The New York Jets held a press conference on March 25th to reveal the worst kept secret in the NFL. The Jets will be the subject of the latest edition of NFL Hard Knocks on HBO. Cameras will follow the players and coaches around the SUNY Cortland campus, football field, and training rooms to get an inside look at the up and coming team. And it’s a logical choice for HBO and the NFL.
The Jets made an impressive and improbable run to the AFC Championship game last year and have one of the most outspoken head coaches in the NFL, Rex Ryan, who is a reporter’s best friend with his never-ending line of quips that sell newspapers and get the internet in a tizzy. Add to the mix compelling players like Mark Sanchez (sophomore QB adjusting to fame and responsibility), LaDanian Tomlinson (aging HOF-er looking for one last shot at a title), Darelle Revis (emerged as top shut-down corner in the league in 2009), and the usual rookie position battles that Hard Knocks always follows and the Jets opening a new stadium (with the Giants, but more on that in a but) it will make for a compelling season.
This is also the way the Jets want it. Owner Woody Johnson wants his team in the spotlight and highlighting the back pages of the New York papers. The new Meadowlands Stadium will receive plenty of fan fare and possibly a turn as a Super Bowl host, but it has been daunting for the Jets to sell off their season tickets and PSL’s in a tough economy, especially when watching football at home with widescreen HDTV’s has become so popular. Johnson wants Ryan to be bombastic and bring in all the attention from the media as long as everyone keeps saying “Jets.”
The Jets, from the owner to every last fan suffers a massive inferiority complex comparing themselves to the Giants. The Giants have the old-school and loyal fan base, a rich history (dating back to the fifties and three Super Bowls in the last 25 years) and HAD THEIR NAME ON THE STADIUM THEY SHARED WITH THE JETS! That needed to be in caps because it drove Jets fans crazy more than anything. That is what this coin-flip drama was about. After the Jets finished off a great season and the Giants looked so terrible at the end, the Jets wanted to open the new stadium that didn’t have the moniker of another team. And when they didn’t get it, Woody ensured that everyone would still be talking about it, from the Jets perspective.
But it’s not just the Jets’ off-field issues that the football media are talking about. Many now have the Jets as the favorite in the AFC East, over Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Even former Patriot and current ESPN commentator Teddy Bruschi says the Jets off-season additions have made the Jets the favorites over his former squad. The Jets have not been hamstrung by the “Final Eight” rule in the uncapped year that doesn’t allow them to sign the top free agents but they have still found a new cornerback (Antonio Cromartie) and a new change of pace running back (Tomlinson) and still have the upcoming NFL draft to work with. As bad as the Patriots looked in their last game, a blow-out playoff loss at home to the Ravens, being considered better than they are is not something Jets fans are used to or can handle comfortably.
As March is nearing its end, I am more excited for the NFL draft, the release of the 2010 NFL schedule and training camp four months from now than I am for the start of the Mets season in less than two weeks. And that scares me as a Jets fan. I am not used to being this confident in this team. It seems whenever we (Jets fans) expect the Jets to do well, they find a new way to lose. Looks at 1999. After John Elway retired from the two-time champion Denver Broncos, many had the Jets as the favorites to win the AFC. But quarterback Vinny Testaverde tore his Achilles Tendon in the first game and the Jets went 8-8. Under Herm Edwards and Eric Mangini, the Jets made the playoffs when we didn’t expect them to and collapsed when we thought they would thrive. Remember, the 2009 Jets went from “Same Old Jets” to on the cusp of the Super Bowl thanks to some fortuitous bounces and scheduling.
More than any other fan base, Jets fans can’t handle compliments. Because it usually means an insult is around the corner. So all this attention on the franchise and praise for the team on the field has a lot of Jets fans (myself included) feeling skittish. Last year’s Bengals team and the 2001 Ravens are the only teams to make the playoffs after appearing on Hard Knocks. The Chiefs and Cowboys (twice) have had forgettable seasons after their Hard Knocks turns. And the favorites to win the division crown over the Patriots and Miami Dolphins, as accurate as that might look on paper, has every Jets fan in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar position. We are the favorites. We are the media darlings. We are the young and exciting team that will probably see a fair share of Sunday, Monday, and Thursday night games on national television.
And because of all of that, we are patiently waiting for that other shoe to drop.