The 25 Greatest Players in New York Jets' History
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It's time to take a trip down memory lane and recall players responsible for the great moments in New York Jets' history. These players set team and NFL records, sometimes resulting in winning football, sometimes not. However, they managed to help us forget about life for three hours each Sunday and rejoice in their accomplishments.
Making a list like this is not objective. It's kind of like completing the invitations to the NCAA tournament. Some players, like Hall of Fame members and Ring of Honor residents, must be there.
However, their order within the list, like the tournament's seeding, is subject to debate.
The remainder of the list, the "at-large" portion, depends as much on the preparer's impressions as it does on statistics. Given enough time, one could sift through hours of video highlights to determine the fine points of distinction separating one player from another.
However, unless one evaluates pro football players on a full-time basis, one rarely has the luxury for such study. Instead, he or she must somewhat arbitrarily pick factors to use in ranking players.
In preparing this list, I placed the Jets' Hall of Fame players in the first group, followed by Ring of Honor members and "at large" players. To select "at large" players and to rank all selections, I considered the following criteria:
- Longevity: I looked for players with extended service time. Five years was good, 10 years was better. On the other hand, if the NFL continues to maintain a tight salary cap, longevity will become less and less a factor in future lists as players move around in search of a better living. One must learn to change with the times.
- Statistics: I looked at the record holders—the precedent setters. Who was the all-time tackler or sack leader? Who set the original standard only to be overtaken? This approach falls short, however, when considering offensive linemen, for whom official statistics are sparse, or defensive players before statistics like sacks and tackles became commonly available.
- Diversity: I did not succeed completely here. I tried to include special teams players, perhaps to a fault. I probably shorted the secondary, maybe tight ends. Like I said, this process is not scientific.
- Memory: I've been a fan for almost five decades. When I lived in the New York metropolitan area, following the team was easy. When I've lived out of market or been absorbed by other things, the team took a back seat. The result: Some players made a greater impression on me than others, not because of their ability but because of how important being a fan was to me at the time. That varying interest level cannot help but affect my "objectivity." It's also bound to lead to a lively discussion.
So without further delay, let's have a look.
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D'Brickashaw Ferguson, OT, 2006-present: D'Brickashaw Ferguson received Pro Bowl invitations in Rex Ryan's first three years as head coach.
Curley Johnson, P-RB, 1961-1968: Curley Johnson was the Jets' punter from their second season as the New York Titans through their victory in Super Bowl III. His 1965 average of 45.3 yards per kick remains a team record. Only Ben Graham and Tom Tupa have surpassed Johnson's career average of 42.5 yards per kick, however, neither Graham nor Tupa came close to matching Johnson's longevity. Even their combined number of attempts, 457, fell 77 kicks short of Johnson's 534.
Nick Mangold, C, 2006-present: Nick Mangold was a four-time Pro Bowl invitee in Ryan's first four seasons and a first-team All-NFL center in 2009 and 2010.
Marvin Powell, OT, 1977-1987: Marvin Powell earned five consecutive Pro Bowl invitations and three first-team All-NFL awards between 1979 and 1983. He was part of the 1979 line that supported 23 rushing touchdowns. He blocked for Freeman McNeil during the first seven years of McNeil's career.
Mickey Shuler, TE, 1978-1989: Mickey Shuler played tight end during the height of the O'Brien, Walker and Toon aerial circus, earning Pro Bowl invitations in 1986 and 1988. He played more games, 160, than any other Jets tight end, catching 438 passes for 4,819 yards and 37 touchdowns. He averaged 11 yards per catch.
Vinny Testaverde, QB, 1998-2003, 2005: Vinny Testaverde had a reputation as being interception-prone, but Bill Parcells helped him throw 77 touchdown passes against 58 interceptions during his time with the Jets. Testaverde may be best known as the architect of the "Monday Night Miracle," in which the Jets beat Miami 40-37 in overtime despite trailing 30-7 after three quarters.
Jim Turner, K-QB, 1964-1970: Jim Turner had the two highest scoring seasons in Jets' history, 145 points in 1968 and 129 points in 1969—both led the AFL. He received AFL All-Star Game invitations each year.
Leon Washington, RB-KR, 2006-2009: Leon Washington returned 117 kickoffs for 2,986 yards and four touchdowns, including three touchdowns in 2007. His number of career and single-season touchdown returns remain team records.
