The Toughest Players to Play for Every New York Jets Head Coach
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Back on February 1, while I was still reeling from the debacle of the 2011 New York Jets season, I wrote an article to make me feel better.
Anytime I lament my lifetime as a Jets fan without a Super Bowl (I was born four years after Super Bowl III), I flip through that slideshow to remember those players who put their bodies on the line and played with great pride for the Green and White.
This slideshow revisits that article, but looks at it from a different perspective.
Going back to the start of the Weeb Ewbank era, this article takes a look at the toughest Jets to play under every one of the team's head coaches.
There are a couple of rules that I had to establish in order to make this list. First, a player simply had to play one game under any head coach to be considered for his slide. I didn't try to tie specific players to specific coaches.
For example, Wayne Chrebet made his biggest mark with Bill Parcells, but I included him in the Rich Kotite era as a matter of semantics.
Also, I limited players to just one slide. So while Nick Mangold may be the toughest player to play for Eric Mangini and Rex Ryan, I only included him once.
The final rule was that I limited each slide to five players. I know that most coaches had dozens of true tough guys who played for them, but I have to draw the limit somewhere.
Weeb Ewbank: 1963-1973
Joe Namath: Today's Jets fans know Namath as the Super Bowl-winning quarterback who likes to pop off on Twitter about the current state of the team. However, to get a true sense of how tough Namath was, I highly recommend watching Namath, the HBO special from earlier this year.
Namath suffered a serious knee injury while playing at Alabama and basically never played a game at full health after that. Namath wasn't just some drop-back passer, though. He had no trouble running with the ball even trying to run directly over defenders. Namath's legs were taped from hip to ankle, and he pretty much played the game until he could no longer walk. His legs were so bad by the end of his career that defenders let up when trying to sack him, not wanting to be the player to end Namath's career.
Larry Grantham: Grantham was a ferocious outside linebacker who was one of just seven players to play for the the entire existence of the AFL in just one city. After the merger, Grantham hung on with the Jets until 1972 and was a key defender on their Super Bowl III team. From 1960-1971, Grantham started every game for the Jets except for one.
Gerry Philbin: Philbin was drafted by the Lions in the NFL and Jets in the AFL in 1964 and chose to wear green and white in the upstart AFL. He immediately became a force at defensive end and was a three-time All-AFL performer. Philbin was the first true Jets sack specialist, well before sacks were kept as an official stat.
Bill Mathis: Quick story about running back Bill Mathis: Mathis broke his collarbone in the third game of the 1961 season and didn't miss a single game. Yeah, I'd say the guy was tough. Not only did he absorb nearly a full season's worth of pounding on a broken collarbone, but he also led the AFL with 202 rushing attempts on his way to an All-Pro season. Mathis played 10 years for the Jets before leaving the game to pursue a highly successful career on Wall Street.
Emerson Boozer: Boozer teamed with Mathis and Matt Snell (another tough guy worthy of mention) during the early part of his career in the Jets' formidable backfield. Boozer had tremendous early success, but suffered a devastating knee injury in 1967. As you can imagine, knee surgery in 1967 wasn't anything like it is today, so Boozer was robbed of any breakaway speed he had.
However, he returned to the Jets in 1968 and played eight years after his knee injury. He simply changed his game from a speed running back to more of a fullback type and went on to have a solid and very tough Jets career.
Charley Winner/Ken Shipp: 1974-1975
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John Riggins: Riggins established himself as one of the NFL's all-time tough guy running backs during his time playing for the Jets and Redskins. While his enduring image will be trouncing over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII as a member of the Redskins, he was a tough-as-nails fullback for the Jets from 1971-1975.
Winston Hill: Hill's playing career may have ended almost 40 years ago, but he still holds one of the top 10 longest consecutive games streaks in NFL history with 174. Hill protected Joe Namath's blindside and was a four-time AFL All Star between 1964-1969. Hill also played in the Pro Bowl for four consecutive years from 1970-1973.
