering effects to the point that he even filed a workman's comp claim with the NFL.
Mehl has now been retired from the Jets for 25 years and is a member of the New York Jets All-Time Four Decade Team.
As Lance Mehl's career began to dwindle, the Jets found the perfect replacement for him with Kyle Clifton. Both linebackers were cut from the same cloth as tackling machines planted directly in the middle of the defense.
The only full season Mehl and Clifton played together was in 1985, when the Jets had the third-best rush defense in the NFL, behind just the Giants and Bears.
While Mehl hung on for two more injury-plagued seasons, Clifton would remain a mainstay through the 1993 season.
Clifton topped the 100-tackle mark in each of his nine seasons as a starter, including 1990 when he led the AFC with 199 tackles.
Mo Lewis walked onto the field as a rookie starter in 1991, and aside from pectoral surgery in 1996, answered the bell for every game as a starter until 2003.
While Marvin Jones was a first-round pick and supposed to be the next dominant linebacker in New York, it was Lewis who led the Jets linebacking cops into the new millennium.
Leiws was a sure tackler, and whether the Jets were an elite team or a dreadful embarrassment, Lewis was the leader in the locker room and on the field.
He was the leader of the Bill Parcells' defense when the Jets made a run to the 1998 AFC Championship game and capped that season with Pro Bowl and All Pro nods. In total, he made three Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro in 1998 and 2000. He was also a member of the New York Jets All-Time Four Decade Team and is a strong candidate to one day be enshrined in the Jets Ring of Honor.
Lewis' biggest mark on the game may have been the crushing blow he dealt to New England's Drew Bledsoe during Week 2 of the 2001 season. Bledsoe pulled up as he tried to scramble out of bounds with Lewis bearing down on him. Lewis didn't relent and delivered a devastating hit to the veteran quarterback, who sustained internal injuries.
The hit showed how vicious of a player Lewis could be...and also jump-started the career of an unknown back-up named Tom Brady.
The Jets have quietly had a run of dominant centers for the better part of the past three decades, and Jim Sweeney was as tough as any of them.
Sweeney started his career with the Jets out of Pitt as a second-round draft choice in 1984 and was a mainstay of teams of varying success in the late 80's and early 90s.
What lands Sweeney on this list is that for a 10-year stretch from 1985-1994, Sweeney started every game (156 in a row), including every game at center from 1988-1994.
If this slideshow combined both toughness and intelligence, Marvin Powell would be right at the top of the list. Not only was Powell a five-time Pro Bowler as a dominant tackle in the early 80s, but he also has a long list of off-field accomplishments.
Powell served as the NFL Players Association President in 1987 as the league faced one of its most difficult labor disagreements. Sitting across the negotiating table from Powell, a 6'5", 270 beast, could not have been an comfortable situation.
Powell was also an intern at the New York Stock Exchange and worked during his offseasons towards a law degree from New York Law School.
Powell was taken as the fourth-overall pick in the 1977 draft by the Jets and lived up to the hype. From 1978-1985, Powell started 120 games at right tackle for the Jets and was a Pro Bowler every year from 1979-1983.
With the exception of Joe Namath, Mark Gastineau was the most polarizing player to put on a Jets uniform. An unquestioned elite pass-rusher, Gastineau was revered as an All-Pro and vilified for his off-field antics.
Either way, Gastineau was one tough customer.
Gastineau's accolades speak for themselves. He was a five-time All Pro, five-time Pro Bowl selection, NFL Defensive Player of the Year and when he abruptly walked away from the game in the middle of the 1988 season, he was the NFL's all-time sacks leader.
Gastineau's toughness stock rose considerably in the 1985 season. With high hopes for the Jets thanks to an early-season winning streak, Jets fans held their collective breath as Gastineau suffered an broken hand. He would not miss a game, though, playing with a heavily-taped club on his hand, and finished second in the AFC with 13.5 sacks. He finally had a consecutive games streak of 108 games stopped in 1986 when he suffered a severe abdominal injury.
Gastineau may now be best remembered for the swift downfall of his career. A late hit on Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar in a 1986 playoff game still stands out as possibly the biggest bonehead penalty in Jets history. In 1987, Gastineau was one of the first players to cross the picket lines and play during the players strike. Teammates spit on his car as he drove past the picket.
