The ‘Monday Night Miracle’, 10 years later
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – If it were played in a Pop Warner league, the game would’ve been called for the mercy rule. Judging by the poor attendance at halftime, one wouldn’t be crazy to assume it was a Pop Warner game. It most certainly wasn’t a game to be aired on ABC’s Monday Night Football, a national network. And yet the final 20 minutes of the game was enough for fans to vote the Jets ‘Monday Night Miracle’ the number one MNF game of all time.
In reality it was probably the best quarter and a half to ever be played on Monday Night. In a game that featured two 5-1 AFC East rivals, only one – the Miami Dolphins – showed any signs of life. It was Jay Fiedler’s, former Oceanside (NY) High School standout, first career start at the Meadowlands. He shelled out nearly 80 tickets to shine in front of his family and friends. And he did just that.
By the time Lamar Smith scored with little time remaining in the third quarter to make the game 30-7, Fiedler watched the majority of those friends and family, along with a herd of disappointed Jets fans, vacate the Meadowlands in hopes of beating the New York traffic.
But with the pressure not fully removed from the Jets, they went back to work. Quarterback Vinny Testeverde hit Laveraneus Coles with a 3o-yard touchdown strike to start off the fourth quarter. Little did anyone know that that score would spark the then-stagnant Jets offense and provide a resurgence for a fading former Heisman winner.
The Jets would comeback to win the game, of course. Fans turned around to come back to the game for the final five minutes. Testaverde threw four touchdowns and passed for 235 yards in the fourth quarter alone. Marcus Coleman had two overtime interceptions to keep the Jets in the game.
However the memorable moment wouldn’t be Wayne Cherbet’s 24-yard touchdown to tie the game with three minutes left. It wouldn’t even be the 40-yard field goal to win it off the leg of John Hall. For such a momentous game, the memorable moment must be ‘jumbo’.
Yes, the night would belong to a tackle eligible receiver by the name of Jumbo Elliot. He had played a cheerleader for the majority of the game trying anything to keep his teammates interested in a game that was hardly anything but. However, two plays after a crucial 4th-and-2 conversion on a two-yard pass to fullback Richie Anderson, Testaverde called on the former Super Bowl XXV stand-out.
“I get into my stance and I realize, ‘Holy you-know-what, this thing is coming to me first,’” Elliott said, laughing so loudly that customers looked over. “My second thought is, ‘Vinny, please throw it somewhere else.”’
Elliot found his way into end zone without a defender within ten feet of him. Testaverde lofted up a soft ball for the lunging Elliot in the back of the end zone.
“We were all on the sidelines like, ‘Oh come on Jumbo, catch it,’” recalls Coles. “When he bobbled it, we were like ‘Oh man.’”
The ball was bobbled for what seemed like an eternity, but as Elliot fell to his knees and his elbows broke his fall, the ball in hand cradled like a new-born. With a mere 42 seconds remaining, the game was tied at 37 apiece.
“He caught it and then we looked at his face on the jumbo screen,” says Coles. “His eyes were just wide open, and I think all the guys were like ‘Jumbo, did you catch it?’”
The play was reviewed and eventually held up. The Jets would go in to overtime have John Hall kick a 40-yard field goal, and the rest is history. For Elliot, it was a nightcap to a career that was defined by hard work, highlighted by shutting down Bills’ defensive legend Bruce Smith in Super Bowl XXV.
“A lot of people come up to me with it or send it. I’ve had people ring my doorbell. That play, in particular, is a favorite without a doubt. It’s kind of a neat thing. It was like a capping to my career at that point.”
For Testaverde, the comeback proved that he the Jets were his team. He put the team on his shoulders and wasn’t going to let anyone stop him.
“Vinny was just, he was just on. It’s almost like he was a general,” said Coles. “We were his soldiers, and he was directing, and just everything was clicking for him.”
For the entire Jets team, it showed a cohesiveness that was missing that season with the collective dislike for head coach Al Groh. The team looked at each other from within and saw the resolve to pull of such a historic comeback. It is something that all teams, not the just the Jets, can revel in.
The team will commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the ‘Monday Night Miracle’ tonight at halftime. More than 20 members from the team will be there to be honored for their historic comeback.