For Jet fans born after 1969 we can say that the good years have been lean. Between 1969 and 1996 the NY Jets post seasons were few and far between. Even worse than that the Jets played in one AFC Championship game in that time. Then after what seemed like an eternity, with a 3-13 season and then 1-15 season Jet fans were given hope. Even before the 1996/1997 season ended the Jets started to turn things around. On the night before the season ending game the NY Jets and Head Coach Rich Kotite announced that they would be parting ways. Kotite said he did not quit and was not fired. The Jets organization agreed, Kotite was not fired and had not resigned. It was just par for the course in what had been a terrible two seasons of football. Then as if all the stars were alligning as one, rumors out of New England was that Bill Parcells and owner Robert Kraft were not seeing eye to eye. Parcells was old school hands on coach, Kraft was a hands on owner – those two do not match. The irony of it all was that Parcells had his team headed into the playoffs and eventually the Super Bowl that season. I can remember rooting against the Patriots all through the playoffs. I figured the quicker they lose the quicker Parcells would resign or get fired. But just like the luck of a Jet fan the Patriots made it all the way to the big game. They might have won that game, but stubborn Parcells never backed down from anyone and elected to kick off to Desmond Howard. Howard would run one back for a TD. Between Howards TD and a young gunslinger named Brett Favre, the Packers were back on top. Rumor has it that Parcells did not even travel back to New England with the team following the game.
The days that followed the Super Bowl was like a soap opera. Parcells using the line “if they want me to cook the meal then they should make me buy the groceries”. While this was going on in New England the then owner of the Jets Leon Hess would be negotiating with Parcells. Hess was a schrewd business man, an oil tycoon. But the problem was he ran the team like a fan and not an owner. This would all change now. Hess wanted to win. Parcells and his right hand man Bill Bellicheck along with other members of the coaching staff would now be employed by the NY Jets. The problem was that Parcells was still under contract with the Patriots and Kraft did not want him coaching anywhere else, especially in the same division. So at a press conference Bill Bellicheck was named head coach of the Jets. Parcells would be a football consultant. Kraft new this was just a scheme to have Parcells run the team. So after negotiating and getting the commisioner involved the Jets paid the Patriots a settlement to get Parcells on the team as head coach.
1997 started with a bang, Parcells and the green and white went into Seattle and blew the Seahawks away. Two weeks later the Tuna Bowl I was in Foxboro. The Jets would tie the game on a late TD catch by Keyshawn Johnson, and then looked as if they were going to win on a fumble recovery on the onsoing kickoff. John Hall would miss a very makeable FG attempt and the Jets would lose in OT.Parcells knew that he had to put his stamp on this team to shake away the Jet teams of the past. He was not crazy about the starting QB Neil O’ Donnell and would bring in back up QB Glen Foley from time to time. I witnessed Foley come in and get a come back win vs the Patriots later on in the season. You can see that Parcells was looking for any excuse to sit O’Donnell. And that excuse would cost the Jets a playoff spot. Just one season removed from 1-15, the NY Jets at 9-6 walked into the Pontiac Silverdome to play the Lions. With a win the Jets would make the playoffs. But in a crtitcial play inside the red zone Parcells cut his nose to spite his face. He brought in special teams star and HB Leon Johnson. Johnson threw a pass to the endzone that was bobbled and the intercepted by the Lions. Replay showed the ball not being in control and the defender landing out of bounds before gaining control. But this was two season prior to the return of instant replay and the INT was upheld. Barry Sanders would also ssurpass 2000 yards rushing for the season in that game. The Jets lost by 3 points and it was another season without any post season for them. But that run gave the fans hope.
1998 saw the Jets bring in Vinny Testerverde and Curtis Martin, as well as Bryan Cox. Glenn Foley was now the starting QB and looked sharp in a gut wrenching loss to the 49ers in the season opener. With a late FG the Jets sent the game into OT. Garrison Hearst took a hand off 90 plus yards and dragged a few jet defensders with him as he would score the winning TD. The following week the Jets lost the home opener and fell to 0-2. Foley would be injured in a game and Testerverde would come in. The man known for his INTs was not making mistakes and but making plays. He had weapons like Keyshawn Johnson, Wayne Chrebet, Dedrick Ward, Keith Byars, Kyle Brady and Curtis Martin. The Jets would go 12-2 the rest of the way and win the AFC East with a 12-4 record. In a rare home playoff game the Jets beat the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the game Keyshawn Johnson would score a td through the air and on the ground. Keyshawn ended the game by playing defense and getting an INT. The win set up a match in Mile High Stadium for the AFC Championship game. The Jets defense had Elway running scared and throwing short, over throwing and just missing targets. A blocked punt on the 1 yard line set a Curtis Martin rushing TD. The Jets had a 10-0 lead early in the thrid quarter and then the winds litterally changed. A short kick off caught in the wind gave the Broncos an easy turnover. Fumbles by sure handed players gave the game to the Broncos. Parcells looked so worn out after that game. He looked tired, he looked sad.
The entire offseason was a buzz. The Jets would take the next step. Two years under Parcells and each year they went further. Now it was the time to take it to the next level. Opening day 1999 was a hot and sunny day. Tailgates in the lot before the games are usually festive, this day it even greater than that. There was a sense of not just excitement but now confidence. The Jets were playing the Patriots and no one would stand in their way. John Elway had retired after winning the big game the season before. But before you can get yourslef setted for a the season of a life time it all came down hard. Curtis Martin fumbled a hand off by Testerverde. Vinny stepped to jump on the loose ball and crumped to the turf. He layed there pounding the turf with his hand knowing he was done. An achilles tendon rupture would end the dream or would it? Can Parcells put any QB back their with the talent they have? Rick Mirer was quickly a goat in Parcells world. And local Rutgers product Ray Lucas would be given the reignns. Lucas was wet behind the ears as a QB but was a good all around athelete. The Jets started off 0-3 and 1-6. They would finish strong at 8-8 and 1 game away from the playoffs. The team had come together and put together a great run. But as we all know in Jet land it is never easy. And after three seasons as the head coach Parcells would retire. But he was leaving the team in good hands – Bill Bellicheck. Please do not let me get into that story right now! Ironically Leon Hess passed away in May of 2009. He saw his team put together a great three year run.
I would have to say that since Parcells came into the organization this team has had a brighter outlook. We have had a few coaches come in since and have had some lean years again, but nothing to what it was like prior to Parcells and his grocery list came to the green and white.
Dick's Sporting Goods presents "Hell Week":