Adversity Builds Character: The Mantra of a New York Jets Fan

Bradley WellenContributor IMay 10, 2009

Sept. 12, 1999 - a warm, humid day in East Rutherford, NJ where hopes are high among Jets fans who have not seen the Green and White in the Super Bowl in just over 30 years. 

All that can change after a deep playoff run in 1998 where the AFC East Champion Jets were one half away from a trip to the Super Bowl anchored by Pro Bowlers Vinny Testaverde, Curtis Martin, and Keyshawn Johnson. 

Who better to face in week one than Pats?  New England was still fuming over the Jets hiring of former coach Bill Parcells and signing away of All-Pro running back Curtis Martin. 

As the backdrop of one of the NFL’s most heated rivalries was taking shape an excited 13 year old sat in section 114, row 26, seat 23 of Giants Stadium.  Little did I know that I would soon witness a microcosm of my life as a Jets fan. 

The game got off to a promising start as the Jets took a 7-3 lead with a Testaverde touchdown pass to fullback Richie Anderson. Then something funny happened, something that seems to happen exclusively to hard-luck franchises like the New York Jets.

On the next offensive series, Testaverde handled the snap cleanly, dropped back to pass and went down like a ton of bricks clutching his left leg. 

Vinny was not even touched and managed to tear his left Achilles tendon. To this day, I have never seen the life sucked out of a stadium so quickly, it was if God had pressed the mute button on Giants Stadium and just like that the season was over.  

Enter punter Tom Tupa who, despite throwing for two scores, just was not the answer as the Jets lost on a last second Adam Vinatieri field goal en route to a mediocre, playoff-free 8-8 season.

This game, like so many others that I have endured, defines the heartache and emotional roller-coaster ride that accompanies rooting for the Jets.

So many times we have been let down—whether it be Dan Marino’s fake spike in 1994 or Doug Brien’s two missed field goals in a divisional playoff loss to the Steelers in 2004, following Gang Green is not for the weak of heart.

But for every few Jets disappointments is one unforgettable moment: a classic win, a miraculous play, or a Meadowlands experience that reminds you why you put up with all of the letdowns and agony. 

I think that if I had to choose one moment where I knew that I would be linked to the Jets for the rest of my life it would be the “Monday Night Miracle,” an event so significant in my life that it’s importance comes in a close third behind only my birth and Bar Mitzvah. 

Jets fans, and New Yorkers in general, do not like to waste their time so it was no surprise that there was a mass exodus of Green jerseys from the Meadowlands once the Dolphins opened a 30-7 lead in the third quarter. 

At this point I already knew that I had no exams the next day and could sleep during the car ride home, so why not soak up another quarter of live football? After convincing my dad that the Jets had the ‘Fins right where they wanted them, we were pleasantly surprised when Laveranues Coles hauled in a Testaverde TD pass to cut the deficit to 17. 

Even after the touchdown nobody in their right mind thought the Jets could actually pull this thing off, after all they were still the Jets. New York then scored the next 17 points to tie the game and, after 24 unanswered points, hope was alive among the remaining few Jets loyalists.

As it so often does in the NFL, the momentum pendulum swung right back into the faces the Jets after Leslie Sheppard caught a 46-yard bomb from Jay Fiedler to put Miami back on top by seven.

I angrily turned to my dad and said, “This is so like the Jets, they get us all excited with a huge comeback just to let us down again.”  He told me that the game wasn’t over and Jumbo Elliot proved him right with a hilariously unexpected three-yard touchdown reception. 

After a John Hall overtime field goal sailed through the uprights and sent the Jets to victory, I knew from that point forward that any team that could make me feel so strongly about a game has to be special.

There have been many ups and downs since that October night in 2000, but I still keep coming back to the Jets because they represent all that is right about New York.  New Yorkers are drawn to the underdog, a team of survivors that clearly is flawed but continues to take the field every week with heart, tenacity, and unity. 

The Jets have been just as instrumental in my upbringing as any of my friendships or experiences because they have taught me the value of hard work and perseverance and opened my eyes to the beautiful, extraordinary game of football.