This Sunday November 10th, at 1PM EST, The New York Giants will host The New York Jets at MetLife Stadium, the venue in East Rutherford, NJ, where both teams typically play their home games. To say that both organizations are struggling would be an understatement. Sadly, struggling is nothing new for the “same old Jets,” the widely-used catchphrase fans use to describe the anticipation (finally) of success, only to be let down, time and again.
New York Jets
Many die-hard Jet fans – including this one - point to a divisional playoff game vs the Cleveland Browns in 1986 when the football gods decided to put the Jets in the penalty box. The men in green were leading by 10 points late in the 4th quarter. The Browns had the ball and were facing a second down and 24 yards to go. Star defensive end Mark Gastineau sacked Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar; it appeared the Browns would be in a desperate 3rd and 24. But a flag was thrown; Gastineau was penalized for roughing the passer, a foul that is (too) common today but relatively rare back then. The Jets protested to no avail. The Browns subsequently drove down the field and scored a touchdown. After stopping the Jets and getting the ball back, the Browns tied the game with seconds remaining on the game clock. In the first overtime neither team scored. The game was settled with ~2 minutes remaining in the second overtime when Browns kicker Mark Mosely booted a 27-yard field goal to seal the victory. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Jets have not won their division (the AFC East) since 2002, and only once before then in 1998. They have not made the playoffs in almost 10 years when a then over-hyped quarterback named Marc Sanchez “lead” the team to back-to-back AFC Championship games in ’09 & ’10. In reality, it was a stout defense and power running game that enabled the Jets to advance that far. A microcosm of the Jets folly was Sanchez’s famous “butt fumble” that occurred on Thanksgiving Day in 2012, on national television, the seminal moment in a 49-19 lashing courtesy of the New England Patriots. Another embarrassing spectacle in Jets history was the “fake spike” engineered by Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins in 1994. That play propelled the Dolphins to victory and took the air out of the Jets season.
Over the past three decades, Jet supporters have been teased on numerous occasions as it appeared that “greener” pastures lay ahead. There have even been brief windows of success within the multi-decade malaise of New York Jets football. In addition to the back-to-back AFC Championship appearances, the Monday Night Miracle will forever be a bright spot in Jets history. Unfortunately, one of the few things the Jets have done consistently during this span, even during times of reprieve, is come up short. In 1998 after winning the AFC East, the Jets were one game away from reaching the Super Bowl. The Denver Broncos ended that possibility by scoring 23 unanswered points in the second half of the AFC Championship game, which resulted in a 23-10 Broncos victory. In 2004, (historically) reliable kicker Doug Brien missed two 4th quarter field goals that would have sent the Jets to the AFC title game.
In a 2013 pre-season game, Marc Sanchez was inexplicably playing behind the 2nd team offensive line. They proved porous. Near the end of the game, Sanchez absorbed a hard hit and injured his shoulder. Rookie Geno Smith was summoned and started all 16 games of the season. The team finished 8-8. Smith improved in 2014 but had a weak supporting-cast. The Jets struggled and finished with just 4 wins against 12 losses. Nevertheless, the future appeared bright with the young talented Smith under center. Expectations were lofty leading up to the 2015 season. However, in a stunning example of intra-squad dysfunction, during training camp of that year, Smith was involved in an altercation with teammate. Reserve linebacker IK Enemkpali was enraged that Smith failed to repay him $600 for a plane ticket to a football camp. Unable to settle their differences through dialogue, a fight ensued. Enemkpali punched Smith in the face. Smith suffered a broken jaw. His season was over before it started, his fate as a Jet all but sealed. He is currently a backup for the Seattle Seahawks.
