Gettysburg, PA. — On Monday, the 2012 Jets gathered at their practice facility in Florham Park, N.J. for the first time, and Rex Ryan told reporters he is looking to build a “brotherhood” or “tribe” mentality. For Ryan to be successful in that goal he should remember the Titans — not the 1959 Jets team that originally bore that name, but the 1971 Titans of TC Williams High School.
Those Titans, featured in the Disney film, Remember The Titans, trained at Gettysburg College and became a symbol of a team. On April 14th, coaches Herman Boone and Bill Yoast returned to Gettysburg College to plant a tree whose roots were established over 40 years ago.
In 1971, three different schools in Virginia: TC Williams, George Washington and Hammond merged. TC Williams became the school for all the 11th and 12th graders, and thus the home of one merged varsity football team.
At that time the Titans were angry and unfocused, but Boone and Yoast molded them into a dynamic team, who stay close to this day.
In ’71 Boone felt the easiest way to unite his players was to displace them. The Titans needed to get away from their parents, the protesting and the discrimination in order to become a team. Gettysburg was the ideal place for Boone to take his camp because of its historical significance.
“My football team was made up of three football teams that didn’t like each other. So didn’t the southern army and the northern army. But they met here, and from that meeting came one country,” Boone said. “I thought, if that happened to two armies who didn’t like each other, it certainly can happen to my football team.”
Ryan likes his football team to get away from distractions. In 2009 and 2010 he held training camp at SUNY Cortland, located in upstate NY. “It gives you a chance where all you have is football and each other. That’s a great thing. You don’t have your families or anything else. I think it’s more of a bonding thing and you don’t have that as much here,” Ryan said.
Last year because of the NFL lockout, Ryan and the Jets were forced to hold a shortened training camp at their practice facility in Florham Park, NJ. They did not get the same chance to bond.
“We used to do things [like] movie nights. Whether it was going to a movie, whether it was a bible study or whether it was going out and drinking beer. You had to do it with a teammate, but you don’t really have that now,” Ryan said.
Having training camp this year will help the Jets, but it will do only so much if the players do not put in the effort and communicate with each other.
For the Titans, growth on the field came with off-the-field chemistry. Before the merger, Julius Campbell and Gerry Bertier were both the best players at their respective high schools. “He was alpha dog from where he came, and I was alpha dog from where I came,” Campbell said.
The racial tension that divided the team and the fight to be the big dog initially isolated the two Titans. The two grew to become good friends when they put personal differences aside. “The one thing that we both had in common was winning. We realized that if we came together and cooperated we could win,” Campbell said.
As Campbell tells it, the black players did not have cars, the white players did. When some of the team would go to Georgetown to hang out after practice, Campbell would ride with Bertier.
On the half hour drive to D.C., Campbell and Bertier started to become friends. “We were just hanging out, and talking, and listening to music,” Campbell said. “I didn’t know nothing about The Beatles, and next thing I knew I became a fan.”
The rest of the team saw their respective leaders making an effort to play together and followed suit. “You had players who were starters at their original school, who were now second or third string. When they accepted that, is when we started to be successful. Everybody put their egos aside,” Campbell said.
The 2011-2012 Jets acted as Campbell and Bertier initially did. Sitting at 2-2, the Jets receiving core of Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason undercut both Sanchez and then offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer by meeting with Ryan to complain about the play-calling. That is not an issue of chemistry, but character.
The makeup of the veteran Holmes was again brought into the spotlight in the fourth quarter of the Jets' season-ending loss to Miami. Schottenheimer benched Holmes in the final minutes of that game after he was seen arguing with offensive tackle Wayne Hunter in the huddle. After the game, LaDainian Tomlinson told ESPN New York that the temperature inside the huddle “was definitely boiling.”
“It's tough for guys to follow a captain who behaves in that manner. When you are a captain, guys are looking for you to lead by example, and you have to play your tail off to the last play,” Tomlinson said.
Holmes' teammates believed he had given up on Sanchez and the team, and was simply focused on “getting his.” During the offseason, anonymous quotes surfaced that were later attributed to the Jets receivers. They called Sanchez lazy, soft and requested the organization sign Peyton Manning.
The Holmes and Sanchez relationship has improved. The two worked out together on the fields of Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fl last week, and Holmes praised Sanchez's leadership qualities to the media on Monday.
“He’s portraying the leadership qualities of being the guy that is going to be here for a while,” Holmes said. Holmes though, does not have those qualities, or character.
Instead of addressing his flaws and his mistakes from last season, he refused to acknowledge he even did anything wrong. When asked if he had regrets, he responded “Why should I?” Holmes refused to answer questions about what transpired in the final minutes of the 2011 season, only offering that “it happened down in Miami, and that’s where it’s going to stay — in Miami.” He is running the wrong route.
Ryan’s players do not want to relive the nightmare, but he should make them. Ryan needs to learn from his mistake of failing to address team chemistry issues. Not forcing the Jets to deal with the issue and simply letting them try to forgive and forget, is continuing on the same fatal path that leads to mediocrity.
Ryan needs to make them communicate, ease up on the guarantees, take the season one week at a time, keep the pulse of his locker room and maybe someday people will remember the Jets.
Pete Barrett is a freshman at Gettysburg College. All quotes were obtained first-hand. You can follow him on twitter @PeteBarrettJr.