It’s been 45 years since the Jets have been atop the totem pole of New York City sports. Since Joe Namath flexed his forefinger out of the Orange Bowl. Since Woodstock and the Miracle Mets. Since Midnight Cowboy won the Oscar. Since man first walked the moon.
They had a few good clubs in the 1980s, but fell in the Mud Bowl and the Gastineau Game. In the ’90s, they were 30 minutes from the Super Bowl, but Curtis Martin’s fumble in Denver cost Bill Parcells a shot at another ring. And, of course, Rex Ryan led the underdog Jets to the AFC title game twice, only to lose both times.
The Jets get just good enough to stir the fan base, then sink back into the Meadowlands swamp for a decade. Rex Ryan is gone, taking his gaseous act to Buffalo. As is his QB Mark Sanchez, toiling on the bench in Philadelphia.
If that weren’t bad enough, the Jets played in Shea Stadium, built for the Mets, for the first half of their existence. Then they hopped the Hudson and played in Giants Stadium, built for another NFL team.
And even in the new building, MetLife, named after an insurance company, the Jets are still a football afterthought, standing in stark, comic relief against the G-Men. The Jets are 4-8 against the Football Giants, and haven’t defeated them in a game that mattered since 1993 (on Halloween, fittingly enough).
Now NYC has nine rungs on the pro sports ladder. And the Jets are still climbing and sliding. They dashed out the gate this year, 4-1 after five games. Then, of course, they stumbled, going 1-4 over the next five. After beating the Dolphins, the Jets (6-5) now play the Giants (5-6), not only for provincial pride, but also vital playoff position.
The Giants, the home team, are the odd underdogs in this game, by about two points. The standard logic is that the Giants have the two best players on the field — Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr — while the Jets have the more robust roster.
The Jets are the best in the NFL at stopping the run (84.4 YPG). And since the Giants can’t run anyway, they will toss the ball all over the gridiron, especially with Manning having one of his best seasons and Beckham turning YouTube into his de facto demo reel.
Conversely, the Giants have potholes all over their defense. The Jets can hand the ball to bruising RB Chris Ivory against the 20th-ranked run defense. And surely Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are drooling at the prospect of playing a pass defense that is dead-last in the league. The Giants are the only NFL team to yield over 300 yards per game (309.2).
The matchup du jour was supposed to be Beckham vs Darrelle Revis. But with Revis still mired in the NFL’s concussion protocol, it’s quite unlikely the two will square off on Sunday.
No matter. There are more than enough plots and subplots in this game, a date the natives circled over the summer. Without Revis, Beckham will get around 20 targets, and endless chances to add another glittering catch to his bulging resume.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, who entered the season in typical, soap operatic style after presumed starter Geno Smith had his jaw broken by a teammate, has been more than serviceable. And the Jets have gotten epic production from Marshall (71 receptions, 931 yards, 9 TDs) and Decker (700 yards, 8 TDs). Ivory rumbled to several 100-yard games to start the season, then seemed to take a breather, and has since regained his September form.
Don’t be shocked if this is game short-circuits the scoreboard, if the two teams combine for 700 passing yards and 70 points. And while the Giants have fewer wins and a greater need to win this game (even in the wretched NFC East), this game means more to the Jets.
The Giants can lose this game and still be, well, the Giants, the progenitors of pro football in NYC; the NFL iteration of an Original Six team; the team of Frank Gifford and Lawrence Taylor and Michael Strahan; the team that once had two assistants named Landry and Lombardi.
Out of the wide buffet of sports teams, only the Jets have suffered since the 1960s. Not even the inept Knicks, who last won in 1973, can say that. Not even the Brooklyn Nets, who won with Dr. J in the ABA, can say that. All three hockey clubs have bagged a Stanley Cup. The Yankees have their mail forwarded to October. And even the Mets, fresh off a World Series appearance, won a world title in 1986.
And, of course, their Big Blue, Big Brother bunkmates have been to five Super Bowls since 1986, winning four. Four Lombardi Trophies are glowing in some sacred chest in the bowels of MetLife, forever reminding Gang Green of how gangrenous they’ve been.
But in the current ADD culture, the NFL acronym, Not For Long, soars above history. Ask a Millennial to name the Giants coach when they lost the 2000 Super Bowl, and they would beg for hints. Ask who coached the Jets to their lone NFL title, and they would brood over their iPhones and Androids, Googling the right response. Today forever trumps yesterday.
The Jets can’t erase 45 years of ignominy with a win on Sunday. But if they beat the Giants, they will thrust themselves into the AFC playoff picture and, for this year, stamp themselves as the home team of Meadowlands.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.