Okay, be honest. How many people had the New York Jets reaching the AFC Championship Game in their preseason predictions? Other than maybe ESPN’s resident Jets cheerleader Mike Greenberg, I seriously doubt there were many folks giving the Jets much of a chance back in early September.
The general consensus is that their improbable playoff run will end this weekend in Indianapolis, but the more I look at this Jets team the more I think they might have karma on their side.
First off, can you pick a more appropriate opponent for the underdog Jets to beat and earn their first Super Bowl trip in 41 years?
When the Jets beat the Big, Bad Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III it forever changed the game of professional football.
A win by the current Jets over the Indianapolis Colts wouldn’t have quite the same impact to the history of the sport, but it would certainly make the short-list of all-time playoff upsets.
That game represented the changing of the guard with young and boastful Joe Namath taking the reins from aging veteran Johnny Unitas.
In the quarterback battle of 2010, Jets youngster Mark Sanchez is not as loud and glamorous as Namath, but he has the same kind of dark good looks that made Namath a star. Sanchez has yet to display the same kind of passing ability as Namath, who was the first quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards in a season, but he has made a great start and has time on his side.
Peyton Manning is the most decorated Colts quarterback since Unitas. However, while Unitas was nearing the end of his career in 1969 and didn’t even start Super Bowl III, Manning is still at the peak of his career.
While you can point to an inability to efficiently pass the ball as one of many reasons the Colts lost Super Bowl III, it is very doubtful that a loss by the Colts this weekend will be a result of Sanchez out-playing Manning.
Another bit of destiny supporting the Jets is the presence of first-year head coach Rex Ryan.
When the Jets defeated the Colts in Super Bowl III, Rex’s dad, Buddy Ryan, was in his first season as a defensive assistant for legendary head coach Weeb Ewbank.
Rex has already won two more playoff games than his father won in seven seasons (three playoff appearances) as a head coach. In fact, the elder Ryan was never able to win a playoff game in three tries with a very talented Philadelphia Eagles team.
Wouldn’t it something if Buddy’s son went undefeated in his first playoff run while coaching the team that gave his dad his first NFL gig and first Super Bowl ring?
Perhaps the clincher for me in terms of wondering if this is the Jets year is the fact that the Super Bowl will be played in Miami, Florida.
Is it merely coincidence that Miami was the site of the great upset by the Jets over the Colts?
This will be the 10th Super Bowl played in Miami. Of the previous nine, three franchises – Colts, Steelers, 49ers–each have won twice in South Florida. If the Jets somehow defeat the Colts and then win Super Bowl XLIV, they would be the fourth team with multiple wins in the city.
Of course, the Colts could also argue that they have destiny on their side in Miami as all three of their Super Bowl appearances and both of their titles have come amidst the palm trees.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Jets of the 1968 season and the Jets from 2009 is that in 1968 the Jets were a relatively experienced team that had been quietly building a championship contender over a number of years. While at the time the Jets were viewed by the NFL establishment as an upstart, those who followed the AFL new that Weeb Ewbank had been building a talented team capable of contending with the best of the NFL.
In 1967, the year before their run at the Super Bowl, the Jets went 8-5-1 while finishing first in the AFL in offense and third in defense. The 1968 Jets finished with an 11-3 record and were the best defensive team in the AFL and among the best offenses in the league.
Conversely, the Jets seemed to be starting over at the beginning of this season and their rise to the brink of a championship is quite unexpected. Even this week after dispatching the Bengals and Jets, many believe the Jets don’t belong on the same field with the Colts.
In 2008 the Jets did go 9-7, but they ranked 16th in the NFL in offense and 16th in defense. This season they actually fell to 20th in offense, but with Ryan guiding the way had the best defense in the NFL while posting another 9-7 record.
Interestingly, the Jets and Colts have met 65 times in the regular season with the Colts holding a 40-25 advantage. However, the Jets have won both playoff meetings defeating the Colts 16-7 in Super Bowl III and then 41-0 in the opening round of the 2002 playoffs.
If sports has taught us anything over the last four decades it is that on any given day anything can happen. There may be pages of reasons the Colts should beat the Jets, but at the end of the day, the Jets get their chance on the field to show that they belong with the big boys.
The general expectation is that the final results will be very different than when they met 41 years ago, but I’ve seen enough strange things in sports not to bet on it.
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