In 1988, Gastineau appeared to be back on track, as he led the AFC in sacks through seven weeks. However, he shocked the league when he walked away from the game, claiming his girlfriend, Brigitte Nielsen, had uterian cancer.
Stints in prison and an admission of steroid abuse followed in his retirement, clouding his legacy even further.
Despite a solid decade of a downward spiral, Gastineau seems to have turned his life around and is now welcomed back to cheers any time he steps foot in MetLife Stadium.
Baxter may not have the stardom as some of the people he tops on this list and may never be a candidate for the Jets Ring of Honor, but if he was moving ahead full steam against Kyle Clifton or Lance Mehl, who would you take in that collision?
Listed at 6'1", 233 pounds, Baxter was an 11th-round pick and didn't have any impact during his first year on the team. However, in 1990, head coach Bruce Coslet gave Baxter a chance as a goal-line running back, and he contributed with six touchdowns.
Baxter's best season came in 1991, again under Coslet, when he rushed for 666 yards and 11 touchdowns on an 8-8 Jets team.
He played his entire seven-year career as a Jet, retiring after the 1995 season.
Before Jets fans were subject to watching Johnny Mitchell, Kyle Brady and Anthony Becht try to play tight end for Gang Green, they had the pleasure of rooting on Mickey Shuler from 1978-1989.
Shuler was one of the more productive tight ends in the AFC in the 80s, earning All-Pro honors in 1985, 1986 and 1988. Not bad for someone who played in the same conference as Kellen Winslow and Ozzie Newsome.
Playing on the line along with Joe Fields, Marvin Powell and other resident tough guys, Shuler held his own as a blocker when needed. However, where he earned his tough guy stripes was catching pass after pass over the middle from Richard Todd and Ken O'Brien.
Shuler suffered injuries at many points of his career, but that was attributed more towards his style of play than any suggestion of softness.
If anyone wants to question Shuler's toughness, one can reference the famous NFL Films clip where Lawrence Taylor is pleading with the Giants to "go out there like a bunch of crazed dogs." A maniacal LT can be heard directly targeting Shuler during this frenzy. Whether it was a good decision or not, Shuler refused to back down.
The past decade of football has been the most successful long run in Jets history, and Shaun Ellis anchored the defensive line the whole time.
No coincidence there.
Since he burst on to the scene with 8.5 sacks as a rookie in 2000, the Jets have had eight winning seasons, made six playoff appearances and advanced to two AFC Championship games.
Ellis might not have the ferocity of a Mark Gastineau, but no Jet during the past decade has done more dirty work in the trenches than Ellis. Ellis ranks second in Jets history behind Gastineau with 72.5 sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2003 and 2009.
Ellis was also a recipient of the NFL's Ed Block Courage Award in 2010.
In a New York Times interview after Ellis signed with the Patriots in 2011, Ryan said, "I’ll warn some of their guys, be careful, you don’t want to fight Shaun. He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around. He is a tough guy and he’s going to be missed.”
While it seems like the NFL is just getting around to widespread concussion awareness, Al Toon had them beat by 20 years.
Toon played in an era where players were much more likely to shake off a head injury and where coaches spoke of concussions as "having your bell rung." Terms like "brain trauma" were taboo, and a link between future mental problems and concussions had yet to be widely researched.
Toon was a sublimely talented wide receiver who was a fan favorite right from the start. He made news early in his career when he admitted he took ballet lessons in order to improve his flexibility and grace and was highly productive on the field.
However, his willingness to make any catch ended up being his downfall. Toon received at least nine concussions during his career, and possibly more, as head injuries weren't tracked as closely as they are today.
Medical understanding and concussion testing did not exist on the same level as they do today. One can just wonder how many times Toon was pushed back into a game well before he should have been.
Toon was forced to retire at age 29, halfway through the 1992 season, when he suffered yet another concussion in a game against the Broncos.
His life dealing with post-concussion syndrome was examined in a frightening Sports Illustrated article in which Toon talked of not being able to remember simple plays during games, but was out on the field playing anyway.
Despite his frequent concussions, Toon never backed away from going over the middle for a Ken O'Brien floating pass and always put the catch as a priority over his own health.
Not long after his retirement, Toon talked about how he wasn't even able to be in the same room as a ceiling fan. The rotation of the blades caused instant nausea and dizziness. That's how bad he was.