25. Bruce Harper, RB-KR, 1977-1984
Mike Damergis interviews Bruce Harper about his Jets' career.
It must be a great feeling to be the best in your role for the first three years of your NFL career. Bruce Harper could confirm that.
Harper led the NFL in kick-return yardage from 1977 to 1979, the first three years of his career. In 1980, while he did not lead the league, he logged his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season.
He never returned a kickoff for a touchdown. However, in 1978, Harper had the league's longest punt return, going for 82 yards and a touchdown against Buffalo on Oct. 8.
He surpassed 2,000 all-purpose yards twice, in 1978 and 1980, leading the NFL both times.
In addition to kickoff and punt returns, Harper was a productive change-of-pace running back and wide receiver. He carried the ball 374 times for 1,829 yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry while scoring eight touchdowns. Harper also caught 220 passes for 2,409 yards, averaging 11 yards per catch and scoring 12 touchdowns.
Harper ended his career as the Jets' all-time leader in punt returns, punt-return yardage, kickoff returns and kickoff-return yardage. His total all-purpose yardage: 11,429.
Not until 1987 did Buffalo's Steve Tasker bring special teams specialists the respect they deserved from Pro Bowl electors. If only Harper had gained the same respect.
24. Thomas Jones, RB, 2007-2009
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It's too bad Thomas Jones' career with the Jets was so short. He was on track to becoming one of the celebrated runners in team history.
Ordinarily, three seasons in a team's uniform wouldn't qualify him for mention on a list like this. However, Jones made his time with the Jets count. He rushed for 3,833 yards in 931 attempts—an average of 4.1 yards per carry—and scored 28 touchdowns. Those topped the numbers he achieved with any other team.
In addition, Jones caught 74 passes for 482 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 6.5 yards per catch. That gave him a total offensive output of 4,315 yards and 31 touchdowns in 1,005 touches.
Jones made his only Pro Bowl appearance in 2008, a year in which he achieved his career high in yards per carry, 4.5. He gained 1,312 yards in 290 carries, scoring 13 rushing touchdowns.
Jones finished his career with two years in Kansas City.
If his Jets' career had begun sooner and lasted longer, who knows where on the list Jones would be.
23. Ken O'Brien, QB, 1983-1992
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No Jets quarterback can replace Joe Namath and his role in team and NFL history. However, Ken O'Brien's aerial circus of the mid-to-late 1980s probably came the closest.
In 1985, O'Brien became the first Jets' quarterback to lead the NFL in passing, with a passer rating of 96.2. That earned him his first of two Pro Bowl trips. During that year, O'Brien combined with Wesley Walker to produce the longest pass completion in Jets' history, 96 yards.
Then, in 1986, O'Brien led the Jets on a spectacular show of aerial dynamics, as he joined with tight end Mickey Shuler and wide receivers Wesley Walker and Al Toon to lead the Jets to a 10-1 start, including a thrilling 51-45 sudden-death win over Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins. That was also the year in which O'Brien achieved the first perfect passing rating, 158.3, in a game in which the quarterback exceeded 400 passing yards.
After that, the Jets were mediocre at best. In fact, O'Brien's career record as a Jets' starter was 50-55-1. He only had three seasons in which the Jets won more of his starts than they lost.
O'Brien finished his Jets' career with the most completions in Jets' history, 2,039. His interception percentage was 2.7 compared to Namath's 5.9, but O'Brien had his own nemesis: fumbles. He is tied for the Jets' single-season record with 14 and holds the career record of 68.
Had O'Brien had a Super Bowl win or more Pro Bowl appearances to his credit, he might have achieved more recognition. His second and last Pro Bowl season was 1991, when he threw for 3,300 yards and 10 touchdowns.
He played for two more seasons after that, one with the Jets and in 1993 with Philadelphia.
22. Darrelle Revis, CB, 2007-2012
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We'll never know what Darrelle Revis might have meant to the Jets. His ACL injury and subsequent departure means he won't have the time with the Jets many on this list enjoyed. However, reviewing his achievements makes him difficult to ignore, no matter what his future might bring, and his place would have been much higher had he made the Hall of Fame as a Jet.
Revis was a first-round pick who made good. Selected 14th overall in 2007, he immediately assumed a starting role, starting all 79 games in which he wore the green and white.
