It’s a funny thing being a sports fan.
I was a big fan of the soccer ball growing up, hailing from South England, supporting Liverpool (yes, I know). One of my fondest memories is that fateful night in 2005 where Steven Gerrard cemented his place as legend in my own personal hall of fame. The sheer elation and joy I felt running round the living room was unparalleled. Conversely, football has given me some of my most painful lessons in life growing up. Following Liverpool and England, I’ve had plenty of ‘heartbreak’. I have a vivid memory of England losing against Brazil in World Cup 2002, crying my heart out while the BBC outro played “Stop Crying Your Heart Out” by Oasis. Very cruel BBC, very cruel.
Still, life goes on. You gain perspective. England have been hopeless for a long time, and if Liverpool lose it doesn’t quite ruin my day. I feel more affinity for Aberdeen FC nowadays, the town where I grew up. It’s certainly easier to get attached to a team you’re geographically close to, not to mention the players’ salaries don’t start in the 6 figures. If all else fails, there’s always the new season optimism to look forward to as rumours of players signing keeps tabloids ink wet into the early hours.
Which leads me on to the NFL, and my team the New York Jets. We’re a laughing stock.
It all started so well with my following beginning during the Rex Ryan era. I was slightly spoilt in my early fandom, with back to back AFC Championship visits. To say it’s been barren since then is an understatement. The closest the Jets have come to the Playoffs since was the 2015 season, in which a resurgent Jets side held their destiny in their own hands in the last game of the season. Of course, the Jets can’t have nice things – Ryan Fitzpatrick imploded against the Bills to hand the Steelers the last available Playoff spot. Of course the narrative beauty was the fact Rex Ryan masterminded the Jets crumble. It would be another understatement to say that this 2015 side who finished a respectable 10-6 had been built upon. Brandon Marshall? Stayed in New York but now wears Blue. Ryan Fitzpatrick? Back up in Tampa. Eric Decker? Catching passes for the Titans. David Harris? No doubt winning a Super Bowl sometime soon for the Patriots.
Most successful teams find a platform to build around, maybe replace a few bricks each year, forging that foundation with which fans pin their identity upon. The Jets haven’t replaced a few bricks. They’ve blown the house up, found a few rocks and a bucket of sand. Tide’s coming in and the builder hasn’t even arrived yet.
Even the offseason optimism of the draft was quickly quashed. Sure, Jamaal Adams is a highly rated safety who many touted as the best defensive player in the draft. He was quickly followed by a second safety in the 2nd round (Marcus Maye), which gives you an idea of the level of rebuild going on, given safety Calvin Pryor was drafted just 3 years before with a first round pick. Pryor was later traded to the Browns.
However, my favourite moment came with the Jets third round pick, as a member of that last Jets playoff team in 2010, Tony Richardson, stepped up to announce the 3rd round pick. Already consigned to being a bit of a laughing stock, I’m not quite sure what could have made people laugh more at the Franchise at this point, but Tony knocked it out of the park. Stepping up to the mic in front of a packed Philadelphia crowd (not to mention the huge audience at home), he proceeded to announce the pick for the “New York J-E-T-E Jets”. Good god. The last I checked the word “Jets” didn’t have two ‘e’s. I just watched the video again and couldn’t help but laugh. As my friends would say – “Jetslol”.
So what does this season bring? I can’t remember a team so openly tanking for a shot at the number 1 draft pick since perhaps the Colts in the “Suck for Luck” campaign, though their hand was slightly forced given Peyton Manning’s neck injury + subsequent surgery. Leonard Williams remains a force on the D-Line but there are still question marks about his previously highly thought of colleagues in Sheldon Richardson and Mo Wilkerson. Sheldon has had some severe troubles with the law in the recent past while Mo will need to return to his best to not find himself on the chopping board too. Quincy Enunwa enjoyed a breakout year last season, but will now face number 1 corner back coverage so could see regression. The Quarterback competition is a tasty one. If by tasty you mean the kind of lie you have to tell to save someone’s feelings after they’ve made a truly awful dish. Josh McCown – respected if uninspiring veteran who had his share of injury troubles last year. Bryce Petty – a young QB last seen being pulverised between a Suh and Cameron Wake sandwich, and Christian Hackenberg. A player drafted in the 2nd round just a season ago, has been seen throwing passes so inaccurate they end up hitting local reporters rather than an intended receiver. As Daniel Jerimiah of NFL.com reported, “From an NFL exec – “I think the Jets might have the worst roster I’ve seen in a decade”.
Welp. The only way is up, right? If the Jets do indeed fulfil their ambitions to tank for number 1 overall pick, there are a number of Quarterbacks who could be hoisted as the prince who was promised. Still, whether it be Sam Darnold (the Scam for Sam), Josh Rosen (Hosin’ for Rosen), or maybe Josh Allen (Squash for Josh? Barren for Allen?) I think the harsh lesson here is that not all highly touted prospects can realistically deliver upon the lofty expectations of a franchise. Sure, Andrew Luck might be the one outlier of recent memory, but what about the rest? RG3 hasn’t been the same since his series of knee injuries which has perhaps ended his chance at being a starting NFL Quarterback. Jacksonville thought they had their answer in Blake Bortles, though after last season there’s huge question marks all over Blake’s mechanics. Oh, and just ask the Cleveland Browns, who’s search for a QB has spawned an infamous Jersey of all their failed signal callers.
So where does that leave the Jets? Well, it can’t get much worse – but even the coveted number 1 pick of 2018’s draft might not be the golden ticket out of mediocrity. Though, there’s something refreshing about going in to a season knowing the team you follow is going to be terrible. As Tom Hardy taught us “there can be no true despair without hope”. Which rings true with all those youthful tears I shed. England’s golden generation, all a lie. It was never finally Liverpool’s year. This year, with the J-E-T-E Jets, I’ll put a brave face on, support my team, and remember that there’s far more important things to get upset about in life. Like fantasy football!
Still, it would be the most Jets thing to stumble their way to 5 wins and somehow miss the number 1 overall pick. Humility is character building, right?