Randy Rasmussen: Rasmussen earns this spot due to his longevity and success on the Jets offensive line. Rasmussen's career as a Jet went from 1967-1981, and he was the last active starting member of the Super Bowl III team.
Al Atkinson: Atkinson is another player whose career spanned the merger and was a key part of the Jets' transition to the NFL. Atkinson teamed with Larry Grantham to give the Jets a strong core at linebacker from the mid-1960s to the early 70s.
Lou Holtz: 1976
Greg Buttle: Buttle teamed with fellow tough guy Lance Mehl to give the Jets two outstanding linebackers during much of the 1980s. However, like Mehl, Buttle sustained frequent injuries and in three of his nine NFL seasons, started eight games or less. Buttle is currently a Jets radio announcer.
Abdul Salaam: Salaam had the shortest and least-celebrated career of any of the New York Sack Exchange members, but was an important cog just the same. At 6'3", 260, Salaam had the ideal dimensions for that time to play all positions along the defensive line.
Joe Fields: As the Jets' longtime center, Fields snapped the ball to Joe Namath, Ken O'Brien and everyone in between. After being selected in the 14th round of the 1975 NFL draft, Fields played 14 seasons for the Jets and was a mainstay on some great and not-so-great teams for the Green and White. He was reliable, fundamentally sound and as tough as they come.
Walt Michaels: 1977-1982
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Joe Klecko: The Jets took a chance on Klecko in the sixth round of the 1977 NFL draft, and boy, did that pay off. Klecko was the heart of the New York Sack Exchange, and while Mark Gastineau drew most of the attention, it was Klecko's work inside that made the line truly complete.
Klecko's toughness was seen in 1982, when a torn patella tendon early in the year had many fearing his career would be over. However, he returned for the playoffs that same year and helped the Jets to a 17-14 victory. Klecko should be in the Hall of Fame, but that's another story for another day.
Marvin Powell: While the New York Sack Exchange Jets were a dominating defense in the early 80s, Powell had his eyes set on the New York Stock Exchange. A Wall Street intern and former president of the NFL Players Association, Powell was as smart as he was tough. Powell was a Pro Bowler every year from 1979-1983 and at 6'5", was an immovable stalwart at right tackle for nine years with the Jets.
Mickey Shuler: Despite playing in the AFC during the same era as Kellen Winslow and Ozzie Newsome, Shuler still managed to make the Pro Bowl on three separate occasions. However, it isn't his offensive prowess that lands him on this list. Shuler racked up big offensive numbers by being willing to make the tough catch over the middle or along the seam and never backing down from a ball thrown his way. He played through injuries and held his own as a blocker on the same line with many other tough guys who appear on this list as well.
Marty Lyons: A mainstay of the New York Sack Exchange, Lyons was a 6'5", 270-pound beast on the outside. Lyons played his entire 11-year career with the Jets and is also famous for a fight with Jim Kelly in which referee Ben Dreith decalred a penalty for "giving him the business down there."
Mark Gastineau: When you get past the sack dance, off-field antics and the Brigitte Nielsen disaster, Gastineau was one tough customer throughout his Jets career. Gastineau gave the New York Sack Exchange its flair and was absolutely unstoppable at times during his career. The peak of Gastineau's toughness came when he broke his hand while the Jets were on a great run in 1985. Gastineau didn't miss a game and finished second in the AFC with 13.5 sacks.
Joe Walton: 1983-1989
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Lance Mehl: While the New York Sack Exchange was terrorizing quarterbacks with their fearsome pass-rush, Mehl was playing behind them, making what seemed like every tackle on every play. Mehl played with such a reckless abandon that he suffered many injuries during his Jets career. In fact, he was hurt so much that he actually filed a workman's comp claim with the NFL.
