Most Jets Fans will never forgive Mark Gastineau for his late hit against Cleveland in '86.
Let me start by saying I don't personally know fellow Jets Insider.com writer Chris Pine. He's in NY and I'm in Los Angeles. I've never met him, but I admire his work on the site. He recently wrote of the debacle that was the early 90's, and the near-misses the past few years. I want to start by thanking him for not mentioning Blair Thomas' Monday night fumble in 1991. You know, the game which Dan Dierdorf says at the 2:00 warning "Barring disaster, it'll be a happy plane ride back to Gotham for Bruce Coslet and the New York Jets". We all know that didn't happen. Bears RB Neal Anderson's TD at 0:00. Pat Leahy's missed chippie in OT. Bears TE Cap Boso. Bears QB Jim Harbaugh's sneak. Time's up. Over. Pow.
12 years later and I'm still not over that one. But that's not so bad. The '86 Divisional Playoff loss to Cleveland, that's bad. At some time in my life, I think the Bears defeat may leave me. Not Cleveland. Ever. On my deathbed, I'll still have it. I'll hear Charley Steiner's voice as Freeman McNeil scampers into the end zone with 4:00 left.
"The Jets are going to Denver! The Jets are going to the AFC Championship Game!"
Roy Hobbs said in "The Natural" that are some mistakes we never stop paying for. That was Cleveland.
Why do we do this? Why do Jets fans like Chris and myself, and, oh hell, everyone else dwell on the horrific defeats of the past? Why can't I write a nice season preview and tell a couple of funny anecdotes and be a normal NFL fan? I could do it if I wanted. Watch!
Expectations are high heading into the 2003 campaign coming off of last season's AFC East Crown. (So far, so good) A tumultous off-season is in the rear-view mirror, although how the hell did we let Laveranues Coles get away I'll never understand (Getting away from me here). You know, if Pennington had just hit Sowell on that
flat pass in the 3rd quarter against Oakland instead of throwing it into the freaking stands...(OK, so I can't do it)
It's not just me. It's all of us. It's like we have this disease of regret that infects us all. I met a lifelong Jets fan at a bar in Los Angeles about five years ago. You know what the first question he asks me is?
Why did we take Lam Jones?
I fully believe we don't choose the teams we root for, they choose us. Because, let's be honest, it would be EASY to be a Giants fan. Hell, two Super Bowl wins, including one in the greatest of all-time? Come on, it's a no-brainer. But I was drawn to the Jets.
Giants? Never a chance. This is my lot. And yours. Take The Host. Amen.
I seem to read once a year about a new player or two who are either drafted or sign with the Jets, and after a month say they don't "get" the fans. They're too negative, they say. They dwell on the past. They don't cut us slack. I just want to say this.
It's not personal.
Yes we're rabid, unforgiving, pleading, hard-line, pessimistic, frustrated, yet optimistic. How's that for a combo? But there's a reason. I'll attempt to explain it the best I can.
The Jets are still living off of Super Bowl III. Granted, it's likely the most important win in the history of the NFL, as the league is what it is now due to Broadway Joe and Don Maynard and Matt Snell and Earl Morrall's turnovers. To say we've had a lot of lean years since is an understatement. To me, that's the easiest time to be a fan. Hey, no expectations! You expect them to lose, and when they win, it's a bonus, like the "extended adult swim" at your neighborhood pool.
For the most part though, in the time since 1969, the Jets fell in the worst of categories. Enough talent year after year to compete, enough to get real close, but then like death and taxes, a sure guaranteed broken heart in the end. In the 1980's, the Jets were masters. Buffalo's Bill Simpson in 1981. Richard Todd and Miami's A.J. Duhe in 1982. Patriots DE Garin Veris in 1985. The Cleveland debacle in 1986.
Cleveland. It always comes back to that one. The poster child of every era prior to The Tuna. It sums it all up. All of it. The tears, the anger, the pain.
It's part-cathartic, to write like this, I realize that, and maybe that's it. Once a year, talk about the past, pay it's due respects, and try to exorcise the demons that haunt, in hopes of what lies ahead. The fans who know, we live with those games every day, which is why we are always waiting for the other shoe to drop now, in 2003, 17 years after Mark Gastineau's late hit on Bernie Kosar.
Jets fans are unlike any other. Believe me, we want to let it all go, we want to forget. Give us our time, and understand our history. And we'll be on to the fall, and the season opener in Washington. Some time during the season, we'll talk about how it's a new era. And at some point, we'll say "Same Old Jets". It's ingrained. But there is hope, and in the end and only one cure in the next 12 months.
A win in Houston this January.
It will all go away. I promise. Woody Bennett, Cary Blanchard, Eric Allen, Alex Van Dyke, Mark Moseley, Webster Slaughter, Frank Lewis, Jeff Hartings, Bo Orlando and Al Toon's Hail Mary drop. I won't ever have to write about them again.
All gone. Forever. And we will dance. And possibly forgive Mark Gastineau.
At 5AM on August 2nd, it begins. And we'll be up with toothpicks in our eyelids.
Where else on earth would we rather be?
In addition to writing for Jets Insider.com, Jason Smith is the co-host of 'The Jim Daniels Show', heard on Fox Sports Radio from 3pm-7pm EST in over 70 markets coast-to-coast.