It will never happen.
That’s what I decided a few moments ago, while sitting alone on my bed, watching Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger take a final knee in the AFC championship game and seal his team’s trip to Super Bowl XLV.
Whether I live to 40, to 60, to 80, to 100, to 120—in my lifetime, the New York Jets will never win a Super Bowl. Hell, they’ll probably never reach a Super Bowl.
I am 38. Because of my duties as a sports writer, nearly all of my team allegiances were shed long ago. The little boy who rooted for the Mets? Gone. The kid who loved Chris Morris and the New Jersey Nets? Departed. When you spend enough time inside the clubhouses and locker rooms, most of the mystique and glamour vanishes. The larger-than-life men of your youth are merely men. The cathedrals are merely stadiums.
For some reason, however, I have never been able to get the Jets out of my system. I love them—in the same way I love to drink three or four milkshakes in a day. Yeah, I wind up vomiting. But the thrill overtakes my senses.
The first time I thought the Jets were destined for the Super Bowl was in January of 1983, when they traveled to Miami to face the Dolphins for the AFC title. New York had everything lined up—a fantastic halfback named Freeman McNeil, two explosive wide receivers (Wesley Walker and Lam Jones), a terrifying defensive line known as the New York Sack Exchange. Yet playing on a muddy field that nullified the Jets’ dynamic speed (Miami famously failed to cover the field during the previous day’s storm), the Dolphins won, 14-0.
Sixteen years later, the Jets returned to the conference championship game, and even led the Broncos, 10-0, behind the wisdom of Bill Parcells and the thunderous right arm of Vinny Testaverde. “This time,” I bragged to my friends,” things are different!”
The Jets lost, 23-10.
Now, after so many years of heartbreak and heartache, I am crying uncle. If the Jets were ever going to reach the Super Bowl, this was probably their season. Beginning with the Hard Knocks buzz and all the Rex Ryan blather, New York just seemed … different. Though I usually don’t buy the whole team-of-destiny thing, there was a team-of-destiny thing going on. The Jets scratched and clawed for wins that seemed impossible; they fed off of Ryan’s nonstop boasting; they featured depth all around the field, from the receiving skills of Santonio Holmes Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery. When they shocked the football universe by pummeling New England last weekend, believers—including myself—began to emerge.
Maybe, just maybe, these Jets are special.
I hope I’m wrong, but the modern Jets are beginning to smell a lot like Willie Randloph’s Mets from a couple of years back. Blow one big opportunity—hey, it happens. Blow two—the mental anguish begins to weight heavily. Are we merely biding our time? Or are we forever doomed to almost-ran status? To coming close, but not close enough?
My first favorite Jet was Mike Augustyniak, the bowling ball fullback from Purdue who joined the team in 1981. Through the years, I wallowed in the endless lows, from Mike Haight and Dave Cadigan to Blair Thomas and Rich Kotite. I embraced the brief highs—Ken O’Brien’s of-thrilling duels vs. Dan Marino; McNeil leading the league in rushing; the arrival of Curtis Martin and the emergence of Wayne Chrebet and Keyshawn Johnson. I hoped for the best, buoyed by the belief that betters days and championship parades were always just around the corner.
Now, however, I understand the truth.
The Jets are eternally doomed.
And so are their fans.