Kyle Clifton: As Mehl's career was winding to a close, Clifton emerged as the next run-stuffing linebacker. Clifton, though, was able to stay healthy and topped 100 tackles in each of his nine seasons as a starter. Clifton's best year came in 1990, when he registered a remarkable 199 tackles to lead the AFC.
Al Toon: If I had the time and resources, I'd like to do a study to see how many of the hits absorbed by Toon would be personal fouls in today's game. On a weekly basis, Toon was sent over the middle time after time to catch floating passes from Ken O'Brien, only to be blasted by a hard-charging safety.
But if you can find a single time where Toon backed down or even flinched, you should be doing professional research for a living. Toon was forced to retire at the age of 29 due to multiple concussions.
Jim Sweeney: Sweeney was an ironman on the Jets offensive line during the 1980s and early 90s. From 1985-1994, Sweeney started 156 games in a row and was the starting Jets center in every game from 1988-1994.
Brad Baxter: While the Jets have had their share of strong fullbacks over the past 20 years, none were as tough as Baxter. The 6'1" Baxter ran through would-be tacklers as if they were children and blew up blitzing linebackers dead in their tracks. He compares to John Conner off of today's team, but with better running skills.
Bruce Coslet: 1990-1993
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Dennis Byrd: This was one of the easiest selections out of everyone listed. Byrd's story is well-known by Jets fans, and if you're looking for someone tougher, then good luck to you. Byrd's inspirational recovery from a broken neck is one of the more remarkable stories in the franchise's history and surpasses any toughness shown on the field.
On the field, Byrd was no slouch either. Byrd showed a knack for getting to the quarterback, and his 13 sacks in 1990 placed him in the top 10 in the AFC.
Jeff Criswell: Criswell joined the Jets after a three-game stint with the Colts in 1987 and quickly established himself as a mainstay on the offensive line. Over his seven-year Jets career, Criswell played a key role as the team's left tackle. He played 108 games during his Jets career.
Scott Mersereau: Mersereau's career often gets overshadowed because he played on some terrible Jets teams and had his career cut short by injury. Mersereau joined the Jets in 1987 when Marty Lyons, Joe Klecko and Mark Gastineau were in the waning years of outstanding careers. He injected life into the aging defensive line almost immediately when he started 15 games and had 4.5 sacks in just his second season. Mersereau always held the appreciation of fans in the Meadowlands due to his workman-like nature and willingness to do the dirty work on teams that were going nowhere.
Victor Green: Green was wildly popular with Jets fans, and rightly so. Standing just 5'10", Green was an absolute tackling machine as a safety. In 1996, Green's 123 solo tackles were nearly 50 more than the next closest player on the team.
On the Jets 1998 AFC Championship team, Green led the team in tackles despite playing on the same defense as Bryan Cox, Mo Lewis, James Farrior and Pepper Johnson.
Ronnie Lott: Although Lott was a shell of his former self during his mediocre two-year stint as a Jet, there is no denying his toughness. Over a 10-year Hall of Fame career in San Francisco, Lott used his body as a battering ram, throwing himself all over the field. Any slideshow that mentions toughness in the NFL has to include Lott.
Pete Carroll: 1994
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Marvin Jones: Jones never put up the huge numbers that were projected of him as the No. 4 pick in the 1993 NFL draft, but that's not to say he wasn't as tough as they come. The "shade tree" battled injuries through his Jets career, but always seemed to bounce back strong. Jones never started more than 12 games in any of his first four seasons, but started 96 consecutive games over his final six seasons.
Mo Lewis: 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. Lewis was a sure tackler who was named as an All-Pro in 1998 and 2000. Whether it was a year that the Jets were a top team or an embarrassment (and Lewis went through both), he was out there doing his job his entire 13-year Jets career.
Adrian Murrell: Murrell first made his mark on the scene as a fearless return man in 1993 and 1994 for the Jets. He was finally given an increased role as a running back in 1996 and 1997 when, despite standing just 5'11", he carried the ball 601 times and was extremely productive.