Revis' rookie year of 2007 was his only full season in which he failed to garner at least a Pro Bowl invitation. He received his first of four Pro Bowl invitations in 2008. From 2009 to 2011, both the Associated Press and Pro Football Writers Association named Revis to their first-team All-NFL teams.
Revis never led the NFL in interceptions, although he returned one 100 yards for a touchdown in 2011. His reputation was that of a "shut-down" cornerback who no wide receiver could beat. His passes defended rose from 16 in his rookie year to 31 in 2009, then never reached that height again. He wasn't regressing, he had created "Revis Island," a part of the field into which no quarterback dare throw.
That's what Jets' coaches, players and fans will miss about having Revis on their side. What they won't miss are the off-field contractual dramas, in which Revis tried to set a pay scale in line with his abilities. Perhaps had he been healthy through 2012, management might have viewed his demands more positively. However, he was damaged goods trying to command a premium price. It was not to be, at least with the Jets.
We may have seen the best of Revis. He may never be what he once was. That would be a tragedy no matter where he plays.
Hopefully Revis will make a full recovery and complete a Hall of Fame career. However, Jets' fans would not complain if he delayed his recovery until after Tampa Bay meets the Jets in the 2013 season opener.
21. Pat Leahy, K, 1974-1991
Leahy follows through on a field goal attempt in 1989.
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Pat Leahy was a placekicker who defied convention. He stayed far longer with a single team than most kickers do. So long, in fact, that his 250 games played and 18 years in green and white are team records.
Leahy's longevity helped him become the Jets' all-time leading scorer with 1,470 points. That includes 304 fields goals and 558 PATs.
The AP named Leahy to its first-team All-NFL team in 1978, a year in which he made 22 of 30 field-goal attempts and 41 of 42 PAT attempts for 107 points.
He'd need a team Ring of Honor award or plaque in Canton to get a higher ranking. Still, Leahy's long-term consistency is a performance worth celebrating.
20. Randy Rasmussen, G, 1967-1981
Rasmussen was the last Super Bowl III player to leave the Jets.
Randy Rasmussen should be an inspiration to undrafted free agents everywhere. He was the Jets' 12th-round selection in 1967, 302nd overall. Compare that to 2013's draft, where 32 teams used seven rounds to draft 254 players. Under those standards, he'd be a UDFA.
Regardless of his draft status, Rasmussen was a bargain. He gave the Jets 15 seasons and 207 games, second only to kicker Pat Leahy.
He was part of the 1968 offensive line that supported a team record of 22 rushing touchdowns. In 1979, he was part of the line that supported 23.
While he wasn't part of the 1966 line that yielded a Jets' record-low nine sacks, Rasmussen was a member of the 1969 line that allowed only 16 sacks and the 1972 line that allowed 17, the second-best and third-best totals in team history.
Rasmussen earned his place in Jets' history because of his longevity and teamwork. He was the last member of the Super Bowl III team to end his Jets' career.
Had he gained more recognition through Pro Bowl selections or All-Pro nominations, his place on this list would no doubt be higher.
19. Dave Herman, G, 1964-1973
Herman reminisces at Joe Namath's football camp.
Next to Winston Hill, Dave Herman was the most decorated member of Joe Namath's offensive line. He earned trips to the AFL All-Star Game in 1968, the year of Super Bowl III, and 1969.
However, he is most remembered for his switch to right tackle for the AFL title game against Oakland and Super Bowl III against Bubba Smith and the Baltimore Colts. Rookie Sam Walton had earned the starting job during training camp and started all 14 regular-season games. However, Coach Weeb Ewbank wanted more of a veteran presence at the position for the playoffs.
Herman was part of the 1968 offensive line that helped produce the most rushing touchdowns, 22, for the Jets in a 14-game season. He was also part of four lines that were first, second and third in Jets' history in allowing the fewest sacks. The 1966 line allowed nine sacks, the 1969 line allowed 16 and the 1965 and 1972 lines allowed 17.
In a position where success is often measured by unit results, Herman played in some good years.
18. John Abraham, DE, 2000-2005
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Had John Abraham spent more than six years with the Jets, his place on this list would be higher, possibly overtaking that of his linemate, Shaun Ellis. While Abraham's career sacks with the Jets fell 19 short of Ellis' 72.5, Abraham averaged almost nine sacks per season while Ellis averaged roughly 6.5.
