It’s always tricky manipulating the memories of the masses. You know how you hear players or coaches periodically complain after an especially pointed question, “Please don’t put words in my mouth” — often as not deleting the “please” part?
Fans are that way, and rightly so. They don’t want outsiders to stuff memories in their brains. They have their own memories. And they are as diverse as the UN parking garage.
As you can imagine, a columnist’s email inbox is rarely as flooded as it is on the morning after Something Big happens. Now, sometimes Something Big can be a terrible loss, or a heart-breaking injury, or a big name retiring. Friday morning’s mailbag brought plenty of David Wright reminiscences, as you might expect.
That was nothing compared to Tuesday, though.
Tuesday was, to quote that old Jerry Seinfeld American Express commercial, the releasing of the hounds, the outpouring of years of accumulated frustration on the part of Jets fans who not only wanted to have their say about that 48-17 pasting of the Lions the night before, they had to have their say, like writing those emails was as involuntary as breathing or blinking.
So it begged a question that I posed to a few of them:
Is this the most anticipated home opener in Jets history?
And there was an element — much of it skewing young, some of it blinded by recency bias, who immediately declared: Yes! Such is the sweet seduction of 1) a young quarterback; 2) a 31-point opening-game victory; and 3) bloodying a Belichick Boy as thoroughly and as relentlessly as the Jets de-bearded Matt Patricia in his debut.
So yes, there will undoubtedly be an electricity in the air at MetLife Stadium on Sunday afternoon that’s been missing for years. Oh, it’s visited occasionally, most recently the 26-20 overtime win over New England in Week 16 two years ago that set the Jets up on the brink of the playoffs. That speaks to the funk and the fog that has enveloped this franchise for so long.
Ah, but Jets fans are nothing of not fiercely proud of their devotions, and of their unofficial title of “long-suffering,” and so for Jets fans with longer-than-average memories, there are a few others that spring to mind (of course, since they are Jets memories, almost none of them have happy endings …)
In reverse chronological order, in the 50 years since Super Bowl III:
Sept. 11, 2011: The Jets had been to back-to-back AFC title games, and there was a sense the third time would be the charm, and there had been the uncertainty of a lockout at the start of training camp, and then there was a high-profile opener on “Sunday Night Football” at home against Dallas, and the Jets spotting the Cowboys a 24-10 lead, and the Jets coming roaring back in the fourth quarter, tying the game on a blocked punt and winning it on a 50-yard field goal. Unfortunately, that may have been the season’s high-water mark. The low-water mark would be Christmas Eve against the Giants. Enough said.
Sept. 13, 2010: The season would end 11-5 and contain some brilliant moments. But their first game at MetLife, while hotly anticipated because of how well they’d finished in 2009, was a 10-9 rock-fight loss to the Ravens that only a Ryan Brother could love.
Sept 20, 2009: Whatever cartoon Rex Ryan became later on, he was in his greatest iteration in the week before his first home game as Jets coach, the last home opener at Giants Stadium. That was when he declared he wouldn’t kiss Bill Belichick’s rings. He was the centerpiece of a massive phone blitz of Jets season-ticket holders. Many longtime Jets fans swear the old stadium was never louder than for Jets 16, Pats 9.
Sept. 14, 2008: The first home game for Brett (The Jet) Favre. Tom Brady had been lost for the season a week earlier. The road to glory seemed so wide-open and inviting … and the Matt Cassel outplayed Favre and the Pats outscored the Jets, 19-10, and … pffft.
Sept. 12, 1999: This is the one, of course. A year after 12-4, as a consensus favorite to make the Super Bowl, on a glorious day in East Rutherford, Vinny Testaverde’s season came to an end before the first quarter did on the unforgiving turf of Giants Stadium. Of all the battle ribbons that adorn the chests of Jets fans, this is one that invariably elicits the loudest groans.
Sept. 21, 1987: The Jets had come so close in Cleveland the year before, they had everybody back, they’d gone on the road and ruined Jim Kelly’s debut in Buffalo, then they stomped the two-time defending AFC East champ Patriots 43-24, looking as sharp as they’d looked in years … and at midnight, a few minutes after the final gun, the NFLPA went on strike. And that was that for a team that would be torn apart by the work stoppage.
Sept. 11, 1982: Eight months removed from the AFC Championship game, a popular Super Bowl pick, fresh off a 41-29 thumping at the high-flying Chargers on opening day … and the Jets’ final home opener at Shea was an utter dud and a dreadful harbinger all at once: a 17-10 loss to the Seahawks and a deep descent toward 7-9.