Marvin Washington: Poor Marvin Washington. His Jets career began during the end of the Joe Walton era and concluded while Rich Kotite was the coach. He never experienced a winning season, but that was hardly Washington's fault. He played in 124 games for the Jets and registered 37.5 sacks as a fearsome defensive end.
James Hasty: From 1988-1994, Hasty was a hard-hitting cornerback who sometimes drew the ire of Jets fans for completely ignoring his coverage duties in order to hit someone or go for an interception. He was a do-or-die cornerback who made his share of big plays, but was generally picked on in the passing game by opposing quarterbacks. He went on to Kansas City, where he developed his game further and became a two-time Pro Bowl player. Hasty played 13 years in the NFL ,and say what you want about his effectiveness as a Jet, but there's no denying that he was a tough player willing to throw his body around.
Rich Kotite: 1995-1996
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Hugh Douglas: Kudos to any player who succeeded during Rich Kotite's two-year reign of awfulness. Douglas had the unfortunate luck to arrive with the Jets in 1995, the same year as Kotite. Douglas racked up 18 sacks despite starting just 13 games. Douglas played the game angry and looked like he was about to become on of the great young pass-rushers in the NFL for the Jets. He did go on to solid success in the NFL, but most of that came as a Philadelphia Eagle.
Wayne Chrebet: In a game dominated by behemoths and man-mountains, one of the toughest guys to play for the Jets in recent memory was a 5'10", 180-pound kid from Garfield, NJ. Chrebet frequently took a beating from players considerably bigger, faster and stronger than he was, but never backed down and always popped right back up. Chrebet was a tough guy right until the end, when he held on to a pass from Brooks Bollinger to convert a crucial third down despite being knocked completely unconscious. It was the final play of Chrebet's career.
Richie Anderson: Anderson established himself under Kotite as a blocking back who wouldn't back down from any pass-rusher. However, under Bill Parcells, he suddenly became one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL. Either way, Anderson played the game at full speed and was more than willing to take a hit or deliver the blow.
Jumbo Elliott: Elliott made a name for himself as a key member of the Giants offensive line, but he was still effective playing the final six seasons for his career as a Jet. Elliott got his start as a Jet under Kotite, but eventually partnered with his old Giants coach, Bill Parcells, to lead the way for Curtis Martin as the Jets turned around the franchise.
Fred Baxter: Baxter never stood out and certainly wasn't asked to be a major part of the passing attack, but at 6'3", 270, he was a load at tight end. Baxter was a tremendous blocking tight end for the Jets, and when the ball happened to be thrown his way, he was a sure-handed receiver.
Bill Parcells: 1997-1999
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Corwin Brown: The Jets had many great players during Bill Parcells' three-year run as head coach, but Brown often stood out as an unsung hero. Brown was a special teams ace who made a name for himself by playing without inhibition no matter where he was put.
In the return game, he was used as the wedge breaker (when that was still a thing), and on coverage, he often delivered devastating blows to ball carriers and blockers alike. Basically, if there was a special teams play, Brown was going to blow someone up.
Keyshawn Johnson: Johnson may have a reputation as a diva wide receiver, and deservedly so, but that doesn't take away from how hard he played the game. Johnson was one of the better blocking wide receivers the Jets have had in recent memory and was critical in helping Curtis Martin gain 2,700 yards during their two seasons together.
Jerald Sowell: Sowell was another in a long line of Jets fullbacks who enjoyed strong careers over the past two decades. Sowell made a name for himself on special teams and in the backfield. On the Jets 1998 AFC Championship team, Sowell had a career-high 40 carries, but then totaled just 14 carries over the next seven seasons as he went back to paving the way for Martin.
Bryan Cox: Cox was a vicious hitter who played the game with the meanest of mean streaks. During his first season as a Jet, Cox's presence elevated the defense to an elite status and helped carry the team to the 1998 AFC Championship game.