In addition to sacks, Abraham's 19 forced fumbles are second on the team only to Mo Lewis' 29. Lewis compiled his total in 13 seasons.
This drew recognition, as Abraham was selected for three Pro Bowls in those six years. In 2001, he was voted first-team All-NFL by the Associated Press, the Pro Football Writers Association and the Sporting News.
Abraham's Jets' career is over, but his NFL career is not. In fact, he's had four double-digit sack years since leaving the team. Had he compiled the same sack totals for the Jets as he has for Atlanta, Abraham would be the Jets' all-time sack leader, and still counting. In addition, he'd be the team's forced fumbles leader with 43.
His place on the Jets' Ring of Honor would be assured. As it is, a spot in Canton probably awaits.
17. Matt Snell, FB, 1964-1972
Matt Snell doing a Miller Lite commercial
It's difficult to rank a pair that I always thought of as a unit. Matt Snell and Emerson Boozer were simply the Jets' starting backfield, a symbiotic unit that was stronger together than separate. A coin flip could have decided who to rank higher.
Matt Snell continues to hold a distinction he'd probably rather give up. He is the only Jet to score a Super Bowl touchdown.
That occurred, of course, during the Jets' 16-7 victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Snell was a workhorse that day, gaining 121 yards on 30 carries, four yards per carry. However, it was but one moment in a distinguished career.
Snell made the AFL sit up and take notice in 1964, his rookie year, by setting a team rushing record with 948 yards. His performance earned an AFL All-Star Game invitation and the AFL Rookie of the Year award. Those 948 yards and the 215 carries they required are still the team's single-season records for rookies.
Beyond that, however, Snell's accomplishments were sufficiently noteworthy to earn him AFL All-Star Game invitations in 1966 and 1969, and a first-team All-AFL designation in 1969 as well. He finished his career with 4,205 yards on 1,057 carries, averaging 4.1 yards per carry, and scored 24 touchdowns. He added 193 receptions for 1,375 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 7.1 yards per catch.
His production may not have been great by modern standards. After all, those were the days of Namath, Maynard and Sauer. However, when they needed someone to grind up yardage and clock, like during Super Bowl III, Matt Snell delivered.
16. Emerson Boozer, RB, 1966-1975
Tribute to No. 32, Emerson Boozer
Versatility is what put Emerson Boozer ahead of Matt Snell on this list. He was an all-purpose back before the term became popular.
The Jets completed the backfield that would take them to Super Bowl III in 1966, when they drafted Emerson Boozer to complement Joe Namath and Matt Snell.
Boozer's versatility earned an AFL All-Star Game invitation in his rookie year. In addition to gaining 455 yards on 97 carries, and catching eight passes for 133 yards, Boozer returned 26 kickoffs for 659 yards and a touchdown. That gave him 1,247 all-purpose yards and six combined touchdowns.
Injuries limited Boozer to eight games in 1967. However, his 10 touchdowns were still enough to lead the league, and he still managed 860 all-purpose yards.
That was the last year he would return kickoffs. Boozer earned his second and last All-Star Game invitation in 1968 as a full-time running back. The invitation came despite gaining only 547 yards from scrimmage, which would be the second-lowest of his career.
Boozer retired after the 1975 season as the Jets' career leader with 1,291 rushing attempts for 5,135 yards and 52 touchdowns. Freeman McNeil surpassed Boozer's attempts and yardage records. Curtis Martin leapfrogged Boozer and McNeil in those categories, and beat Boozer's touchdown record by six.
However, Boozer has something that McNeil and Martin lack—a Jets' Super Bowl championship ring.
15. George Sauer, WR, 1965-1970
A tribute to No. 83, George Sauer
Had George Sauer enjoyed the career longevity of his fellow wide receiver Don Maynard, he might have joined him in the NFL Hall of Fame. His accomplishments over a six-year span were that impressive.
Sauer joined the Jets in 1965 with Joe Namath. After a relatively unproductive first year, he burst upon the scene in 1966, with the first of three straight 1,000-yard seasons. That earned him his first of four trips to the AFL All-Star Game.
Sauer's stature improved as the Jets rose from a .500 team in 1966 to Super Bowl III champions. He added first-team all-AFL honors to his All-Star Game appearances in both 1967 and 1968.