Selecting 1st round draft busts is one area where the Jets have excelled. This has been a specialty of Jets management since quarterback Richard Todd was selected in the first round of the 1976 draft. Other notable 1st round busts include WR Lam Jones (’80), RB Roger Vick (’87), RB Blair Thomas (’90), QB Browning Nagle (’91), DT Dewayne Robertson (’03), LB Vernon Gholson (’08), DB Kyle Wilson (’10), DE Quinton Coples (’12) and DB Dee Milliner (’13). While QB Christian Hackenberg was not selected in the first round - he was a second-round pick - he deserves special mention. The Jets selected Hackenberg with the 51st pick of the 2016 draft. He was signed to a four-year contract worth $4.66 million, with $1.6 million guaranteed. The Jets cut him after two seasons. He never stepped on the field in a regular season game. He is currently out of football. Jets management accomplished an even more stunning feat of ineptitude by selected Jachai Polite in the 3rd round of this year’s draft. Polite was given a $1.12 million dollar signing bonus. After paying $100,000 in fines for being late to team meetings, the Jets released Polite before this season even began! He is currently on the Los Angeles Raiders’ practice squad.
In week two of the 2001 season, the Jets were battling their nemesis the New England Patriots. In that contest, Patriots star quarterback Drew Bledsoe was knocked out of the game courtesy of a vicious (but legal) hit by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis. This writer was watching that game and distinctly remembers turning to his compatriot when Bledsoe’s baby-faced replacement trotted onto the field in relief and asking “who is this asshole?” Six Super Bowl victories, 3 NFL MVP awards, 14 Pro Bowls, 73,050 career passing yards, 531 touchdowns, and 18 years later at the age of 42, Tom Brady continues to antagonize, torture and dominate the New York Jets and ruin many of my Sunday afternoons.
New York Giants
In contrast to the Jets, the New York Giants have historically been a well-run and efficacious organization. Despite their recent turmoil, the Giants have quietly been one of the most successful teams of this writers’ generation. Big Blue has treated their fans to Super Bowl victories in 1986, ‘90, 2007, and most recently in ‘11, when Eli Manning and crew scuttled Tom Brady and Co.’s bid for a perfect season and defeated the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Additionally, the Giants were crowned NFC Champs in 2000. They finished 1st in the NFC East division in 1986, ’89, ’90, ’97, ’00, ’05, ’08, and 2011 and made playoffs in 1981,’84,’85,’86 & ’89.
Currently, The Giants are 2-7 and in transition. General Manager (GM) Dave Gettleman has endured the wrath of fans and critics alike for some head scratching moves. Last year he signed Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., to a $90 million dollar contract extension and then traded him to the Cleveland Browns. $16 million of Beckham’s contract counts against the Giant’s salary cap this year, even though Beckham’s uniform is now brown, orange and white. Criticism of Gettleman reached its pinnacle after he selected Duke quarterback Daniel Jones with the 6th pick of the 2019 draft. Jones has since replaced long tenured starter Eli manning and has shown flashes of greatness. Whether or not he becomes an NFL star, Mr. Jones was projected to be a 2nd or 3rd round draft pick; he would have been had the Giants not grabbed him at the 6th slot of the 1st round. The Giants have a lot of needs. They could have and should have allocated the #6 pick accordingly. Jones would have been available at #17 – the Giants other 1st round pick - most likely in the 2nd round, and maybe even in round 3.
Both the Jets & Giants have had many fantastic players cycle through their respective organizations. The list is long and goes well beyond the scope (and length) of this article. Below we highlight three players from both NY franchises. To narrow the number of potential subjects, we considered only those players whose entire NFL tenure lasted with either respective team.