Happily, Toon has made tremendous progress and is back in the NFL, serving on the Board of Directors for the Green Bay Packers. He was inducted into the Jets Ring of Honor in 2011, and his son, Nick, is a top prospect in this year's NFL Draft.
If you were looking for backup in a street fight, Wayne Chrebet might be the last person in this slideshow that you would pick.
However, if you needed someone to make a 3rd down conversion with the season on the line, you would choose very few people ahead of Chrebet.
Chrebet's career got off to an auspicious start as a walk-on at Jets training camp in 1995. Only afforded the chance at a tryout out of Hofstra because the Jets used their facility for training camp, Chrebet was initially not allowed into the complex, as security guards did not believe the 5'10" 180-pound Chrebet could possibly be a football player.
Chrebet not only worked his way up from the bottom of the depth chart to earn a spot on the roster, but Rich Kotite saw enough to pencil him into the starting lineup and leave him there for the entire season.
Chrebet quickly became a fan favorite for many reasons, not the least of which was hanging onto the football despite being blasted by salivating defensive backs and linebackers.
After the Jets made Keyshawn Johnson the No. 1 pick in the 1996 NFL Draft, Chrebet's numbers were expected to drop significantly. However, his numbers increased steadily, topped by a 75-catch, 1,083-yard season in 1998 as he helped the Jets advance to the AFC Championship game.
Not surprisingly, the punishment the diminutive Chrebet took began to wear on him after the 2002 season. He suffered numerous concussion during his Jets tenure and started just six games between 2003 and 2005.
Chrebet's career came to an abrupt end during a Week 8 game in 2005 against the Chargers in a very typical way. With the Jets driving for a possible go ahead score late in the game, the Jets found themselves in a 3rd-and-5 situation at the Chargers 15-yard line. Quarterback Brooks Bollinger found Chrebet for a six-yard gain to convert, but the tackle by Chargers corner Jerry Wilson caused Chrebet's head to hit the Giants Stadium turf with such an impact that it knocked him unconscious.
Not surprisingly, Chrebet held onto the ball despite television cameras clearly showing that he was out cold. It was at least his ninth concussion and would be the final play of a career that exemplified hard work and toughness.
The Jets had more than their share of locker room disagreements in 2011. Players talked about a fractured room and were just about ready to come to blows with each other at times. The one player who nobody on the team would want to start any trouble with is Nick Mangold.
Mangold came to the Jets in 2006 and faced immediate pressure. He was called one of the best center prospects the NFL had seen in years and was tasked with replacing Kevin Mawae, who could possibly find himself in Canton one day.
The 22-year-old Mangold had no problem with any of that, as he started every game, allowed just a half of sack and committed just three penalties all year. It was clear from the start that the Jets didn't have to worry about the center position for a long time.
Mangold started every game during the first five years of his career, and only a serious high ankle sprain broke his consecutive games streak early in 2011. Even with that injury, Mangold showed his toughness by bouncing back much quicker than anyone could have expected.
To today's Jets fans, Joe Klecko is known as the borderline Hall of Famer who was a member of the vaunted New York Sack Exchange. However, his spot among the greats did not always seem like it was in the cards.
While Klecko had a stellar career at Temple University, playing for the Owls was not the ideal situation to get yourself recognized by the NFL.
The Jets took a chance on him in the sixth round of the 1977 draft, and he showed promise as a rookie, registering eight sacks while starting only six games.
Head coach Walt Michaels inserted Klecko into the starting lineup for good the following season, and when he was joined by Mark Gastineau and Marty Lyons on the defensive line in 1979, his career really began to take off.
While Gastineau racked up huge sack numbers and gained national attention, hardcore Jets fans recognized that it was Klecko who did most of the dirty work in the trenches. His strength and impeccable technique often occupied two or three offensive linemen and allowed Gastineau and Lyons to thrive on the outside.
What made Klecko special was that he was not just tough, but was also versatile. He was shifted around frequently and succeeded no matter where he was put. In 1985, he became the first player since Frank Gifford to be named to the Pro Bowl at three separate positions.
Klecko's reputation as a tough guy was well entrenched early in his career, but was solidified in 1982 when he ruptured his patella tendon in the second week of the season. Knee surgery techniques obviously weren't as advanced in 1982 as they are today, so it was assumed Klecko was done for the season and that his career could even be in jeopardy.