While his productivity declined in the last two years of his career, Sauer remained a threat. He averaged 16.6 yards per catch in 1969 and 16.5 yards per catch in 1970. He ended his career having caught 309 passes for 4,965 yards, averaging 16.1 yards per catch, and scoring 28 touchdowns.
George Sauer passed away May 7, 2012. May he rest in peace.
14. Shaun Ellis, DE, 2000-2010
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Shaun Ellis didn't play in the Super Bowl era like Gerry Philbin or enjoy the notoriety of the New York Sack Exchange. However he compiled a record of accomplishment that placed him in the forefront of Jets' defensive linemen.
Ellis played 170 games on the Jets' defensive line, a team record. His 72.5 career sacks are third in team history, behind only Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko, and ahead of Gerry Philbin.
In 2003, his first Pro Bowl season, Ellis recorded at least one full sack in seven consecutive games. In 2009, his second, Ellis became the fourth Jets' player to record multiple sacks in three or more consecutive games, joining Dennis Byrd, Hugh Douglas and Mark Gastineau.
He is also among the Jets' leaders in forced fumbles with 13.
His place on this list reflects more on the achievements of those ahead of him than on any defects in his game. Ellis' combination of longevity, achievement and outside recognition will keep him among the Jets' elite for years to come.
13. Mo Lewis, LB, 1991-2003
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By the time Mo Lewis finished his 13-year career, he had become an all-around menace to opposing offenses.
He finished as the Jets' all-time leader in tackler with 1,231, opponents' fumbles recovered with 18 and forced fumbles with 29. In addition, his 52.5 sacks marked him as a threat to quarterbacks as well.
Lewis also intercepted 14 passes, returning four for touchdowns, and added another touchdown from a fumble recovery.
These achievements earned Mo three consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl from 1998 to 2000 and a first-team All-NFL designation in 1998. They also earned him a place on this list just below the Ring of Honor residents.
Maybe Lewis will join them someday.
12. Kevin Mawae, C, 1998-2005
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Kevin Mawae was a vital cog in the line that paved the way for Curtis Martin. He was a force at his position for six of his eight years with the Jets.
Mawae joined the Jets after spending his first four years with Seattle. It was 1998, the same year Curtis Martin joined the team. In their second season together, the league voted Mawae to his first of six consecutive Pro Bowls. He received first-team All-NFL honors twice during that string, in 1999 and 2001.
Mawae left the Jets for Tennessee in 2006. Two years later, he was a Pro Bowl invitee and first-team All-NFL center again. He earned one more Pro Bowl invitation in 2007, his final year.
11. Al Toon, WR, 1985-1992
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Picture this scene, circa 1986: Ken O'Brien rifles a pass downfield. It appears headed for open space with no discernible target. Suddenly, a disproportionately long pair of arms reaches out and pulls the ball in without breaking the receiver's stride. The ritual chant "TOOOOOON!" rocks the stadium.
It's another first down with room to spare for the Jets as they continue another drive, seemingly unopposed.
That receiver with the seemingly long arms was Al Toon, who, with Wesley Walker, gave the Jets their most explosive pair of wide receivers since Maynard and Sauer. Walker ran the deeper routes, but Toon was no stranger to long gains. His season-high gains ranged between 32 and 78 yards.
Toon made a name for himself in 1986, the year the Jets went 10-1 before losing their last five games. It was his second year in the league, after being selected 10th overall in the 1985 draft. He made that selection pay dividends by catching 85 passes for 1,176 yards and eight touchdowns, an average of 13.8 yards per catch.
That performance earned Toon both his first of three consecutive Pro Bowl invitations and a designation as first-team All-NFL wide receiver.
He led the league with a team-record 93 receptions in 1988. That year, Toon's last 1,000-yard season, resulted in his last Pro Bowl invitation. A long Jets' career perhaps seemed inevitable. However, Toon was susceptible to concussions, which ended his career after eight seasons.
His legacy was the third-best number of receptions in team history, 517, for 6,605 yards and 31 touchdowns. His 19 100-yard games were third-best in team history, just behind Walker's 22.
At his Ring of Honor induction, he got to hear "TOOOOOON!" for one more time. What a way to acknowledge a magnificent career.
