If Joe Namath's Super Bowl guarantee was Jets' zenith, Butt Fumble was the nadir
The Good, Bad, Ugly and Bizarre of the Jets, from Namath's guarantee to the Butt Fumble
Back in May the NFL writers and editors at CBSSports.com gathered together to discuss the key figures and moments of every NFL franchise in the Super Bowl era. Before long we were discussing every team's best and worst moments, along with their most-hated players and coaches, as well as some of the more bizarre things each team has been involved in. That spirited discussion produced this series -- the Good, Bad, Ugly and, sometimes, Bizarre moments for every team. We continue with the New York Jets.
Joe Namath's Super Bowl guarantee
If Joe Namath played in today's NFL, he would probably be nothing like the freewheeling, gunslingin', gum-flapping quarterback that helped the Jets to that improbable Super Bowl III victory over the Colts. Media scrutiny and endorsement money serve as guides for the league's biggest stars. Which means banal responses to even the most innocuous interview questions, and generally doing whatever it takes to avoid anything resembling controversy.
Thank God Broadway Joe played in an age before Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. Because three days before the upstart Jets faced the 13-1 Colts in Super Bowl III, Namath did something no quarterback would even consider today: promised victory.
"We're going to win Sunday. I guarantee it," Namath told the audience at the Miami Touchdown Club.
Even more unlikely than uttering those eight words days before the biggest spectacle in sports? Namath delivered them as a "drunken afterthought in response to a heckler," according to Namath, A Biography author Mark Kriegel.
Imagine if Russell Wilson or Peyton Manning or Tom Brady showed up at Super Bowl media day, three sheets to the wind and goaded by trolls, to proclaim victory imminent. The #hottakes would cause the internet to spontaneously combust.
But 47 years ago, Namath's comments barely registered; as Les Carpenter of the Washington Post recounted in 2007, Namath's guarantee came at an evening banquet, "after many writers had long finished their stories and were either out to dinner or enjoying the ceremony from the back of the room." There were no television cameras present, and the sole mention of the guarantee the next day was "12 paragraphs squeezed into the bottom of the Miami Herald."
For an idea of how completely different the Super Bowl has become -- in both popularity and accessibility -- consider the iconic photograph from Walter Iooss Jr. in the days leading up to the Jets-Colts game of Namath kickin' it poolside, chatting up reporters and gawkers alike. Iooss wrote about the photograph for ThePlayersTribune.com:
This picture is all about Joe Namath's charm with people. You can't get much cooler than Joe. My colleague Neil Leifer was sent to cover the Colts that week, and I thought he had the good assignment. I was sent to follow the lesser Jets. I went to the pool to see Joe Namath hanging out, and there was no one there.
If you look at the photo closely, you'll notice Brent Musburger sitting on the left side. Those two ladies standing over Namath with the bouffant hairdos were from Alabama. They went to every game Joe Namath played. If you look at the paper that the guy is using to shield himself from the sun, Joe's picture is on the back page. Joe Namath made the Super Bowl happen.
But even Namath knew that he may have gone too far once the media picked up on The Guarantee.
"Joe told me, 'I said something tonight that's gonna be all over the news tomorrow,'" Jets cornerback Johnny Sample said in 2005. "I asked him, 'What the heck did you say?' He told me he guaranteed we'd win the game. I said, 'Man, you didn't say that.' He said yeah, he did.
"The thing was, we all thought we'd win the game. We had studied film on the Colts and we were really confident. But a guarantee? Joe said, 'Well, we're gonna win, aren't we?' I said, 'Yeah, Joe, we're gonna win, but you shouldn't have said it.'"
Jets coach Weeb Ewbank wasn't quite as understanding; he found out about The Guarantee by seeing it splashed across the front page of the newspaper.
"I asked Joe what possessed him to do such a thing," Ewbank said at the time. "I said, 'Don't you know [coach Don] Shula will use this to fire up his team?' Joe said, 'Coach, if they need press clippings to get ready, they're in trouble.'
"I could have shot him for saying it. But Joe always had a way of delivering. He didn't mind pressure. It seemed to make him play better. I figured, if he said it, he would just have to back it up."
Funny story: The Jets were 18-point underdogs.
When it was over, Namath was 17 of 28 for 206 yards (0 TDs, 0 INTs) and running back Matt Snell, who finished with 121 rushing yards on 30 carries, accounted for the Jets' only touchdown. Jim Turner also converted three field goals and the Jets won 16-7, leading to another iconic photo, again discussed by Iooss in the same piece.
"If you took this same photo today with a digital camera, it wouldn't be blurred," Iooss wrote. "It would be tack sharp. But it wouldn't have the same feel. It's dreamlike. Somehow, it captures the fleeting moment of Joe."