Vinny Testaverde: The bottom line is that if you play quarterback in the NFL for 21 seasons and get sacked 417 times, nobody could question your toughness. At 6'5", 235, Testaverde was able to absorb more punishment than someone like Chad Pennington, but he was a true all-around football player. Even though he had very little agility, Testaverde never shied away from taking off with the ball if he had to.
Al Groh: 2000
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Curtis Martin: Martin's toughness showed well before he suited up as an NFL player. Growing up in the rugged Homewood section of Pittsburgh, he estimated that over 30 of his friends and families died in violent crimes. This included his grandmother, who he found stabbed to death after a robbery.
His NFL accomplishments speak for themselves, and it's no surprise that he was selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame quickly when his eligibility came up. Only a bone-on-bone condition in his knee ended his career, and he even tried to play through that. Martin isn't only one of the toughest Jets of all-time, but one of the NFL's toughest players during his era.
Shaun Ellis: It can be argued that during Ellis' career as a Jet, the franchise enjoyed it's most sustained run of success. It's no coincidence that it came while Ellis was anchoring the defensive line. Ellis' 72.5 sacks ranks second to Mark Gastineau on the all-time Jets list, and that doesn't take into account the rest of the dirty work he did along the defensive line.
Jason Fabini: At 6'4", 310 pounds, Fabini was a giant on the offensive line for the Jets for eight seasons. Always considered one of the strongest players on the team, Fabini started his career at left tackle, but was moved to the right side to protect the blindside of Vinny Testaverde and Chad Pennington.
Kevin Mawae: In a 2009 Sports Illustrated poll, Mawae was voted one of the five dirtiest players in the NFL. He absolutely loved that. Mawae was the NFL's dominant center for a solid decade and made the Pro Bowl in each of his seven full seasons as a Jet. Mawae had a nasty streak as a pass-blocker, but what made him even more dangerous was his mobility. Mawae had the rare ability to work as a pulling center and often surprised defenders as he got out ahead of the attack. And by "surprised defenders," I mean knocked them clear out of their uniform with devastating blocks.
Laveranues Coles: Regardless of position or size, Coles was one of the toughest players to take the field for the Jets during the recent era. Standing just 5'11", Coles was drafted as a burner, but developed into a fearless possession receiver who was never scared to take a hit.
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.
Herman Edwards: 2001-2005
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Chad Pennington: Pennington played a full 16 games just once in his career as a Jet, but that's not any indictment on his toughness. Pennington bounced back from serious wrist and shoulder surgeries and was a player that could never be counted out. Pennington wasn't the greatest athlete, and maybe that played a part in him absorbing so many big hits, but he was a true competitor, and that made him a fan-favorite in the Meadowlands.
B.J. Askew: Askew was the first fullback taken in the 2003 NFL draft and had a brief, but important career as a New York Jet. Askew never supplanted Jerald Sowell as the team's main fullback, but made his mark on special teams. Askew was 6'3", 235 pounds and played special teams with reckless abandon. He frequently delivered crushing blows and was a key blocker for a Jets squad that ranked near the top of the AFC in return yardage.
Jerricho Cotchery: Cotchery was always considered a tough-guy receiver, but he firmly established his toughenss in an overtime game in 2010 against the lowly Browns. With the Jets facing a crucial 3rd-and-9, Cotchery broke off his route when he saw Mark Sanchez in trouble. On the cut, Cotchery tore his groin and could no longer stand up. Regardless, he limped his way open and made a diving catch to convert the third down. The Jets went on to win the game, 26-20.
Pete Kendall: Kendall proved to be a great pickup at offensive line for Edwards in 2004. He played at a near-Pro Bowl level and was one of the nastier offensive linemen in the game. Unfortunately, he had a contract dispute with the team in 2007 and fell out of favor with Eric Mangini very quickly. He was sent off to the Redskins before the season started, leaving the Jets with a nice hole at guard they unsuccessfully tried to fix with Adrien Clarke.
