The 2002 New York Jets: A Microcosm of Gang Green Fandom

Pasquale GattiContributor IMay 14, 2009

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 22:  Quarterback Chad Pennington #10 of the New York Jets cheers on the defense during the NFL game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 22, 2002 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Jets beat the Patriots 30-17. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

If anybody ever asks you what it's like to be a Jets fan, just show that person tape from the 2002 season. It was the year where the team experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It was arguably the most incredible roller coaster ride in franchise history.

There was a torrid 1-4 start, a quarterback controversy, an injured running back who fought his way to 1,000 yards, a memorable coaches' speech, a winning streak, a devastating late-season loss, and then an improbable playoff berth and division title in the season's final game.

And that's just the regular season.

The reason I'll always have a special place in my heart for this team is their resiliency. When they were 2-5, after a heartbreaking 24-21 loss to the Browns in late October, it would have been very easy to pack it all in. But this team was special.

They had high character guys in that locker room that wouldn't allow it. They had a coach who is a man of high integrity and who pushed all the right buttons to keep his players focused.

As a fan of the game, I'm always going to be attracted to players and teams who elevate their play when the chips are down and when everyone is counting them out. That's why the '02 Jets are my favorite team of all-time.

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The season started out in dramatic fashion for Gang Green as they won a 37-31 overtime thriller in Buffalo. RB/KR Chad Morton returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and Vinny Testaverde threw for 210 yards and two TDs.

Then it was almost as if a disconnect reverberated throughout the locker room. Suddenly they couldn't pass protect, run block, catch, or cover anybody. Testaverde became trigger shy and the team lost four in a row. In essence, they became the "Bad News Jets" overnight.

That streak included ugly losses vs. New England (44-7), at Miami (30-3) and at Jacksonville (28-3). However, it was at the start of the Jacksonville game when Testaverde was injured that coach Herman Edwards inserted a wide-eyed Chad Pennington.

He didn't lead the Jets to a victory that day, but he threw for 281 yards, moved the team, and provided an evident spark within the offensive unit. A few days after the game, Edwards anointed Pennington the starting quarterback.

The following week they lost another close one, this time to Kansas City, 29-25. Pennington had another solid effort, but it was all for naught.

The Jets finally got off the snide the following game, beating Minnesota 20-7 as Pennington had his first 300-yard performance.

However, after a terrible loss to Cleveland in which they blew a 21-6 halftime lead, the Jets stood at 2-5 and were in danger of having their season spiral wildly out of control.

During the week leading up to the next game, coach Herman Edwards gave one of the most memorable speeches in the history of the NFL. It was his "Play to Win the Game" speech in which he lashed out at members of the media after they suggested the team had quit.

"Hello! You play to win the game!"

After that, it seemed like the Jets had a fire lit under them as they racked up four straight victories including a shocking 44-13 drubbing of the Chargers in San Diego.

After a tough loss in the Black Hole in which they were overwhelmed by an excellent Raiders team, the Jets returned home and snuck by Denver 19-13 to go to 7-6 on the year.

Suddenly, their path to the playoffs was clear. They just had to win out and they were in.

However, in true Jets fashion, they burst their balloon once again—losing to a terrible Bears team on the road, 20-13. The loss all but eliminated them from the playoffs.

With nothing to lose, the Jets demolished the Patriots the following week in Foxboro 30-17. This was a victory that not many people thought would happen, but one that changed the whole landscape of the division.

Nevertheless, the Jets went into the final week scoreboard watching. They needed the Patriots to beat the Dolphins in the early game, and of course, they had to win their own game against Green Bay.

I remember watching it on television and hearing how the entire stadium erupted into cheers when the Patriots defeated the Dolphins. It was a magical sight. Not to mention, it was my birthday, so I just felt like something special was going to happen.

And it did.

The Jets blew the doors off Green Bay 42-17 and clinched the AFC Eastern Division title—their first since 1998.

Curtis Martin finished the season with 1,094 yards after hardly playing during the first month due to two severely sprained ankles. Martin epitomized what being a Jet was all about. He fought hard until the very end.

The following Saturday on Wild Card Weekend, the Jets crushed the Colts 41-0 at The Meadowlands. And all of a sudden, people were talking about this team as the 'hottest in the league.' As a fan, you couldn't help but get caught up in all the hype.

But just when I thought maybe there's a chance this team could do it (a Super Bowl that is), they lose to Oakland 30-10 in the Divisional Round.

The second half of that game was brutal. The Jets were completely over matched as Pennington was constantly under fire by the pressure from Oakland's front-seven.

Looking back on it now, I really can't complain. The 2002 New York Jets gave me and the rest of the fan base hope when most people thought they were dead. They rose from the ashes to come within a game of the AFC Championship.

They finished with a winning record, a division title, and a playoff victory after starting 2-5.

And for that, they are my favorite Jets team of all-time.