Jets fans want someone (or multiple someones) to blame for the 2012 season. It’s an understandable emotion. Despite what should have been muted expectations, there was an odd sense of optimism after Gang Green thrashed the Bills in Week 1. 10-6 was possible. Hell, 9-7 seemed likely. 15 weeks later and whatever hopes remained were just intercepted by Jason McCourty – again.
So who should Jets fans line up for the firing squad? Mike Tannenbaum? Rex Ryan? Or even owner Woody Johnson? Nope. This is all Peyton Manning’s fault.
The year was 1997. The date was March 5. The Jets, owners of the No. 1 overall pick, had just hired Bill Parcells away from New England after going 1-15 under Rich Kotite. Manning held a news conference at the University of Tennessee field house to announce he was staying in school for one more year. And just like that, everything changed.
Whether Peyton wanted to chase a national title, a Heisman or just some more college ass, he sure as hell didn’t want to be a Jet. It’s a widely speculated and totally unproven fact that Manning returned to school because the Jets had the top pick. But can you blame him? The Jets were a mess. They hadn’t finished above .500 without the aid of a tie in a decade. Their offensive weaponry was pretty much limited to a scrappy, undersized wide receiver named Wayne Chrebet and the brief success that was Adrian Murrell — not to mention the stench of year after year of failure that not even Parcells could rinse off.
So what did the Jets do without Peyton? They drafted Keyshawn Johnson, who became a literary star and eventually caught some passes, and finally finished with a winning record, cobbling together a 9-7 mark and just missing the playoffs.
The next year, Manning went to the Colts with the No. 1 overall pick and the Jets, under the leadership of veteran Vinny Testaverde, demolished the NFL before crumbling against John Elway and the Broncos in the second half of the AFC title game. Manning would go on to win MVP after MVP while the Jets floated on the periphery of relevancy (and the playoff picture) for the better part of the next decade with a virtual murderer’s row under center.
He could have been wearing No. 18.
Bad quarterbacks and mediocre seasons can be stomached in between the occasional postseason run, of which there were a few. But Peyton’s biggest accomplishment as a Jet would have been preventing the most notorious piece of loose leaf paper EVER.
“I resign as HC of the NYJ.”
If Peyton Manning left college in 1997 to become a New York Jet, he does so under the leadership of Parcells and eventually Bill Belichick. That New England dynasty? Never happens. Tom Brady? Scrappy sixth-rounder out of the league in a few years. Millions of foul-speaking, bad-accented New Englanders rocking hoodies with cut-off sleeves? There would have been a lot of warm forearms in Beantown. Peyton Manning didn’t just screw Jets fans. He screwed America. Think of the suffering we’ve all had to endure at the hands of bandwagon Pats fans. Good god. I want to burn myself just thinking of the paradise Peyton took from us.
Even if Bill still wanted to live out a fantasy as Benedict Belichick, at least the Jets would have had a counter to the Patriots’ devilish duo. There would have been playoff wins and January showdowns long before Rex Ryan and The Sanchize came to town.
And that brings us back to March 2012. The Colts chose to release a wounded Manning rather than pay him a hefty bonus. The Jets sniffed around, obviously trying to write a wrong from 15 years prior, but were rebuffed – again. The fallout from Manning’s second rejection was too tough for the Jets to handle. They retreated to their most recent flame, inking Mark Sanchez to an incomprehensible extension while Manning bounced to Denver to play tiddlywinks with Elway.
When Manning’s arrival made Tim Tebow old news, Elway sought out a sucker willing to take on everyone’s favorite virgin. And wouldn’t you know it? The Jets just couldn’t wait to turn their rekindled romance with Sanchez into a wild love triangle (which becomes an orgy if you include the media).
And that’s where we are today. Manning’s on his way to another MVP, Belichick and Brady are a legit Super Bowl contender (AGAIN) and the Jets are starting Greg McElroy at quarterback in Week 16.
Damn you, Peyton. Damn you to hell.
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Erik Manassy is the author of this blog and a self proclaimed “Die Hard” New York Jets fan.