Lawrence Taylor, Giants (Linebacker):
Lawrence Taylor (LT) was the 2nd pick in the 1981 draft out of North Carolina. LT was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in ’81, 3-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 10-time Pro Bowler, and the NFL’s most valuable player in 1986. Considered by many analysts as the best to ever play the linebacker position, Taylor forced opposing offenses to design special schemes to (try) and block him. Said former NFL coach and expert analyst John Madden, “Lawrence Taylor, defensively, has had as big an impact as any player I've ever seen. He changed the way defense is played, the way pass-rushing is played, the way linebackers play and the way offenses block linebackers.” Before Lawrence Taylor arrived on the scene, blitzing linebackers were typically blocked by running backs. However, LT overwhelmed most running backs that tried to get in his way. As a result, teams started blocking him with a traditional offensive lineman, usually an offensive tackle. Sometimes running backs would help and together they would “double team” him. Despite this, LT was a sack master who notched a career-high 20.5 sacks in 1986. Against the run, Taylor was so fast in pursuit that ironically, the best way to try to neutralize him, was to run straight at him. In an ugly incident that took place on Monday Night football in 1985, Taylor sacked Redskins QB Joe Theismann. During the play, Theismann suffered a compound fracture of his leg, ending his career. Unfortunately, Taylor was also known for the destruction he caused off the field. In addition to alcohol and drug abuse, Taylor once fled the scene of a car wreck and was convicted of having intercourse with an underage (16 years old) prostitute. During the climax of Taylor’s debauchery, he “spent thousands of dollars a day on coke and ho’s.” Thankfully, Mr. Taylor seems to have made amends. He is currently living a fairly non-descript life in South Florida.
Michael Strahan, Giants (Defensive End):
Michael Strahan was the 40th pick in the 1993 draft out of Texas Southern. A 7-time Pro Bowler, Strahan was crowned NFL Defensive Player of the year in 2001. In that memorable season, he broke Mark Gastineau’s single season sack record (22) in the final game of the year. The sack was controversial because Packers QB Brett Favre seemed to slide down (in order for Strahan to obtain the record) instead of attempting to avoid Strahan’s rush. Said Mike Freeman of the New York Times, “Yes, Mr. Favre, Strahan deserves the record, but please, handing it to him the way you did, as if you were throwing change into a Salvation Army bucket, is the kind of mistake Favre may never live down.” Strahan dominated opposing quarterbacks from 1993 until he retired in 2007. He was inducted into the hall of fame in 2014. Strahan’s career after football has been just as successful as it was on the gridiron. He is well known for his role as the fomer co-host of Live! With Kelly (Ripa) & Michael. In 2015 he wrote a self-help book called Wake Up Happy: The Dream Big, Win Big Guide to Transforming Your Life. That same year he launched a clothing line at J.C. Penney. Presently, Strahan is a co-host of Good Morning America and host of the $100,000 Pyramid.
Eli Manning, Giants (Quarterback):
Eli Manning was the 1st pick in the 2004 NFL Draft out of Ole Miss. He is a 2-time Super Bowl champion and one of the most durable players to ever play quarterback. Manning started an incredible 210 consecutive regular season games (3rd all time) before being disrespectfully benched in week 13 of the 2017 season in a game against the Oakland Raiders. Manning currently ranks 8th all-time in passing yards, 8th in touchdown passes and 6th all-time in passes completed. After he retires, he will probably be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Does he deserve that level of recognition? Maybe. His accomplishments speak for themselves. Nevertheless it is worth noting that Eli Manning has a rather pedestrian win/loss record as a starter, notching 111 wins against 103 losses. Furthermore, he ranks a mere 46th all-time in passer rating and has thrown the 14th most interceptions in NFL history. Often his “best passes” were the result of spectacular catches.
