In the 80s, 90s and to this day when the topic of #56 and New York football is discussed the name that always comes up is Lawrence Taylor. But with the 14th pick in the 1989 draft the NY Jets drafted their own #56.
After the sack exchange was basically gone the NY Jets defense had no sense of identity. Above that they were not feared by opposing teams. In the days of Sack Exchange opposing QBs ran for safety. The NY Jets needed that back. Their land lords in the Meadowlands back then were coming off a 1986 championship and a season away from wining another one in 1990. During those seasons it was all about Lawrence Taylor, Jim Bert, Harry Carson and other intimidating defensive players. The Jets knew that they needed to get their defense back to being feared.
Lageman was able to play the line and also line backer. He was a blue collar player. Scruffy beared, long hair and motor cycle rider. He became the anchor of the Jets defense while he was on the team from 1989 through 1994. He played in every game except for the 1992 season when he was injured early on and missed 14 games. But while with the Jets he had 34 1/2 sacks, a high of 10 in 1991. Not to shabby for 82 games in the green and white. Jeff would eventually go to the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995.
Jeff put up more than average numbers when he played for the Jets. Ironically the Jets defense was not the problem during Lageman’s tenure, it was the offense. A number of QBs and player injuries slowed down the team.
I remember meeting Jeff after a game vs the Bills in 1994. He came out in his jean jacket and duffel bag. He was not dressed as your average NFL player. No jewelry, no leather and since the team made him sign a contract not to ride his motor cycle he basically has a mid size economy car. As he signed autographs , I notices the cuts and bruises on his hand and knuckles. Black and chipped nails. He had all the scars of his experiences on the field. I asked if I could take a picture and with out hesitation he said no. Jeff would oblige all autograph request, but was not about to be the GQ line backer.
I remember watching an interview with Dennis Byrd. Byrd was a close friend of Lageman. And of course Byrd was also paralyzed with a freak injury while playing the Jets. Byrd said that when he was in the hospital after his accident all his teammates came to see him, Lageman had not at that point. Then at night when no one was there Jeff went up to see Dennis. Dennis described Jeff as a person who always had a scowl on his face. But as he walked in and saw his friend in his hospital bed paralyzed, the scowl turned to tears.
Lageman would play in the NFL through the 1998 season. He was one of my favorite players and I look back and think that it was a shame that he was not available to the NFL and the NY Jets of today. The way he played back then on some average and below average team shows how good of a player he was. He will never be recognized as another LT caliber player in the NFL. But can you imagine what Rex and his defensive schemes could do with a player like Jeff Lageman?