Former NY Jets head coach Joe Walton has passed away at the age of 85-years-old. Even though Walton's football career as a player, scout, and coach spanned seven decades in college and the pros with many different teams, in my memories, I will always see and think of him as the head coach of the Jets.
To paraphrase an old saying out there, "The saddest part of life is when the people who give you memories become a memory."
That particular quote holds more resonance when it pertains to people you know personally. And while I never interacted or knew Walton on a personal level, he is a big part of my Jets memories as a football fan.
Some of those memories provided plenty of heartaches, but Walton will always be my first head coach as a fan of the green and white.
The Jets in the early-to-mid-'80s were an exciting team to watch. Like most coaches in the big city, Walton, who received a lot of heat for the team coming up short, was always a lightning rod for the media and fans.
Sometimes the heat came from his own players. But boy, were those Jets teams back then fun to watch.
Thanks to Walton's offensive innovations and some all-time greats like Freeman McNeil, Al Toon, Wesley Walker, Mickey Schuler, and Ken O'Brien, the Jets had an explosive team. And Gang Green's 'Sack Exchange' was out of this world with Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau, Marty Lyons, and Abdul Salaam.
The franchise had a personality, and it matched their coach. If you were casting a Hollywood movie today about a pro football team and its head coach in the '80s, the Jets and Walton in that era would be the template to base it on. The team was unique and filled with characters.
As offensive coordinator for two years and then head coach for seven seasons, Walton's run with the Jets from 1981-1989 was filled with drama, excitement, and heartbreak. A familiar feeling for long-time Jets fans.
And although his overall regular-season record was just 53-57-1 as Jets coach, as time has passed on, I look back on those teams more fondly now than I did back then. My fandom for the green and white started with those Jets teams.
Perhaps it's part nostalgia for me, but the Jets' were relevant and a genuine contender during parts of Walton's run on top. I really enjoyed watching those Jet teams.
Longtime Jets fans remember — or would rather forget — the four-hour 1986 Divisional Round double-overtime playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns dubbed the "Marathon by The Lake."
The game took place on January 3rd of 1987, but it certainly wasn't a happy new year for Jets fans like myself back then.
The Jets were up 20-10 with 4:14 left in the game — just minutes away from the AFC Championship Game. The play that lives in infamy in Jets lore is an inexcusable roughing the passer penalty on Mark Gastineau.
Thanks to the dubious call, the Browns used it as a catalyst to rally and tie the game with seven seconds left and then would win in double overtime 23-20.
The result was exhilarating for Browns supporters, but it was traumatic for young Jets fans like myself. It made me question my fan-hood at the time.
Joe Walton and the Jets never really recovered from that loss. The team was good enough that year to get to a Super Bowl and face the NY Giants, but it wasn't to be.