However, against the odds, and possibly his doctors' orders, Klecko returned for the Jets playoff game against the Raiders and helped the club to a 17-14 victory.
When the Jets signed Kevin Mawae in 1998, fans knew they were getting a solid center who was one of the top young offensive linemen in the game. But to truly appreciate how tough Mawae was, fans had to see him play every day.
At 6'4", 290, Mawae was incredibly nimble and had a hand in revolutionizing the center position. A converted guard, Mawae was adept at pulling and cleaning the clock of any defender who didn't see him coming. He also had no problem staying home and slugging it out with any defensive lineman put in front of him.
After coming over from the Seahawks, Mawae quickly established himself as the top center in the NFL. He was named an All-Pro and a Pro Bowler eight times each and was generally noted as one of the toughest players in the NFL.
Mawae was even voted as one of the top five dirtiest players in the NFL in a 2009 Sports Illustrated poll. He made it no secret that he was proud of the recognition.
Mawae started 177 straight games between 1994 and 2005 and played every single snap of the season twice during that span. is streak was only broken when he tore a triceps muscle in a Week 6 loss against the Buffalo Bills in 2005.
Although he was cut by the Jets after the 2005 season, he caught on with the Titans and would go on to start 61 games over four years before finally calling it quits in 2009.
With Nick Mangold's career still in its early stages, Mawae is considered the best center in Jets history and will surely be in the discussion for a future spot in Canton as a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
There are a ton of reasons why Curtis Martin ranks as one of the toughest Jets ever, and most of them started long before he suited up for Gang Green for the first time in 1998.
Martin's toughness can be traced back to when he was nine years old and found his grandmother stabbed to death after a robbery in Pittsburgh's rugged Homewood section. He grew up in the midst of incredibly violent gang warfare and estimates he saw over 30 of his family and friends killed in the violence.
Martin was able to escape that lifestyle and went on to a successful career at the University of Pittsburgh. While Martin was considered a good prospect, he initially wasn't supposed to be the type of back who would one day place his name with the game's immortals.
However, he put himself there through sheer will and determination.
Martin burst onto the scene as a rookie in 1995, when he rushed for 1,487 yards on his way to NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. From there, his resume grew infinitely, and by the time he was done, he was a five-time All Pro, NFL rushing title winner, Ed Block Courage Award recipient, member of the 10,000-yard rushing club and the fourth-leading rusher of all-time.
What is most impressive is the style in which Martin accomplished these feats. Although he stood just 5'11", Martin was a power back, willing to take on much bigger defenders head on for extra yards. If he wasn't considered one of the toughest players in the NFL by 2003, what he did in 2004 surely put him over the top.
Between 2001 and 2003, Martin's yards per carry and touchdown totals decreased as he reached the age of 30. Coming into 2004, many people expected that trend to continue and questioned whether Martin could continue to shoulder the load.
Martin started the 2005 season with intentions of continuing his career further, but a bone-on-bone condition in his knee finally brought his incredible career to an end.
They should have learned that questioning anything about Curtis Martin was wrong.
At the age of 31, a rejuvenated Martin rushed for a career-high 1,697 yards on 371 carries. Both totals were tops in the NFL, and he was named a First-Team All-Pro for the first time in his career.
Choosing the top person on this list was not a difficult choice at all. If you have someone who was able to recover from paralysis after fracturing their C-5 vertabra, I'd say there weren't many players tougher than him in the league.
Before his injury, Byrd was a tough defensive lineman who had been a valuable pass rusher for Gang Green. After being picked in the second round of the 1989 NFL Draft, Byrd made a name for himself by registering seven sacks as a situational pass rusher.
Bruce Coslet inserted him into the starting lineup in 1990, and Byrd responded with 13 sacks, the sixth-highest total in the AFC.
In 1992, Coslet moved him to defensive end, and while his sack numbers were down, he was still one of the few productive players on a bad Jets team.
It was during a late season game against the Chiefs that fate intervened.
Byrd closed in on Chiefs quarterback Dave Krieg for a sack, but the crafty veteran stepped up to avoid him. What Byrd didn't see was fellow defensive lineman Scott Mersereau was coming down on Krieg from the other side. As Krieg stepped up, Byrd's head went directly into Mersereau's chest, causing the paralyzing fracture.
The courage and Byrd showed in fully recovering from the devastating injury showed strength that is above and beyond anything on the football field.