10. Larry Grantham, LB, 1960-1972
Tribute to No. 60, Larry Grantham
Larry Grantham was one of three Jets' players who played for New York throughout the 10-year history of the AFL. It didn't take him long to get attention.
Grantham's linebacking play earned him first-team All-AFL selection in each of his first five years, as well as AFL All-Star Game invitations from 1962 to 1964 and again in 1966.
He played 175 games at linebacker. That team record stood from his retirement after the 1972 season until Kyle Clifton surpassed it on his way to 204.
Statistical comparisons with more contemporary linebackers is difficult because figures on sacks, tackles and assists are unavailable. However, Grantham did intercept 24 passes, returning them for 308 yards and a touchdown. He also recovered 10 rumbles and returned them for four yards and another score.
By way of comparison, Mo Lewis intercepted 14 passes, returning them for 241 yards and four touchdowns and recovered 13 fumbles for 74 yards and another score.
Grantham's final acknowledgement was selection as second-team linebacker on the AFL All-Time Team in 1970.
9. Winston Hill, OT, 1963-1976
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In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Winston Hill's offensive line play exemplified excellence. Eight Pro Bowl selections in his first 11 seasons attest to that.
From 1967 to 1973, Hill's invitation to the Pro Bowl was almost automatic. He was the most decorated member of the 1965 and 1966 Jets' lines that set team records for allowing the fewest sacks, and of the 1968 line that supported the most rushing touchdowns in a 14-game season.
Only Randy Rasmussen's 207 games on the Jets' offensive line exceeded Hill's 195. However, Hill played his games in an unbroken string from 1963 to 1976.
Hill was one of six Jets named to the second-team All-Time AFL team in 1970.
8. Gerry Philbin, DE, 1964-1972
Philbin introduced as part of the 2011 Jets' Ring of Honor class
Before they had the Sack Exchange, Shaun Ellis, John Abraham or Muhammad Wilkerson, the Jets had Gerry Philbin. Philbin and his linemate Verlon Biggs played before sack counts that made reputations for players like Mark Gastineau, Joe Klecko and their peers.
Philbin may have no official sacks as a Jet, but The Jets' Blog credits him with 64.5. Shaun Ellis' team bio also mentions that Ellis surpassed Philbin's 64.5 sacks in 2009 to take over third place on the Jets' all-time list.
Maybe his sack total was unofficial, but Philbin did not suffer from lack of recognition. He earned both AFL All-Star Game invitations and first-team All-AFL honors in 1968 and 1969. Additionally, in 1970 he was named first-team defensive end on the All-Time AFL Team.
The irony is that Philbin earned his first official sacks almost three years later, getting six in 1973 with the Philadelphia Eagles.
7. Freeman McNeil, RB, 1981-1992
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If "workhorse" means holding a team's record for games played, Freeman McNeil fits that definition for Jets' running backs. His 144 games over 12 seasons has stood as the team record since 1992.
McNeil used those 144 games to accumulate the second highest rushing total in team history—8,074 yards. Technically, he took four more years to accumulate his total than Curtis Martin did to achieve his team-leading 10,302. However, in one important sense McNeil achieved his total more efficiently. McNeil only needed 1,798 carries, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, to reach his total. Martin needed 2,560 carries, averaging 4.0 yards per rush.
McNeil's 295 catches for 2,961 yards and 12 touchdowns also surpassed Martin's 367 catches for 2,439 yards and five touchdowns. McNeil averaged 10 yards per catch compared to Martin's 6.6.
In fact, applying "workhorse" to McNeil is a misnomer. While he played more games than any other Jets' running back, injuries resulted in his averaging 12 games per season. He only played 14 or more games in three of his 12 seasons. Martin, on the other hand, only played fewer than 15 games in one of his eight Jets' seasons—his last.
Had McNeil been more durable, he may well have had more than three Pro Bowl seasons and one first-team All-NFL selection. He might well have surpassed Martin as the Jets' all-time leading rusher and earned a bust in Canton.
However, he had an impressive career nonetheless.
6. Wesley Walker, WR, 1977-1989
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Wesley Walker's 740 receiving yards in 1977 set a Jets' rookie record that he held until 1996. Walker got even better results in the years to come.
Walker led the NFL with 21.1 yards per catch in 1977. The next year was even better. In 1978, Walker caught 48 passes for 1,169 yards, 24.4 yards per reception, and scored eight touchdowns. Both his receiving yards and yards per catch led the NFL. His reward was a Pro Bowl invitation and selection as first-team All-NFL wide receiver.
