The Times recently and incorrectly reported that this is the fifth league/conference championship in which the Jets are appearing. This is of course incorrect and is probably based on the erroneous information Bob Herbert was given for his otherwise affecting article on being a Jets fan. His sense of unrewarded loyalty in this is probably the same as mine - the chance of a Jets championship is about as likely as universal health care for all of America's children under the age of 18. But, hey, what the hell.
This is actually the fourth. Here's the rundown:
December 30, 1968: playing in an icy cold wind that went into turbine at Shea Stadium, the Jets beat the Oakland Raiders in Heidi II, the game that would decide a winner without the interruption of the courageous Swiss girl and her disabled friend and loyal dog, and won the AFL Championship. The rest is literally History, capitalized. My favorite parts of the "AFL Films" 22-minute game recap narrated by Charlie Jones? Randy Beverly trying to trip Fred Bilentikoff after the Raider flanker beat him for a touchdown. Jim Hudson pounding the turf after missing out on a deflected interception. Don Maynard's left...no, right hand sideline catch to set up the winning touchdown, and the fact that my Dad was at the game.
January 23, 1983: you only have to wait a little over 14 years for the next one. The Jets lose to Miami 14-0 in an Orange Bowl that is filled to the ankle with rainwater. It's called the "Mud Bowl," but I recall that the mud in question had largely washed away and that all that was left was what looked like a grayish surface submerged beneath inches of pure agua. Why? (The following is a highly plausible conspiracy theory): Dade County and Don Shula, working in secret tandem, realize that the best way to stop the Jets highly effective running game is to turn the field into a wading pool, so they leave the tarp off during an overnight-into-day spell of rain. It works.
January 17, 1999: In this case you had to wait 16 more years. A whole other adolesence. The Jets lose in Mile High to the Broncos 23-10, despite having more first downs, more passing yards and more overall yards than the home team. They lead at the start of the fourth quarter. However, they gain 14 rushing yards on 13 attempts and cough up four turnovers, and they don't have Terell Davis. They lose. I watch silently in bar while all around me the world seems to go about its merry winter way, as if to mock me, as if to drive me to the realm beyond grief with its falt-out reluctance to get upset about the whole thing. Be adult, they seem to say. And don't worry - and I believed it too - they'll probably be back next year.
Eleven years later, here we are. And face it, no one thought we could do it. I did not. They have been baffling and charming, or at least as charming as a football team can be. And if anything, there is no way to flood Lucas Oil Arena. But I've been subdued all day, thinking about next week's work, thinking about the promise of spring, thinking about Midlake's new album, thinking about baseball and the possibility of the Mets and Phillies really having the rivalry they should in 2010. But God knows when we'll be back in an AFC Championship. Will it happen before the Big Melt? Not this year, my neighbor says about Super Bowl Whicheveritisthisyear. But next year, definitely. I shake my head.