Namath's numbers appear unspectacular, but this was also decades before the NFL morphed into a passing league; he was named Super Bowl III MVP, and as Sample noted later, "Everything that happened that day revolved around Joe."
"We touched a lot of people's lives," Namath said years later. "I can't tell you how many times I have had people tell me they used our win as a motivating force. Teachers, coaches, everyday people. The moral is the same: If the Jets did it, you can do it.
"We sent a message to all the underdogs out there. If you want something bad enough and you aren't afraid to lay it on the line, you can do it. It's an important message because if people don't have hope, really, what do they have?"
Losing Bill Belichick to the Patriots
In the pantheon of Awkward Bill Belichick Media Moments, this remains firmly entrenched as No. 1:
The backstory: After the Browns fired Belichick following the 1995 season, he joined Bill Parcells' staff in New England. Parcells had served as Belichick's mentor during their 12 years together with the Giants, so it wasn't surprising that they would reunite. The duo would leave the Patriots after the 1996 season and join the Jets, where Parcells was the head coach and Belichick was defensive coordinator.
(Technically, Belichick would serve as the Jets' interim coach until the Patriots and Jets could work out compensation for allowing Parcells to leave New England for New York. Six days later, Parcells was the Jets coach and Belichick again his trusty assistant.)
When Parcells (temporarily) retired following the 1999 season, the Jets hired Belichick, a promotion that came as a surprise to no one because Belichick's contract stipulated that he would succeed Parcells. Moreover, Parcells would remain the Jets' director of football operations, which granted him final say in all football decisions, and he fully supported the move.
In the hours after his announcement, Belichick "appeared to embrace his new duties," according to Parcells' account to SI.com's Nunyo Demasio in 2014, but things changed quickly.
A couple of hours later, at roughly 6 p.m., Parcells was in the coaches' locker room when Belichick walked in and asked Big Bill to revisit New England's interview request. Startled by the query, Parcells reminded Belichick of his apparent eagerness only a day earlier to finally take over. Belichick countered that uncertainty about the Jets' changing ownership -- the estate of longtime owner Leon Hess, who had died the previous spring, was weighing competing bids from Johnson & Johnson heir Woody Johnson and Cablevision founder Charles Dolan -- was giving him second thoughts. The remarks angered Parcells, who warned Belichick that the club wouldn't allow him to interview with the Patriots or any other team.
But Belichick was enamored with the idea of having personnel and coaching duties in New England, and he was familiar with Patriots owner Robert Kraft from previously working for the team. Meanwhile, Parcells thought his protege was just exploring his options, but fully intended to remain the Jets new coach.
The next day, Belichick " appeared nervous and agitated" ahead of his introductory press conference which, we would all find out together, was used for Belichick to announce his resignation.
"[Parcells] told me, 'If you feel that undecided, maybe you shouldn't take this job.' I took Bill's words to heart -- thought about it last night," Belichick told a stunned room of journalists.
After Belichick left, team president Steve Gutman took the podium. Shocked and angered, he told the assembled media that, "We should have some feelings of sorrow and regret for [Belichick] and his family. He's obviously in some inner turmoil."
(Interesting aside: With Belichick gone and the Jets' coaching situation in limbo, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who would later serve as Belichick's offensive coordinator in New England, told Parcells he wanted the head coaching job. Parcells, who had no interest in returning to the sidelines, had already targeted someone else: Al Groh.)
Belichick field a grievance with the league office to interview with other teams. The Jets countered by sending then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue a copy of Belichick's contract. Tagliabue informed every team that Belichick couldn't be hired until a ruling was made.
Weeks later, Tagliabue ruled in favor of the Jets and prohibited Belichick from coaching in 2000 -- barring consent from or compensation for the Jets.
But after negotiating with Parcells, Kraft agreed to give up the Patriots' 2000 first-round pick for future late-round considerations. As part of the deal, Belichick could also take two Jets staffers with him to New England. In an ironic twist, those two staffers were Scott Pioli and Eric Mangini. Mangini, who would become the Jets coach in 2006, is responsible for complaining to the league about the Patriots illegally filming opponents, which led to the Spygate scandal.
Since 2000, the Jets are 127-129 (.496 winning percentage). They've made the playoffs six times, the last two coming in Rex Ryan's first two seasons with the team (2009-10). The Patriots, meanwhile, are 187-69 (.731 winning percentage) during that time. They've made the playoffs 13 times, won four Super Bowls and have had just one losing season under Belichick -- his first. They have also won 11 regular-season games at least 12 times, and went 16-0 in 2007.
"At that point in time, that situation, I did what I felt like I needed to do and I don't have any regrets about that," Belichick explained in 2011 about his decision to leave the Jets. "Certainly a lot of things could have been handled differently or whatever but anyway. It doesn't matter now."
