What if Vinny Testaverde Led the 1999 New York Jets to the Super Bowl?

Angel Navedo@NamedAngelSenior Writer IMay 20, 2009

12 Sep 1999: Vinny Testaverde #16 of the New York Jets walks on the field during a game against the New England Patriots at the Giant Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Patriots defeated the Jets 30-28. Mandatory Credit: Ezra O. Shaw  /Allsport

"What Vinny did last year is what high-level quarterbacks—guys like Steve Young and Mark Brunell—do every year. Vinny probably hasn't had the opportunity to do it. Now he has it, and I think he'll live up to that challenge."
                              —Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson in July of 1999, before New York Jets' training camp.

The New York Jets entered Mile High Stadium on Jan. 17, 1999, led by Vinny Testaverde and the NFL's fourth-ranked offense.

Denver's wintry winds were blasting through Mile High Stadium as the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos aimed to repeat their success from the previous season.

The first-half of the game pushed the momentum in Mother Nature's favor as neither team could establish a significant lead. The first points were scored at the end of two quarters when the Jets hit a field goal heading into the half. 

With the weather conditions as their primary opponents, both teams had to carefully construct new strategies to keep their seasons alive.

And then began the New York Jets' tragedy of errors.

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After taking a 10-0 lead, the Jets' efforts were made irrelevant by Testaverde's two interceptions, Curtis Martin's 14 yards on 13 carries, and the team's four lost fumbles.

Immediately following the Jets' only touchdown was a 47-yard strike from Elway to Ed McCaffrey. Terrell Davis' 167-yard performance contributed to one of the longest afternoons in Jets' history.

"It's one thing to get blown out by a team. At least you can say, 'They're better than us, they're playing in the Super Bowl, and that's the end of it,' " said Testaverde after the loss. "But to walk in the locker room after the game, feeling like we beat ourselves, it's hard to get over.

"Deep down, I feel we had a good enough team to be playing (in the Super Bowl)."

New York's most promising season in three decades came to an embarrassing 23-10 end—an end Testaverde could never come to terms with.

Worst yet, it was an end where he would never have another opportunity to find redemption.

A Brief Recap of Agony

It was Jan. 18, 1999 when Super Bowl XXXIV became the New York Jets' only focus.

Testaverde would tell Rich Cimini of the New York Daily News that he "absolutely" expects to play in the next Super Bowl.

The offseason would bring Testaverde a new three-year, $18 million contract, only one season after being signed to backup Glenn Foley.

Deafening Super Bowl chatter followed the Jets through training camp as the staff and personnel remained in tact. With Elway's retirement, there should have been no more hindrances.

And then the apocalypse arrived in the second-quarter of the season-opener against the New England Patriots

Testaverde lunged awkwardly to recover a Curtis Martin fumble and writhed on the ground in pain. His Achilles' tendon was torn, his season was over, and the quarterback carousel spun the Jets to an 8-8 finish.

Despite lacking their Pro Bowl quarterback, the Jets finished out the season on a five-game streak with Ray Lucas under center.

The AFC East was won by the 13-3 Indianapolis Colts in 1999, followed closely by the 11-5 Buffalo Bills

Rewriting History: What 1999 Should Have Been

Keeping the eight wins the Jets earned throughout the season, it's not far-fetched to imagine victories in at least four or five of their other games if Testaverde was healthy.

The Jets were poised to improve upon their fourth-ranked offense of the previous season.

At the time of Testaverde's injury against the Patriots, New York was down 10-7 but were on the Patriots' 25-yard line looking for the go-ahead score.

Without Testaverde, the Jets lost 30-28, losing consistency at quarterback as backup Rick Mirer and punter Tom Tupa exchanged snaps. If Testaverde had remained, the Jets would have continued to establish their momentum, and pulled out a win over New England.

The teams that took advantage of New York as they struggled to find a new identity in the post-Vinny era won against a shadow of a team.

Close losses to the Colts, Washington Redskins, and Oakland Raiders would have also turned out differently with Testaverde in the game, pushing the Jets to another 12-4 record.

Having been a mere 27 minutes away from the Super Bowl, the Jets' veteran team wouldn't have been taken advantage of again.

A first-round bye would bring the Tennessee Titans to the Meadowlands in the divisional round. In reality, the Titans were able to play their divisional game in the comfort of Indianapolis's dome, against a second-year phenom in Peyton Manning.

Playing in the elements of a New Jersey winter against the Jets' high-powered offense would have been too much for the Titans and their 17th-ranked defense.

However, the road to the Super Bowl would have to go through the 14-2 Jacksonville Jaguars—a team the Jets defeated 34-24 the previous year.

The Jets would win a close one on the legs of Curtis Martin against the Jaguars, refusing to be sent home in the AFC championship again. 

Ultimately, New York would go to the Super Bowl, but fall to the St. Louis Rams and their unstoppable offense.

The Testaverde Domino Effect

This is where the significance of Testaverde's season-opening injury becomes most heart-wrenching for Jets' fans.

It wasn't only about the dismantling of the dreams that started during the 1999 offseason. It signalled the end of a coaching era that briefly returned respectability to the New York Jets.

Had New York achieved similar success in 1999, it's likely that Bill Parcells would have never stepped down. His goal has always been to create winners, and he would've been on the cusp of greatness with one more season.

Instead, he intended to hand the team over to defensive coordinator Bill Belichick.

The same Bill Belichick who resigned "as HC of the NYJ" during his introductory press conference, citing the team's unstable future at ownership as the reason for his decision.

Parcells then appointed Al Groh as his successor. Groh gave the Jets one season before leaving to coach at the University of Virginia.

That offseason also saw a new drama unfold with Keyshawn Johnson blazing his way out of New York. The Jets' primary wide receiver forced the organization to trade him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two first-round picks in the 2000 NFL Draft.

The Jets selected Shaun Ellis and Anthony Becht with the draft picks, but Johnson went on to win a Super Bowl in 2002.

Although Testaverde would return as the starting quarterback in 2000, the Jets still selected Chad Pennington in the first-round of the draft to be his eventual successor.

And so continued the tragedy of errors.

One torn tendon and the road the New York Jets followed for the next decade drastically altered the face of the organization through different coaches, quarterbacks, and any dreams of a championship.

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