Sunday, October 28, 2007

Disappointment, So Warmly Familiar

In the dark, final week of the 1981 season, while the Jets were playing themselves (and the Giants) into the playoffs, the Colts and the Patriots played what we called (h-huh) the Toilet Bowl. The Patriots were 2-13 going into the game, the Colts were 1-14 and were from Baltimore.

Payback is a bitch. Only in this case it's worse when the original bitch in question doesn't even remember that Toilet Bowl. Maybe the Jets are the bitch, and now our Jets are getting the bitch slapped out of them. As for the Colts and the Patriots, next week's game is a Toilet Bowl - if, by "toilet" you mean Belinda's extraordinary vanity set surrounded by sylphs and angels in "Rape of the Lock." Each team is undefeated. This is actually the Super Bowl.

The Jets lost to the Bills 13-3 in a game that ranks among the most boring games I have ever seen. I saw two unimaginative offenses unable or unwilling to throw THE !@#$%*& BALL DOWNFIELD. Chad Pennington looked incapable of throwing for more than 12 yards, and I like the guy. Add to that the Jets' strange inability to give the ball to Thomas Jones when everybody knows that this is what teams have to do when the passing game is gone... Well, I could just go on and on. I'm so sad.

The final touch was yet another late game interception, this time thrown by Kellen Clemens. Unlike in previous weeks, the game was hopeless by then. The Jets would have still been down by 3 even if they had miraculously discovered the end zone, and lately everything has come hard. In light of the Jets' remarkable run last year, even the doubtful Sports Illustrated had predicted they would come close for the Wild Card this season. Now this season's distinction is that it ranks among their most disappointing. In the shadows of the Gang Green's checkered past, that's saying something.

How far back does our disappointment go? How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky? It takes some archival work to itemize it. I'm definitely your guy. To fit the definition of a disappointing year, you must first experience the rush of expectation at the start of a season that makes you say, "This is the year," which for Jets fans mostly means you say, "Maybe we'll make the playoffs this year." There are plenty of years past where such thoughts never entered my mind - the two years of Ritchie Kotite are good examples. Although even I was surprised that the Jets won only one game in 1996. I mean, who expects that without forgoing the team altogether?

To be fair, begin with 1970. To happy fans of our brief championship years, the post-merger turned out to be an enormous letdown. If you exempt the Baltimore Colts as division rivals, the Jets actually went 4-25 against pre-merger NFL teams in the first eight seasons of the 1970's. Now that was disappointing, especially since it was the Jets who vanquished the NFL dragon in Super Bowl III. It's pathetic, actually. But welcome to the Gang Green. It set a marvelous precedent for expectation:

1970: Baltimore's revenge for SB III. Namath injured for the season against the Colts at home. 4-10

1971: Paul Naumoff smacks into Namath in preaseason, rendering Joe lame for most of the season. 6-8

1972: Familiar strains for our year. Then as now, we coexist in our division with an unbeatable team. 7-7

1973: Another revenge for SB III. Namath injured for the season in an away game against the Colts. 4-10

1974: First, the Jets play themselves out of the playoffs, losing to losing teams, but then they win the last six games of the season and raise hopes for 1975. 7-7

1975: And that was a mistake. First, Jets win all their preseason games. And preseason ain't worth a warm bucket of athletic tape. 3-11

Ah, yes - the 1980's. This is the decade where I learned what it would take to be real New York Jets fan. And yet I'm still here. So what does that say?

1980: Everyone everywhere puts the Jets in the conference championship, if not in the Super Bowl. They win four games but grant the Saints their only win, at Shea no less. 4-12

1983: The record shows that there were several close games throughout the year, but the final record was 7-9, nonetheless. Before the opener against San Diego, Richard Todd appeared on the front cover on SI. Need we say more?

1986: The Jets levitate, then look down. By definition this is a disappointing year because they won 10 of 11, then lost five in a row. Commence the nightmares. From here, recovery is very long.

Of course, in order to experience disappointment, you must have had high hopes to begin with. Through most of the 90's, that was never a problem:

1992: It's ridiculous to consider it now, isn't it? But...Browning Nagle: the Man. I mean, he played well in the Hall of Fame Game. Ah well. 4-12

1999: After Carroll, the Faked Spike, Kotite the Savior, and a couple of flirtations with greatness, Vinny Testaverde snaps his Achilles on the newly replaced turf at Giants Stadium at the start of their Super Bowl year. So, no Super Bowl. The Jets recover from a mostly losing first half of the season, then win 6 of 8. Parcells calls the second half of the year his greatest acheivement as a coach, but then quits, arrogantly assuming that Belichick will be there to take his place. The joke has been on us ever since. 8-8

And in this decade? Ebb, flow, flow, ebb, flow, ebb, flow, ebb. All kinds of fertile ground for crushed hope:

2000: Maybe when all the stars aligned against us (Parcells and Belichick gone, Keyshawn gone, Al Groh there) we thought that it meant somehow that we would win regularly. Why would we think this? Even after winning the Monday Night Miracle, we still lost the last three games of the season. 9-7

2003: Familiar injuries to Chad, free agent departures to the Redskins, inconsistency, unhappiness. 6-10

2005: A year most familiar to our own. A kick away from the AFC Championship the year before, and then....familiar injuries to Chad. Brooks Bollinger to the rescue! Herm gave up, and good riddance. 4-12

So prepare for the rebuilding years to come, my friends. The silver linings are of the domestic kind. My wife has just reminded me that as unhappy as I am now when the Jets display a TOTAL INCAPACITY TO THROW THE !@#$%*& BALL DOWNFIELD, I'm still a bigger bastard when I worry about the Jets in the playoffs.

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