1968 & Heartbreaks – Life As A Jets Fan

Michael Ielpi@ielpiCorrespondent IMay 14, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 26:  Fans of the New York Jets cheer thier teams first round draft pick during the 2008 NFL Draft on April 26, 2008 at Radio City Music Hall in New York, New York.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

That title is a little spin on Kanye West’s album, but it fits all too well for fans of the New York Jets. Being a Jet fan has not been a smooth flight. Maybe, this is why I became a fan of the New York Jets.  

I will take you down what Jet fans like to call Misery Lane, but first, let’s start with the Glory Year.  

The 1968 Jets                       

I am not sure of any franchise that is so defined by a player who played over 30 years ago. Of course, you know I am talking about Joe Willie Namath. He was, is and always will be the face of the Jets. 

There have been many guarantees, but none like Joe Willie’s. The 1958 NFL Championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the Giants made football

Joe Namath turned the Super Bowl into the media circus it is today. 

Namath manages the game to perfection, mixed in with some clutch defense and the Jets stun the Baltimore Colts 16-7 in Super Bowl III. The film of Joe Namath leaving the Orange Bowl with his index finger raised and saying we’re No. 1 is timeless. I must have done this at least 1,000 times in my life. That Jets team is as beloved as any in New York sports history. 

The Heartbreaks

Be prepared to stay awhile. 

The biggest heartbreak for the Jets in my opinion is not any one game, but actually a body part. Watching Joe Namath’s knees completely fall to pieces over his career leaves fans with the unanswered question of would the Jets have won even more with a healthy Broadway Joe? 

The second biggest Jets heartbreak also is not a game, but the legend of the Jets draft picks. This video has been viewed nearly 800,000 times. From Johnny Lam Jones, Blair Thomas, Kyle Brady, Ken O’Brien over Marino, Johnny Mitchell, DeWayne Robertson, etc. 

The consensus among Jets fans I spoke with when I asked for a top three list of painful Jets’ losses:

1 – 1982 AFC Championship Game – Miami Dolphins 14, New York Jets 0 - also known as “The Mud Bowl”. On a completely drenched Orange Bowl, Richard Todd was intercepted five times; three of the picks were by A.J. Duhe, both of which led to the only points of the game. 

2 – 1986 AFC Divisional Playoff – Cleveland Browns 23, New York Jets 20 (2OT) – also known as “The Mistakes by the Lake”. The Jets blow a 10-point lead in under five minutes, but the agony continues for another 17 minutes. I wrote about this game in greater detail here on bleacher report. 

3 – 2004 AFC Divisional Playoff – Pittsburgh Steelers 20, New York Jets 17 (OT) – Doug Brien misses two field goals in the last two minutes of regulation and the Steelers prevail in overtime. 

Honorable mention went to the 1998 AFC Championship game where Denver beat the Jets 23-10. The Jets led 10-0 at halftime. Six turnovers, including four fumbles and the dream of a Super Bowl trip vanished in thin Denver air. 

The other heartbreaks are many and here is a good list:

The Heidi Game – The one Jet heartbreaking loss that we could not see. 

1969 AFL Divisional Playoffs loss to Kansas City at Shea Stadium

Eleven seasons without a winning record (1970-1980)

The 1981 AFC Wild Card Game, falling to Buffalo 31-27, on an interception at the 1 yard line with just two seconds left. The Jets had trailed 24-0 in the second quarter.

The four turnover disaster at home in the 1985 Wild Card Game against the Patriots

Again in 1986, opening the season at 10-1, and losing the next 5 games to fall to 10-6. 

1991 AFC Wild Card Game, the Jets have the ball twice inside the Houston Oilers 5-yard line and come up empty and lose 17-10. 

1994 – The Jets could have taken the lead in the AFC East stood at 6-5 were leading the Miami Dolphins 24-6 in the third quarter get beat thanks to the “fake spike” by Dan Marino who hit Mark Ingram for his third straight touchdown catch of the game and beat New York 28-24. The Jets would lose and the lose the other four games to fall to 6-10 leading to Pete Carroll’s dismissal after just one season. 

1995-96 – Rich Kotite, 4-28, “Oh, the pain!” 

In 1999, when the Jets seemed the favorite to come out of the AFC, Vinny Testaverde falls on his own in the second quarter of the first game against the Patriots and is out for the season with a torn Achilles leaving the Jets with Rick Mirer at quarterback. 

After the 1999 season, when Bill Parcells decides to hang it up and Bill Belichick is named new head coach of the Jets. Belichick lasts for a day, and jumps for New England, where he wins three Super Bowls and his team has the first 16-0 season in NFL history.  

After the 2000 season, Al Groh coaches one season and then jumps to coach the University of Virginia.

Back-to-back playoff losses in Oakland in 2001 and 2002. 

Finally, in 2008, with the signing of Brett Favre, the Jets fly high and get off to an 8-3 start. The team would play the last five games at 1-4 and fail to make the playoffs and the once proclaimed Mangenious is fired and the Hall of Fame quarterback decides to call it quits again. 

The sad part is there are probably a lot of heartbreaks that I missed. It’s badge of courage that is carried around by Jet fans.  It is a badge of honor. You will hear us call in sports radio stations and say long suffering Jets fan since 19xx. Some fans like to make a contest out of how long they have suffered with the Jets. 

The Inferiority Complex

Has there ever been a team with a bigger inferiority complex than the Jets? 

The Jets have never truly had their own stadium. They shared Shea Stadium with the Mets from 1964-1983. Shea Stadium was a multi-purpose cookie-cutter establishment, which served neither baseball nor football very well. But, Shea had a couple of advantages for Gang Green.

Its location was in Queens, that is closer to the heart of Jets Nation, which is considered to be Long Island. The second was that the Jets did not share the stadium with another football team.

That came in 1984. The Jets would move to East Rutherford, New Jersey, and share Giants Stadium with the Giants.  

In 2010, the Jets will move out of Giants Stadium, while the name will be changed, the stadium still will be shared.  

Through all of this, the losing, the heartbreaks, the draft gaffes, the shared stadiums, etc., you may ask, what makes a Jet fan stay?  When you put on the Green it is a part of you. The Jets are like your relatives. You may let me down, but you are still part of my family. 

You tailgate with friends you have known for years and rise as one with Fireman Ed and so many other fans to spell a clean four-letter word. Every game is still sold out, because hope springs eternal. One day these Jets will rise again and we can lift that index finger high again just like Broadway Joe. 

For the current state of Jets Nation, I will close with another Kanye West lyric, this is for the football gods, “How could you be so heartless?”


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