On September 12, 1999, Vinny Testaverde tripped and ruptured his Achilles tendon, ending his season and placing the team in the hands of Rick Mirer and eventually Ray Lucas. The Jets would lose that game to the New England Patriots, en route to an 8-8 season-a major disappointment for a team with high expectations.
Maybe Vinny didn’t exactly trip, but that is how I saw it. And it is that moment I became a true Jets fan.
I got into football late in the game. Since neither of my parents really followed the sport, the relative I looked to for football knowledge was my grandfather, an old school New York Giants fan. So of course, I did what any eleven year old child would do: I picked the other New York team to root for.
But even though the first full season I followed the Jets was one of the more successful for Gang Green in recent memory (a 12-4 record and trip to the AFC Championship in 1998), I was not yet fully hooked. Going into the 1999 season, I fully expected another playoff appearance, and perhaps even a Super Bowl title.
I sat down to watch the first game of the season and within ten minutes those dreams died.
Shock. Disbelief. Anguish.
These and many other feelings rushed through my head. The rest of the season was a roller coaster. The team struggled mightily in the first half, received some life once Lucas took over at quarterback, but still missed the playoffs. Bill Parcells stepped down as Head Coach, leaving the Jets without a pilot.
I was more of a Jet fan than ever.
Part of being a true fan is suffering. In 1998, the Jets had known very little suffering, but 1999 was full of it. I was more emotionally connected to the team and interested in what the future held. I yearned for the next year and retribution for the season I felt was snatched from me. I wanted to beat the Patriots.
When Vinny fell, he punched my one way ticket to being a committed, life-long Jet fan.
The Jets have experienced ups and downs over the past two years. Overtime playoff games, late season collapses and more injuries have let me soar to new highs and crash to new lows; nerve-racking, but it comes with the territory. I can thank Vinny Testaverde on that fateful fall day for illustrating that being a Jet fan would not be easy. That there would be painful moments and unexpected turns of events.
And that no matter what happened, I would forever be taken along for the ride.