As we prepare to head into the 48th consecutive Super Bowl Sunday minus the participation of the New York Jets, it may serve as some consolation to consider the following: The Jets are one of only four teams to never have lost a Super Bowl, a distinction they share with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New Orleans Saints and the Baltimore Ravens.
Unfortunately, that’s all the good news I have for you today. Among the other distinctions the Jets share with the Bucs and Saints is that after their one triumphant appearance – the Ravens won both their Super Bowls — they, too, have never been back.
The difference is, the Bucs run of futility is a comparatively puny 13 years, and the Saints’ a mere seven. The Jets have been locked out of the NFL’s annual party for so long that their current head coach, Todd Bowles, had not even turned six years old when Joe Namath, and more accurately, Matt Snell, George Sauer and Johnny Sample, led the fledgling Jets to a 16-7 victory over Don Shula’s Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, still the greatest upset in the history of the NFL’s annual spectacle. Neither Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez had been born.
And consider this: Remember those Nassau Coliseum chants of “Nineteen-forty!’’ directed by Islanders fans to the New York Rangers as a taunt for their own run of Stanley Cup futility, which stretched to 54 years before finally ending in 1994? In six years, the Jets will match that.
And quite honestly, there is no evidence that says that they won’t. Since their last Super Bowl appearance, the Jets have gone through 15 head coaches and 33 starting quarterbacks. They have drafted nearly 600 players since taking Namath with the No. 1 pick in 1965, and only one has played his way into Canton – John Riggins, who earned most of his glory as a Washington Redskin. (They did, however, draft some memorable characters; who can forget Admiral Dewey Larry?)
And there have been 13 GMs since Weeb Ewbank, who as both head coach and GM, led that 1968 team to Super Bowl glory.
So clearly, changes in personnel and front office executives have not made a damn bit of difference. From Al Ward through Joe Walton, Rich Kotite, Bill Parcells, Mike Tannenbaum, John Idzik and now, Mike Maccagnan, all have shared one regrettable trait: Failure.
Over that time period, the Jets’ record is 333-407 in the regular season, 10-13 in the post-season and 0-4 in their four subsequent trips to the AFC Championship Game, the final hurdle before the big enchilada. In fact, in 1999, they were less than a half-hour from the Super Bowl, leading the Denver Broncos 10-0 in the third quarter, only to collapse and allow 23 unanswered points. I remember seeing Wayne Chrebet smash his fist into the side of the team bus on the way out of Mile High Stadium, expressing the frustration that millions of Jets fans no doubt felt that day.
The most salient statistic, however, is probably the number of owners. The Jets have had mainly two, Leon Hess, and Woody Johnson, since their Golden Era ended nearly a half-century ago. That lends credence to the old argument that as long as the man at the top making the final decisions is an idiot, the organization is doomed to fail, no matter who is ostensibly calling the shots.
We’ll give Leon Hess a pass because he did preside over the franchise’s one true moment of glory, and died, mercifully for him, in 1999. He did not live to see the infamous Bill Belichick press conference – still the greatest press conference in the history of New York sports, and the only one I have ever covered where something truly unexpected happened – or the Butt Fumble, although he did live through the agony of the Dan Marino Fake Spike.
Woody, however, is another story. (Believe it or not, it might have been worse; the suitor Johnson outbid for the Jets was none other than Cablevision, James Dolan, proprietor). Perhaps his recent appointment as the U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James will work in the Jets’ favor, because it will keep him busy and out of the hair of Bowles and Maccagnan. But it is hard to dispute that since he took over ownership of the club in 2000, the fortunes of this snake-bitten franchise have only gotten worse.
Some of it has been bad luck; in 1981, the Jets had the No. 3 draft pick, high enough to draft Freeman McNeil, a pretty good player. Unfortunately for them, the No. 2 pick was a guy named Lawrence Taylor. As Maxwell Smart used to say, missed him by that much!
And some of it has been just plain bad drafting. In 1974, they chose Carl Barzilauskas with the sixth pick in the draft and left Lynn Swann, a future Hall of Famer, on the table. In 1978, they chose Chris Ward and passed on James Lofton. In 1983, they took Ken O’Brien over Dan Marino. In 1985 it was Al Toon over Jerry Rice and in 1988, Dave Cadigan over Michael Irvin. (They were, however, smart enough to pass on Johnny Manziel in 2014.)
And some of it, no doubt, has to do with the little brother mentality of the franchise, a syndrome that plagued their former stablemates, the Mets, for many years. They were the second-string tenants of the Giants at Giants Stadium – draped in green tarp for Jets game days – for years, and when it came time to abandon that bowl after a mere 25 years, the Jets chose once again to share lodging with their big brothers rather than hold out for their own digs.
And like the Mets for a time, the Jets and their fan base seem to have grown comfortable in their “lovable loser’’ persona. The difference is, the Mets pretty much shook that off after the first seven seasons of their existence; interestingly, both won their first titles in 1969 and while the Mets quickly became a team to reckon with, after 1970 the Jets period of futility was only beginning. And it continues to this day, despite the NFL’s institutionalized parity, which is designed to give every team a chance to play on its big day. How have the Jets managed to miss out on this revolving door?
It’s almost impossible to be this bad even if you are trying. How, indeed, did the Jets manage to miss out on making it to the big dance during the NFL’s peak period of parity, the decade between 1998 and 2007, when 15 different teams appeared in the Super Bowl?
And even now, as the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons prepare to meet in Super Bowl LI – that’s 51 for the unpretentious – on Feb. 5, the Jets are preparing for yet another season of futility, sending out a soon-to-be lame duck coach with neither a starting quarterback nor an offensive coordinator for 2017.
So when you’re watching the Pats and Falcons go at it in two weeks, console yourself with this: In 48 years, no one’s been able to beat the New York Jets on Super Bowl Sunday. Not even the New England Patriots can say that!