Joe Namath is overrated.
Yeah, I know that statement is blasphemous to those who grew up watching Broadway Joe deftly thumb his nose at the NFL's staunch old guard during the merger days. I also know Namath was the first quarterback to throw for 4000 yards in a single season. It's said that Namath had a style of play well beyond his years, but I'm only 30 - born long after Namath retired - so I won't dispute the Baby Boomers on that. I will, however, point out some inarguable numbers: 50.1 percent career passer, 65.5 QB rating, 173 career touchdowns against a whopping 220 career interceptions (for you math whizzes, that's a difference of 47), 27,663 passing yards, and a record 62-63-4. Namath is in the Hall of Fame, but his numbers aren't that different from those of Archie Manning, who doesn't and a chance.
Its also been said that Namath was erratic and injury-prone, something that even my mother - a Long Island native and a Jets fan since their inception - will admit. As I said, Namath does have a 4000-yard season career highlight, which was extremely significant when you consider that he did that during a 14-game season and the feat wasn't repeated until Dan Fouts of the San Diego Chargers had 16 games to do it. Aside from that, there is of course Super Bowl III, in which the Jets beat the highly favored Baltimore Colts and validated the AFL against the NFL, which was long thought superior. Namath played flawlessly, but understand that Super Bowl III is THE reason he's in the Hall of Fame. Namath guaranteed a win and made good. Namath doesn't win Super Bowl III, he never gets into Canton.
If the Buffalo Bills' four consecutive Super Bowl losses define their legacy, Super Bowl III and Broadway Joe define the Jets. The difference is that the Jets scored in their only shot at the big game, and people just forget about the rest. While people talk about the Bills as if they were a historic dynamo, they forget the rest of the Jets' history completely. It's almost as if discussing Jets history requires the Namath years, then a post-Hitler-Germany-like blackout before waking up in the present day saying "Whoa! What happened?!"
No one even brings up the Jets' early 80's defensive line, nicknamed the New York Sack Exchange.
Jets fans are naturally prone to forgetting a lot of the bad history, like their draft passing up of a young Pittsburgh quarterback named Dan Marino, who went on to have a career haunting them as the keystone of their archrivals, the Miami Dolphins. There was the Blair Thomas bomb, a blown deal which would have netted them Brett Favre (who of course eventually wound up there anyway - once his years in Green Bay were over), the awful year with Rich Kotite coaching, and the sucky fact of life that they have to share their home stadium with a more storied and higher-regarded team in the same league.
It wasn't until Bill Parcells that the Jets finally came to play with a slightly more consistent respectability. Since then, no, the Jets haven't been a great team, but they've been competitive, especially in the Herman Edwards years.
The return to respectability gives those poor folks saddled with the New York Jets something to really cheer about. The Jets haven't been back to the Super Bowl since they won it in 1969, but they've been to the AFC Championship some four or five times since the mid-90's. Jets fans are brunt with some very nasty burdens. First, pretty much everyone - myself included - gives them shit for being housed in New Jersey. Now, if they were somewhere on Long Island, I could understand them calling themselves a New York team. Lots of teams, after all, play in suburbs instead of proper cities. But New Jersey isn't just a suburb; it's a whole other state which contains nearly everything about the Jets' identity, from their taxpayer bills to their fans.
Despite being the largest city in the country, New York City just isn't much of a football market, and its denizens tend to look to football as the baseball offseason, at least when they're not watching the Knicks. New York City has always been a baseball city first and everything else second - except for the aforementioned Knicks, maybe - and so the Jets fight for attention from two other sports during their season.
Even worse is that they have to fight multiple competition from multiple teams in those other sports. Even in their own league, the NFL, they have to endure being second banana to the older and more successful New York Giants. Since the NFL season overlaps with the final vestiges of the baseball season, they also have to steal fans from the New York Yankees and New York Mets. The Yankees make the playoffs almost every season, while the Mets are usually capable of putting up a fight down to the wire even though they don't make the playoffs nearly as often. In the NBA, they have to find a way to get fans to pay for tickets in lieu of New York City's NBA representative, the Knickerbockers, as well as the New Jersey Nets, who pretend to represent New York City right now (and at one time actually did; they began as the New York Nets and in a couple of seasons will return to New York City as the Brooklyn Nets). And since New York City is a northeastern metro area with a storied hockey history, the largely forgotten NHL does have a sizable following between the New York Islanders, New York Rangers (whose fans, by the way, are considered among the best and most knowledgeable in the league) and the New Jersey Devils, another team that pretends to be from New York City.
How understated are the Jets? Well, for eight years (1998-2006) they fielded the running back who is now fourth all-time in rushing yards. To be fair, this player didn't do the New York City sparkle and flash thing to get attention, but he also rushed for a whopping 14,101 yards, went to five Pro Bowls, was the NFL Rushing Champion in 2004, a five time All-Pro selection, and the 2005 Bart Starr Man of the Year…. And you probably don't know who I'm talking about. I'm talking about Curtis Martin, who should be receiving Canton honors pretty soon. His numbers and accolades (he had a 4.0 yard-per-carry average and scored 90 touchdowns) certainly warrant more merit than Joe Namath's do.
You have to feel for Jets fans. I don't know what's worse: Being historically bad or being historically bad without anyone knowing it. And by "knowing it," I mean the team, for better or worse, is completely out of the spotlight.
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