"We're gonna win the game. I guarantee you."
Those immortal words came from quarterback Joe Namath in January of 1969, just three nights before AFL-NFL World Championship Game featuring his New York Jets and the Baltimore Colts. He uttered sport’s most famous guarantee while being honored at the Miami Touchdown Club as their Player of The Year.
Namath had grown tired of the hecklers in the audience saying his AFL Jets weren’t as good as the NFL’s Colts. The Jets were heavy underdogs entering the game that for the first time was being called the “Super Bowl.” In retrospect, it would be known as Super Bowl III.
Eventually, the Jets shocked the football world by defeating the Colts 16-7. The surprising victory proved the supposedly “inferior” AFL could compete with the “superior” NFL. The excitement surrounding Namath and his prediction helped establish the Super Bowl as America’s premier sporting event.
Super Bowl III was a watershed moment for the league but for the Jets it was the pinnacle of their success. The franchise hasn’t been to another Super Bowl since, and as of 2008, they’ve only played in two AFC Championship games.
The Jets began their existence in 1960 as the New York Titans. They were part of the American Football League and played their home games at the Polo Grounds. In 1964, the team moved to Shea Stadium.
The Jets selected Namath number one overall in 1965 AFL Draft. Namath would go to win two AFL MVP awards and be selected to four AFL All-Star games. Despite only throwing for 27,663 yards, and having a career quarterback rating of 65.5 in his 13-year career, Namath was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Many believed his enshrinement into Canton was the sole product of predicting, then winning, Super Bowl III.
After the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, Namath struggled to stay healthy and to stay productive. In 1977, he left the Jets for the Los Angeles Rams but retired after only one season. Namath was inducted into the hall of the fame in 1985.
The Jets went the entire decade of the 1970’s without a playoff appearance. The low light of this era was the 1976 season. The team finished 3-11 during the ill-fated Lou Holtz head coaching experiment. Holtz was with the Jets for just that one season but his tenure is often considered one of the worst coaching jobs in history of the league.
Under their next head coach, Walt Michaels, the Jets would finally return to the playoffs at the end of the 1981 season. A year later, New York would reach the AFC Championship Game but lose to the Miami Dolphins thanks in large part to Jets quarterback Richard Todd throwing five interceptions.
Todd’s career is a perfect example of how much the league has changed since the early 1980’s. Like Namath, Todd played for Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama. He joined the Jets in 1976, Namath’s last season with the team. After a couple of years of flip-flopping between starting and sitting on the bench, Todd led the Jets to an 8-8 record in 1979.
Then in 1980 he threw 30-interceptions in a season where his team finished 4-12. Amazingly, the Jets brought him back the next year. Nowadays, it would be unfathomable for a franchise to return a quarterback that averaged nearly two interceptions a game.
Of course, Todd’s productive 1981 campaign wasn’t without drama. Early in the season, when the team was struggling, Todd shoved sports writer Steve Serby into a locker for asking about a change in quarterback.
In 1984, the team left Shea Stadium for Giants Stadium located in East Rutherford, New Jersey. As the name suggest, this is also the home stadium for the New York Giants.
The move was precipitated by the city’s unwillingness to improve Shea Stadium and the fact that the venue’s primary resident, the New York Mets, wouldn’t allow the Jets to play home games until after the baseball season was over. This resulted in the Jets beginning their season on long road trips.
The Jets of the early 1980’s were punctuated by a fierce defensive line nicknamed the “New York Sack Exchange.” This group was led by All-Pro Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko and featured interior linemen Marty Lyons and Adbul Salaam.
Gastineau was a flamboyant defensive end and one of the most-feared pass rushers in football history. In 1984, he established the record for most sacks in a season with 22. That record stood until 2001 when it was broken by Giants defensive end Michael Strahan.
Gastineau is also credited with inventing, or at least popularizing, the sack dance. One such sack dance ended with Gastineau getting into a shoving match with the opposing team’s linemen. In 1983, Los Angeles Rams offensive tackle, future hall of famer Jackie Slater, took exception to Gastineau’s prancing around after a sacked of Rams quarterback Vince Ferragamo. A fracas ensued that has since been immortalized in NFL Films.
Off the field, Gastineau became fodder for tabloids due to his relationship with actress Brigitte Nielsen. When it was all said and done, Gastineau finished his career with a 107 ½ sacks, 5 Pro Bowl selections, 4 first-team All-Pro selections and the 1982 Defensive Player of the Year Award.
The next decade of Jets history is littered with failure, tragedy, and infamy. Some of the lowlights include selecting quarterback Ken O’Brien over Dan Marino in the 1983 draft; Gastineau’s roughing the passer penalty that eventually knocked the team out of the 1986 playoffs; quarterback Browning Nagle; Dennis Byrd’s temporarily paralyses in 1992; Dan Marino burning the team in a play known as “The Fake Spike” in 1994; and Rich Kotite’s two year tenure (1995-96) as head coach of the Jets in which the team compiled a 4-28 record.
In 1997, the Jets hired coaching legend Bill Parcells and gave him full control of all personnel decisions. After signing running back Curtis Martin, Parcells led the Jets to the AFC Championship game where they lost to running back Terrell Davis and the Denver Broncos.
In addition to Martin, that Jets team featured wide outs Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet (both of whom had over 1,000 yards receiving) as well as quarterback Vinny Testaverde.
The 1999 season started in a veil of tragedy as longtime owner Leon Hess died in May at the age of 85. Any hopes the Jets had to return to the playoffs were dashed when Testaverde ruptured his Achilles tendon in Week 1.
In 2000, the Jets rallied from a 30-7 deficit in the fourth quarter of a Monday night game against their division rivals the Dolphins. It was the biggest comeback in Monday Night Football history and the game has since been dubbed “The Monday Night Miracle.”
That season ended with the Jets’ player nearly mutinying against head coach Al Groh for his militaristic style of coaching. Needless to say Groh was fired at the end of the season.
The 21st century would see the Jets hire two young and promising coaches, Herman Edwards (2001-2005) and Eric Mangini (2006-2008). With a strong defense to work with, these two coaches led the Jets to four playoff appearances.
This era also featured future hall of fame quarterback Brett Favre. The former Green Bay Packer played with the Jets in 2008. The team barely missed the playoffs after a strong start to the season.
In 2013, the Jets hired former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and drafted USC quarterback Mark Sanchez with the number fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft.
The Jets play in the East Division of the AFC. As of 2013, the team moved into the new Met Life Stadium located in East Rutherford, New Jersey.