Saturday, January 2, 2010
The Life of A Jets Fan
By Bob Herbert of The New York Times
"Here we go again," said the Jets fan.
That would be me.
I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid drug addiction and alcoholism, and I gave up smoking cigarettes a very long time ago. But I am a Jets fan. And being a New York Jets football fan is an illness. So keep that in mind, and please be kind as you read this.
There was a single moment of glory on Jan. 12, 1969, when the great Joe Namath, with his white shoes and long hair and a right arm that could write poetry with a football, led the Jets to the greatest upset in pro football history: defeating the mighty Colts of Baltimore in the Super Bowl, 16-7.
Google it. You’ll see.
I was young and thought that was the start of something big. Once you take that first hit of a powerful drug, you think that exalted, blissful feeling can be repeated. You can spend the rest of your life trying to experience it again.
I should have known the following December that something freakish was afoot. All the Jets had to do was win one more game — just defeat the Kansas City Chiefs — to go back to the Super Bowl. Behind 6-3 in the fourth quarter, the defending world champions had a first down on the Chiefs’ 1-yard line. The 1-yard line!
It was cold. The wind was blowing. And the beginning of decades of unimaginable, humiliating futility for Jets fans was upon us. The Jets could not advance the ball that 1 yard.
They tried and tried and tried again. It never happened. They got within a foot of the goal line, but they couldn’t cross it. They lost, and the Chiefs went to the Super Bowl.
There is something otherworldly about the perennial ineptitude of this franchise. Gerald Eskenazi, a former sportswriter for The Times, called his history of the team “Gang Green: An Irreverent Look Behind the Scenes at Thirty-Eight (Well, Thirty-Seven) Seasons of New York Jets Futility.” That was in 1998, and nothing has changed since then.
I bring this up because now, more than four, long decades after their one brief moment in the sun, Jets fans are setting themselves up for yet another brutal disappointment. A couple of weeks ago, the coach, Rex Ryan, mistakenly thought that his team, playing terribly, had blown any chance to make the playoffs. It turned out that he was wrong.
Then the Jets went on to beat the undefeated Indianapolis Colts, and if they beat the Cincinnati Bengals in a nationally televised game on Sunday night they will enter the postseason countdown to the Super Bowl.
And that’s the specialty of this team. It’s not just that it’s been bad for most of the past half-century. The insidious aspect is that time and again the Jets rise from the ashes of their awfulness, just enough to offer the hope that something wonderful is about to happen. And the fans get all pumped and crazy, and then the roof caves in.
We should know better, but we can’t help ourselves.
There was the time, for example, when my heroes were playing the Dolphins in Miami and the winner of that game would go on to the Super Bowl. The Jets had a good team that year, and I figured they had Miami’s number. But the weather gods opened the skies over South Florida and it rained for days. It poured. The Dolphins refused to protect the field with a tarpaulin. The result was a vast basin of mud that paralyzed the Jets’ high-powered offense. Miami won 14-0.
Things often happen with the Jets that seem inexplicable. After one of their typically dismal seasons, they fired the coach, Pete Carroll, who had lost his last five games. He was replaced with a coach, Rich Kotite, who had lost his last seven.
The owner, the late Leon Hess, said he had made the switch because he wanted to “win now.”
That didn’t happen. Kotite was a spectacularly terrible coach.
Jets fans have come to take a certain twisted pride in their team’s horrendous history, competing to see who has the worst and most vivid memories. Years ago, whenever I had trouble sleeping, I’d listen to Joe Benigno, who then was the overnight guy on WFAN sports radio and as big a Jets fan as I am. He’d tell hilarious stories of his extreme anguish over the team’s amazing capacity to find creative ways to lose. The bigger the game, the more innovative the effort.
So here we go again.
Long-suffering Jets fans will be glued to their televisions on Sunday night, hoping for the win that will shoot their team into the playoffs. So we can begin praying again for the miracle that never happens.