The Butt Fumble
Perhaps it's fitting that one of the most embarrassing plays in recent NFL history involved the Jets and the Patriots. The two teams met at MetLife Stadium on Thanksgiving night in 2012 in a nationally televised game. Things got out of hand early, and by halftime the Pats led 35-3. New England would cruise to a 49-19 victory.
But the only thing anyone remembers from that night is Mark Sanchez running full speed into the backside of Jets guard Brandon Moore. The collision caused Sanchez to fumble, and it was recovered by Patriots safety Steve Gregory, who sashayed into the end zone to give New England a 21-0 lead.
Moore wasn't shocked by the notoriety -- "The littlest things nowadays turn into internet sensations; it's not surprising" -- but that doesn't mean he wasn't bothered by it.
"Yeah, to be part of something like that is ... it's not something you want to be part of."
Not helping: NBC color analyst Cris Collinsworth's description of what went wrong on the play.
Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork "just threw Brandon Moore into Mark Sanchez," Collinsworth said moments after it appeared that, well, Wilfork threw Moore into Sanchez. "... This is what Reggie White used to do to people, just fork-lift them."
Moore wasn't impressed.
"The Collinsworth guy, I've never really been a big fan of his," Moore said. "To portray it that way and to see it on TV ... when somebody slides into the back of you, you're going to fall. That happens a lot in general. You don't know what's going on [behind you]. I didn't know what was going on until after the game. During the game, I didn't know. It's a good thing."
The Jets didn't play another nationally televised home game until September 2014 against the Bears. In the days leading up to the meeting, Ryan promised a better effort than the Butt Fumble Bowl.
"Yeah let's hope that doesn't happen again -- yikes," he said at the time. "It won't be hard to show better than that. I will guarantee we play better than that. Talk about going out on a limb. That's true, though, that was horrible."
The Bears won 27-19 and Jets starting quarterback Geno Smith didn't fumble once.
A month later, ahead of another Jets-Patriots get-together, whoever was running New England's Twitter feed (we'd like to think it was Belichick), sent this out:
The Pats won 27-25 which dropped the Jets to 1-6 on their way to a 1-8 start and, ultimately, a 4-12 finish. Ryan was fired after the season, and a short time later, hired by the Bills, where he could be on his way out if the team doesn't make the playoffs.
All the Rex Ryan weirdness
Rex Ryan loves his wife, and there's a lot to be said for that. But there's also something to be said for discretion, especially when you're in a high-profile job in the nation's biggest media market.
Back in 2010, Ryan's second season in with the Jets, a foot-fetish video emerged online and it appeared to feature his wife, Michelle, with Ryan operating the camera. Ryan didn't deny the report, but he also wouldn't discuss the matter.
"To be honest, and I get it, I know you need to ask and all that stuff," Ryan said at the time about the possibility of the video become a distraction (via ESPN.com). "But it's a personal matter and I'm really not going to discuss it, OK?"
Asked again about the video, Ryan repeated, "I understand I'm going to get asked this question frontways, sideways, backways, and all this, but it is a personal matter."
Cornerback Darrelle Revis told reporters that Ryan addressed the team before meeting with the media.
"His message this morning was, you know, he said, 'You guys might know about this internet situation, some of you guys might not know.' He said, 'You'll find out later on today.' He said, 'Right now, I feel embarrassed. ... Right now, we need to focus on Chicago," Revis said at the time.
But Revis added that he didn't care about the video or its content.
"Foot fetish? Whatever. I mean, that's his wife," the cornerback said. "At the end of the day, that's his wife and he can do whatever he wants with his wife. It's not like he's out committing adultery or anything negative."
Fair enough. But feet were again the story last September, as Ryan, then the new coach of the Bills, was photographed at his desk to promote the North Shore Animal League America, an animal rescue and adoption organization. In the background: what looks to be a framed photo of feet.
While Ryan's love for his wife is undeniable, we question how he chooses to express himself. And we're not even talking about the aforementioned videos. We mean the decision to get a tattoo of his wife on his right arm -- she appears to be Tebowing (remember when that was a thing?) and worse, she's wearing a Sanchez jersey.
"I know what you're thinking," Ryan said at the time, via the New York Daily News. "Obviously if Sanchez doesn't play better then that number's changing. That's pretty much a given."
Fun fact: Sanchez never played another regular-season game for the Jets.
Not to worry, though; once canned by the Jets, Ryan had the tattoo altered.
Forking over $80, Ryan visited an Arizona tattoo parlor and had the artist darken the Jets green jersey to Bills blue.
"I mean, you've got to turn the page," Ryan said, via WSJ.com.
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More Good, Bad, Ugly and the Bizarre
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