Walker only had one other Pro Bowl invitation, in 1982. However, he established himself as a deep threat that demanded respect. He averaged over 20 yards per catch in eight of his 13 seasons, including his first four. Walker's career average of 19 yards per catch and single season high of 24.4 yards per catch are still team records.
His 8,306 receiving yards were second in team history to Don Maynard. He also was second to Maynard in number of 100-yard games, 50 to 22, and in touchdowns, 88 to 71.
The most amazing thing about Walker is that he only has sight in one eye. His ability to compensate for the loss of depth perception and perform at the highest level is a tribute to the power of human adaptability.
5. Joe Klecko, DE-DT, 1977-1987
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In most other defensive lines, Joe Klecko would have been the star. In the New York Sack Exchange, he worked in Mark Gastineau's shadow. However, Klecko offered noteworthy numbers of his own.
His season high of 20.5 sacks in 1981 set the team record that Gastineau broke three years later with 22. Likewise, his career sack total of 77 trails only Gastineau's 107.5.
Klecko established himself as a sack threat in his own right quickly, with eight sacks in his rookie year. In Jets' history, that trails only Hugh Douglas' 10 and Shaun Ellis' 8.5. His 10 consecutive games with at least a full sack over the 1977 and 1978 seasons is a team record. Gastineau's longest such streak was six in 1983.
He was a threat no matter where on the line he played. Klecko received four Pro Bowl invitations: one at defensive end, two at defensive tackle and the last at nose tackle. In addition, he was named to two first-team All-NFL teams, one as defensive end and one as nose tackle. Gastineau played defensive end throughout his career.
Gastineau was the brash poster child of the New York Sack Exchange, Klecko was the yin to his yang. Whether you liked the over-the-top celebrations of Gastineau or the relative calmness of Klecko, one thing is clear: Their presence together made opposing quarterbacks tremble.
4. Mark Gastineau, DE, 1979-1988
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Some found his celebrations obnoxious, even unsportsmanlike. Some preferred the relative calmness of his linemate, Joe Klecko. However, like him or not, Mark Gastineau has established himself as the first name associated with the New York Jets' pass rush.
When Gastineau began his career, Joe Klecko had already had set team records for sacks by a rookie, eight, and consecutive games with at least one full sack, 10. Gastineau did not break those records.
However, in 1981 Klecko set a team record for sacks in a season with 20.5. Gastineau just missed with 20. Klecko's record lasted until 1984, when Gastineau set the current team record of 22. In the end, his 107.5 sacks bested Klecko by 30.
Klecko distinguished himself by earning Pro Bowl invitations at defensive end, defensive tackle and nose tackle. Gastineau was not as versatile but earned five consecutive Pro Bowl invitations from 1981 to 1985 and three consecutive first-team all-NFL selections from 1982 to 1984. All of these honors were at defensive end.
They were both excellent. They both put fear in the hearts of opposing quarterbacks. However, while Klecko offered versatility, Gastineau countered with speed and flamboyance.
His career sack record still stands after 25 years.
3. Curtis Martin, RB, 1998-2005
Martin entered the Hall of Fame August 4, 2012.
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Curtis Martin joined the Jets in Bill Parcells' second season as coach when New England failed to match the Jets' restricted free agent offer sheet. He cost the Jets first-round and third-round draft picks, but his record-setting Jets' career made that price worthwhile.
Essentially, Martin continued the pattern he established in New England where, between rushing and receiving, he touched the ball nearly 24 times per game. With the Jets, Martin's work tilted slightly more towards receiving, but his average of 23.8 touches per game over eight seasons was remarkably similar to the 23.9 touches he averaged as a Patriot.
These were effective touches as well. Martin averaged 4.0 yards per carry throughout his career. In 2004, his penultimate season, Martin led the NFL with 371 attempts and 1,697 yards, both team records. No other 31-year-old back has ever attained that yardage. Yet throughout his career Martin was accused of wearing down.
Martin may not have been as flashy as a back like Freeman McNeil. However, he averaged over 15 games per season as opposed to McNeil's 12. Martin's 2,560 carries, 10,302 yards and seven 1,000-yard seasons were all team records.