Mark Gastineau, Jets (Defensive End):
Mark Gastineau was the 41st pick in the 1979 draft out of unheralded East Central Oklahoma State. He was voted to the Pro Bowl 5 times and named NFL defensive player of the year in 1984. That same year – his most prolific – Gastineau notched 22 sacks, a record that held up for 17 years until Michael Strahan broke it in 2001. Gastineau was the leader of the “New York Sack Exchange,” along with Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons & Adbul Salaam. Together, they terrorized opposing quarterbacks throughout the 1980s. Gastineau often celebrated successful plays with antics that offended opposing players. He was known for his signature “sack dance.” After one especially audacious rendition of it, a fight broke out between him and Rams offensive lineman Jackie Slater. The following year, the NFL declared the “sack dance” “unsportsmanlike.” Midway through the ’88 season and leading the AFC in sacks, Gastineau abruptly retired. He cited the health of his then fiancée Brigette Neilson as the reason why. He finished his career as the NFL’s all-time sack leader. Mark Gastineau lived a tumultuous life off the field. He was found guilty of assault for a fight that took place at the famous club Studio 54 in New York City (teammate Ken O’Brien was acquitted). In 1991 Gastineau was arrested for drug possession. That same year he became a professional boxer. In his 1st fight, he “knocked out” a man named Derrick Dukes. It was later revealed that Dukes (and others who fought Gastineau) took a dive in order to let Gastineau win. In 2000 Gastineau was sentenced to 18 months in jail after he failed to complete a compulsory anger management course for assaulting his wife. In 2001, the same year Michael Strahan broke his single season sack record, Gastineau claimed he had a religious awakening, renewed his faith in Jesus Christ and joined the Times Square Church in New York City. In 2016 Gastineau was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Last year he revealed he had colon cancer from which he is currently in remission. On November 9th, 2019 as this article was being penned, Mark Gastineau revealed that he was repeatedly raped and subjected to sexual abuse as a child.
Dennis Byrd, Jets (Defensive End):
Dennis Byrd was the 42nd pick in 1989 draft out of Tulsa. Not a naturally gifted athlete, Byrd was a hard worker and well-liked teammate. Through grit and determination, he developed into a quality NFL defensive lineman. Byrd would come to rely on those traits when tragedy struck in 1992. In a game vs the Seattle Seahawks, Dennis Byrd suffered a broken neck when he collided with teammate Scott Mersereau as they converged on Seahawks quarterback Dave Krieg. Bryd was rendered paralyzed. Doctors feared he would never walk again. But Dennis Byrd was determined to recover. He drew on his faith, work ethic and determination to endure a grueling regimen of physical therapy. Miraculously, the combination of Byrd’s spirit and a dedicated team of healthcare professionals enabled him to walk again. On opening day of the 1993 season, Byrd walked unassisted to midfield where he was honored as the Jets’ Most Inspirational Player. His #90 was officially retired by the team in 2012. Byrd later wrote a book and was the subject of a film called Rise & Walk: The Dennis Byrd Story. In 2016, tragedy struck again; this time Byrd did not recover. He was killed in a car accident that took place in his home state of Oklahoma.
Nick Mangold, Jets (Center):
Nick Mangold was the 29th pick of the 2006 draft out of perennial college football powerhouse Ohio State. He was the second offensive lineman selected by the NY Jets that year after D’Brickashaw Ferguson. A 7-time Pro Bowler, Mangold was respected for his resilience, durability and work ethic. He anchored the Jets offensive line from 2006-2016. After hanging up his cleats, Mangold returned to his alma matter and earned a degree in Operations Management.
Jury Is Out
Over the last two years the Jets & Giants both drafted what they envision as “franchise quarterbacks.” The Jets took the highly touted Sam Darnold out of USC with the 3rd pick of last year’s draft. Thus far, despite showing flashes of brilliance, his play has been mediocre and the Jets continue to struggle. Darnold has been the subject of criticism, some of it well deserved, some not. The coaching staff has made awful decisions, the Jets are lacking at the wide receiver position, have been without their starting tight end all year and their offensive line has been downright atrocious. Football is the ultimate team game. A deity could be playing quarterback for the Jets, but if nobody is blocking for him, even he will not be able to produce a miracle and turn the team's fortunes around.
The Giants selected Daniel Jones out of Duke with the 6th pick of this year’s draft. Jones has only recently supplanted Eli Manning to become the Giants starter. He certainly has the tools – both physical and mental – to become a special player. The jury is out on his, and the Giants', future.