As our eyes adjust to the reality that the NFL season really starts in two days, we have a quick moment to thumb through our local archives, and offer five of the more promising opening games since the Jets won Super Bowl III and gave us the slo-mo of Broadway Joe trotting out of the Orange Bowl, flexing his forefinger.
Any Jets fan of some vintage remembers September 6, 1992, when the world thought they finally found their first franchise quarterback since Joe Namath. That would be Browning Nagle, who led the Jets back from a 17-0 hole and nearly won the game before falling short in Atlanta, 20-17. The focus was not on the loss, for a change, but rather on the second-year QB making his first NFL start one for the archives. Nagle completed 21 of 37 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns, sans a single INT. But, of course, these are the Jets, and they staggered to an 0-4 start on their way to a 4-12 eyesore. Overall, Nagle started 14 NFL games, and won just four of them.
Brett Favre’s first game as part of Gang Green came on Sept. 7, 2008, and the Jets won that opener, 20-14, in Miami. The former Packers legend just finished a 13-3 season in Green Bay, when they made a decision to replace him with another surefire Hall of Famer, Aaron Rodgers, and Favre led the Jets to an 8-3 mark early on, dropping 56 on the Cardinals (who reached that year's Super Bowl) and demolishing the 10-0 Titans, 34-13. Then Favre tanked, left the Jets, and took the Vikings within one wayward pass of reaching the next year's Super Bowl. Typical Jets stuff.
There were a dozen reasons to love August 31, 1997, beyond the 41-3 thrashing of a good Seahawks team in Seattle. It was Bill Parcells' first game wearing the other team's colors at Giants Stadium, and the game that also flushed Rick Kotite down the toilet of history. The Jets went 9-7 that year, barely missing the NFL playoffs, but it sure beat the gruesome 1-15 campaign just the year before. Only Parcells knows why he left a Patriots club he just took to the Super Bowl, or why the defining fight was with the owner over "groceries," or how all of his quirks made him the best rebuilder of bad teams in league history. But Gang Green was thrilled to have him in the arena named after Big Blue.
On September 13, the Jets spanked the Texans, 24-7, in Houston. The deed itself was fine, but it also rang the cowbell on Rex Ryan's arrival. The rotund rookie coach arrived like a nor'easter, filled with frigid wind and hot air and a promise not to kiss the ring of the Pope of Pro Football, Bill Belichick. We thought he was nuts, and out of his depth. Yet Ryan's Jets won their first three games of the 2009 season, led by rookie QB Mark Sanchez, who would soon earn the handle “Sanchise.” These brand new ballers went 9-7, bagged a wild card spot, and then stunned the league by winning two road playoff games and coming close to reaching the Super Bowl before losing the AFC title game to the Colts. Some might say 2010 was better, since they went 11-5 and sent the Pats packing in the playoffs, but those Jets had already been there. Ryan is still the only Jets head coach with four road playoff wins, and the Jets haven't come that close to a Lombardi Trophy since.
How can we omit the Jets' only magical season? It started on September 15, with 20-19 win over the Chiefs in Kansas City. Not only was the AFL asserting itself and joining the NFL's orbit, but the Chiefs had already played in the first Super Bowl two years earlier, and would wind up winning Super Bowl IV. In the meantime, the Jets finished the 1968 campaign on an 8-1 run, with their lone loss coming to the Raiders, 43-32, on November 17. They would get one more shot at Oakland, in one of the coldest and most vicious games ever played, all fought on the tattered grass and dusty infield of Shea Stadium. Namath, who led the Jets to their 11-3 mark and captained their march to Super Bowl III, said that he and the club knew the Raiders would be the best team they'd played all year - and that includes the monster waiting for them in Miami, the 13-1 Baltimore Colts. As Tom Jackson said, Joe Namath may not be the NFL's most important player, but he won its most important game.