Victor Hobson: Hobson played five years for the Jets and seemed to be successful despite never being the biggest or fastest player on the field. Standing at just 6'0", Hobson started 46 games between 2005 and 2007. He was a hard-nosed player who, despite his small stature, made 169 solo tackles between 2005 and 2007.
Eric Mangini: 2006-2008
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Nick Mangold: Simply put, Mangold is one of the toughest and strongest players to ever put on a Jets uniform. Widely considered the best center in the NFL, Mangold is the complete package as an NFL player.
In 2011, Mangold suffered a serious high ankle sprain that would have knocked most players out for over a month. Mangold missed two games and was back out there performing at the top of his game. Aside from that, he has started every other game during his six-year career.
Jonathan Vilma: Before "Bountygate" and before Eric Mangini tried to make him into something he wasn't, Vilma was one of the most active and ferocious linebackers the Jets have had. During his first two seasons, Vilma's game wasn't much different than Ray Lewis, as he made plays all over the field. He was the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2004 and a Pro Bowl linebacker in 2005.
Mike DeVito: DeVito is the Jets' resident "lunch pail," lineman who seems as if he would fit perfectly on the Jets teams of the 1970s. DeVito worked his way up from being an undrafted free agent to being a key player beside Sione Pouha on the defensive line.
Thomas Jones: Rex Ryan loves to talk about a "ground-and-pound" running game, and that may lead directly back to Jones' performance in 2009. In Ryan's first year, Jones was an absolute bull as he carried the ball a career-high 331 times for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns. Over his brief Jets career, Jones ran the ball 931 times. The real shame is that he didn't have that kind of production until he was already approaching 30. The wear-and-tear took its toll and Jones hasn't been the same since he left.
David Harris: I am convinced that for the past five seasons, Harris has made every single tackle on any running play that comes up the middle of the field. Harris doesn't have the speed of the linebackers who play sideline-to-sideline, and he may have his deficiencies in pass coverage, but if the play is coming his way, he is making the tackle, no questions asked.
Rex Ryan: 2009-Present
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Sione Pouha: At 6'3", 330, Pouha is an immovable object on the defensive line. One of the strongest players on the current squad, Pouha makes it nearly impossible for teams to run through the middle of the line. Even if he isn't able to make the tackle, Pouha can stand up any offensive lineman and help divert the attack.
Tony Richardson: One of the better things to come out of the Jets' appearance on HBO's Hard Knocks was that Richardson's toughness and leadership was showcased for a bigger audience to see. Just having an NFL career as a fullback for 16 years will allow you to pass the toughness test, but to play at the level Richardson did for his entire career is exemplary.
Darrelle Revis: A tougher player than people give him credit for, Revis' toughness is often overshadowed by his supreme cover skills. Revis supports strongly in the run game and isn't afraid to put his helmet on any ball carrier that comes his way. Although he's not a big hitter, Revis is a strong tackler, and that's what ultimately may separate him from Dein Sanders in the pecking order of the best corners to ever play the game.
Mark Sanchez: If anyone wants to question Sanchez's toughness, watch the tape from last season's game against the Ravens or Eagles. Or better yet, you go stand out on the field with the ball and expect Wayne Hunter to keep Von Miller from knocking your head into next week. Sanchez became skittish at times last season, but with the line playing in front of him, how can you blame him? Sanchez fights through injuries and big hits and, during his first season on the team, had to be convinced to stop taking tacklers head-on when he scrambled.
John Conner: Conner is the hardest hitter on the current team, and that's a fact. He may be supplanted by LaRon Landry or one of the rookies, but for now, Conner is the one person on the Jets who is guaranteed to crack someone every time he steps on the field. He may not have the blocking savvy or a seasoned fullback just yet, but if he is given the time, he should develop that. However, on special teams, he hits as hard as anyone in recent memory.