He epitomized the blue-collar work ethic that Bill Parcells preached.
2. Joe Namath, QB, 1965-1976
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As one of the Jets' three Hall of Fame players, Joe Namath belongs in the top three of this list. However, conceding him the top spot based on his Super Bowl III guarantee and victory should not be automatic. As significant as that achievement was, Namath's career had its ups and downs that merit more careful scrutiny.
Those who rank Namath as the No. 1 Jet of all time use arguments like these:
- Namath made possible the NFL as we know it today. Both his signing and Super Bowl win brought legitimacy to the AFL. While the merger was set to occur regardless of Super Bowl results, the AFL's victories in Super Bowls III and IV established the competitiveness of its teams at the sport's highest level. The Jets' Super Bowl III win against an 18-point favorite was the first step.
- Namath was the psychological force behind the Jets' Super Bowl III win. He guaranteed victory despite the odds and delivered.
- Namath received five AFL All-Star Game or NFL Pro Bowl invitations. He was also named first-team quarterback on the 1968 All-AFL team.
- Namath was the first to break the 4,000-yard barrier. In 1967, when the regular-season schedule was still 14 games, Namath passed for 4,007 yards. That record stood until 1979 when Dan Fouts passed for 4,082 yards in a 16-game season.
- Namath was the 1965 AFL Rookie of the Year and a two-time AFL MVP. He was also named first-string quarterback on the All-Time AFL Team.
- Namath continues to hold many Jets' passing records. Examples include career passing attempts, single-season and career passing yards and most career touchdown passes.
However, these advocates ignore the following issues:
- Namath nearly retired after Super Bowl III because of business interests. Actually, he announced his retirement rather than submit to Commissioner Pete Rozelle's ultimatum to sell an interest in the Manhattan bar Bachelors III. Namath eventually capitulated, but the psychological hero of Super Bowl III was late for training camp.
- Injuries plagued the second half of Namath's Jets' career. He played six or fewer games in three of his last seven seasons.
- Namath was a sub-.500 quarterback. Between 1967 and 1969, Namath's regular-season record as Jets' starter was 29-12-1. During his other nine years with the Jets, Namath's record was 31-49-3. That gave him a cumulative record of 60-61-4 in green and white.
- Namath threw more interceptions than touchdowns. He holds the Jets' record for career interceptions with 215, while his team record for touchdown passes is 170. Namath threw his team-record six touchdown passes in a game once. He threw his team-record six interceptions in a game three times.
In other words, while Namath has significant one-of-a-kind accomplishments, he may not have maintained the leadership displayed in Super Bowl III consistently throughout his career. If he did, he deserves the No. 1 ranking. The Jets' decline in the mid-1970s indicates that perhaps he did not.
Super Bowl III was a significant achievement. However, part of the reason it looms so large in Jets' history is that they never returned to the big game. Had the Jets returned to the Super Bowl, and especially had they won, those responsible would probably steal some of Namath's thunder. It's an issue about which readers and fans can only speculate for now. Let's hope that changes soon.
1. Don Maynard, WR, 1960-1972
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Joe Namath may have been the psychological force behind the Jets' Super Bowl III win, but if any player symbolizes the Jets' early struggles, their rise to league domination and their subsequent fall it has to be Don Maynard. He lived and played through the franchise's first 13 years, establishing his mark not just on the team but on the NFL as well.
After a season with the Giants, Maynard joined the New York Titans in 1960. He established himself as a deep threat that season, catching 72 passes for 1,265 yards and six touchdowns, an average of 17.6 yards per catch.
That was the first of five 1,000-yard seasons. Maynard had a second such season in 1962, catching 56 passes for 1,041 yards. His last three 1,000-yard seasons earned him AFL All-Star Game invitations in 1965, 1967 and 1968.Though he fell short of the 1,000-yard mark in 1969, his 938 receiving yards earned him his last All-Star Game invitation and designation as a first-team All-AFL wide receiver.
Maynard didn't have any league-leading numbers after 1968, but quietly accumulated receptions and yards, never having a season's average below 16.9 yards a catch.
The result: He retired after the 1973 season as the NFL's all-time leader in receptions with 633 and in receiving yardage with 11,834. Many in the NFL have since broken these marks, but his 627 catches, 11,732 receiving yards and 50 100-yard games while with the Jets remain team records to this day.