by Cecilio Rosario
Geno Smith might be doomed.
Last Tuesday, the oft-maligned, turnover prone young quarterback became (yet again) the subject of scorn and ridicule. His locker-room confrontation with second-year linebacker IK Enemkpali—over a $600 plane ticket–was first reported as a simple sucker-punch. As of now, however, Smith is being been held a bit more accountable for escalating the situation. As new details have surfaced, it appears that Geno may have goaded his teammate and challenged his teammate’s manhood, a big mistake in a game where proving you’re tough underlines practically everything you do (though Brandon Marshall disputes this version of events).
Smith’s locker room altercation exposed a bigger problem: his apparent inability to command the kind of respect integral to being the Alpha of a pro football wolfpack. The Jets now have to rely on Ryan Fitzpatrick, an 11-year veteran who has shown flashes of talent over his career but doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a franchise QB. Unless he cuts down on his turnovers (especially in the red zone) and the Jets’ defense carries the load, Fitzpatrick won’t deliver us to the promised land.
When you step back and look at the Jets’ quarterback issues over the years (remember “Sanchise”?), there’s only one logical conclusion: the Jets are cursed. Granted, this isn’t logical; but in sports, superstitions are totally valid. Especially when other teams seem to get all the breaks.
The Curse of The Guarantee
The Gang Green QB Curse, dates all the way back to the legendary 1969 title run of “Broadway” Joe Namath. That’s right, I said it.
Perhaps Joe Willie Namath made a pact with The Prince of Darkness down in Miami over a few Manhattans. Maybe when Namath responded to a heckler with what came to be known as “The Guarantee,” Lucifer gave Joe a little something extra on game day to get the job done. The world may never know. But Since then, top-level, long-lasting franchise quarterbacks have dodged Jets like smart kids avoid licorice on Halloween.
Let’s take a look at some of the somewhat highly touted QBs who’ve been victims of the Curse.
Joe Namath. Let’s start with Broadway Joe himself. Blessed with an incredible arm and raw athleticism, Namath had a standout career at Alabama before becoming a young celebrity and ‘lady-killer’ for the Jets. After The Guarantee and his subsequent Super Bowl victory, Namath’s contract with El Diablo kicked in like a Habanero: his troublesome knees took a turn for the worse, and he was never the same again.
Richard Todd. Drafted as Broadway Joe’s successor in 1976, the first-rounder was interception prone and oft-jeered. Todd gained added notoriety when he shoved New York Post reporter Steve Serby into a locker, when Serby openly supported Todd’s backup (imagine that happening in today’s super scrutinized NFL). He led the Jets to the postseason in 1981 and 1982, but they never made it to the big game. Todd ended up being traded to the New Orleans, opening up a spot to make way for…
Ken O’Brien. Kenny O’Brien was a solid member of the vaunted “class of 1983” of quarterbacks. Still widely considered the best quarterback class in NFL history, the Class of ’83 included Hall of Famers John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly. as well as standouts Tony Eason and Todd Blackledge. Known to be a great downfield passer, O’Brien had a career passer rating of 80.4 and even sported the NFL’s highest passer rating in 1985. Unfortunately, though he was good, he was never quite great. After Kenny’s days in the sun ended, there was a brief stint by the underwhelming Browning Nagle and then…
Boomer Esiason. “Boomer.” The name alone sounds like an old-school winner. The Long Island native began his career with the Cincinnati Bengals, even making the 1988 Super Bowl before being defeated by a signature “I’m Joe Montana and you’re not” drive. Traded to the Jets in 1993 for a third round pick, he sported an 84.5 passer rating his first season in green. Esaison would go on to be known as one of the best lefty quarterbacks in NFL history, but as a Jet he was on the downside of an illustrious career.
Neil O’Donnell. Born in New Jersey, Neil O’Donnell was yet another local. He only lasted two seasons with the Jets, despite making it to a Super Bowl as a Pittsburgh Steeler and otherwise having a serviceable career. His signature cursed moment? Injuring his shoulder during Rich Kotite’s infamous 1-15 campaign–during warm-ups. Then tearing his calf when he came back. Despite finishing his career with the lowest interception rate in NFL history (a record later eclipsed by Aaron Rodgers), O’Donnell’s passer rating as a Jet was only 76.7.
Vinny Testaverde. Vinny Testaverde was a product of The U, Miami University’s famed football program, and won the Heisman Trophy in 1986. Born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, he continued the Jets tradition of locally born signal callers. Testaverde led the Jets to the 1998 AFC Championship game, a game it actually felt like they might win–at least at halftime. Though they lost to the Denver Broncos (who would go on to win the Super Bowl), the Jets were still favored to make a title run the following fall …until Testaverde blew out his Achilles tendon in the first week of the season. I remember watching Keyshawn Johnson pound the podium at the postgame press conference, his head hung low, on the verge of tears. His fists pounding the wood said it all. Testaverde was never the same after that.
Chad Pennington. Straight outta Marshall, Chad eventually took over for Vinny. Pennington was accurate and athletic, and had all the makings of a leader, but (of course) he had a host of injury problems. He tore his rotator cuff twice, diminishing his already weak arm. 2006 was his only full season at the helm. He provided some thrills, and was so effing close…but no cigar. It just so happened that a disgruntled gunslinger was in the midst of an ugly breakup with a team he’d taken to the big game…
Brett Favre. This is the one, I thought. Perfect scenario: Super Bowl champion and living legend, with a chip on his shoulder and something left in the tank. We slotted him in and made a run. Then he tore his biceps tendon IN HIS THROWING ARM and decided not to tell anybody. The Jets could have gotten someone to step in and give Favre, who’d played well as a Jet, a chance to heal. Instead, he was awful down the stretch and the curse continued to rear its ugly head. Why, Farve, why?
Mark Sanchez. Also known as The Sanchize, even though Pete Carroll, his coach at USC, he wasn’t quite ready. It turned out that Pete Carroll was right. After leading the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championships, the first-round pick regressed suddenly and steadily and never panned out as the savior he was hailed to be. Sanchez often looked like a deer staring down a Mack truck when he dropped back, and this wasn’t helped by the Jets’ perplexing refusal to properly build around him. Then there was the infamous Butt Fumble, one of the most embarrassing turnovers in the history of turnovers. It could’ve happened to a lot of people, but of course, it had to happen to Sanchez. On Thanksgiving, on national television. Against the Patriots. And now, back to where we started…
Geno Smith. He just got his jaw wired shut to begin his third year, the year where there are far fewer excuses for a quarterback’s maturation process or lack thereof. I have hope for the guy, despite his 34 interceptions and 71.1 passer rating. I think I’m one of the only ones left. In the meantime, I’m holding out hope that Fitzpatrick can help break the curse. But if he doesn’t, he shouldn’t feel bad.
Otherworldy forces are at work.