AFC East: Mark Gastineau
How many defining moments can a franchise have when it has won a single championship, and that was 42 years ago?
The New York Jets won Super Bowl III after quarterback Joe Namath made his famous guarantee. That moment didn't make my short list because the Super Bowl didn't necessarily change the Jets' fortunes; it was the Jets' fortune.
The pivotal development to get the Jets to their lone championship was Namath eschewing the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals and taking a chance on the upstart AFL. Broadway Joe became the face of the league and remains a transcendent New York icon. In four decades, no other Jets player has come close to matching the impact Namath made.
Highlights have been minimal in the years since, but the New York Sack Exchange of Mark Gastineau, Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam provided the franchise milepost of the 1980s.
The Jets made a splash when they hired Bill Parcells as general manager and head coach in 1997. His arrival sparked a Jets-Patriots rivalry that has grown into one of the NFL's best, featuring Curtis Martin's jump to the Jets out of loyalty to the coach.
Although he has been with the Jets only two seasons, I don't think it's premature to include head coach Rex Ryan's arrival as an option for the defining moment. The culture under Ryan is a stark contrast to the organization under predecessor Eric Mangini. The Jets have gone to back-to-back AFC Championship Games and are considered a hot destination because free agents want to play for Ryan.
Submit your vote with the SportsNation poll. If you vote Other, please give us your suggestion in the comments area below this article.
Buffalo Bills: Steve Tasker, special teams.
Claim to fame: Tasker perhaps is the greatest special-teams ace in NFL history. He was a notable weapon on Buffalo's four consecutive AFC championship teams in the 1990s.
Case for enshrinement: Tasker was so dominant in his role, the NFL changed its Pro Bowl rules to include special-teamers on rosters. He went to seven Pro Bowls, putting him in select company, and was named the MVP in 1993. He has been a semifinalist on the Hall of Fame ballot four times. The NFL Network named him the ninth-best player -- of any position -- not in the Hall of Fame.
Tasker blocked seven punts and made 204 special-teams tackles. He forced seven fumbles and recovered six. He returned kickoffs, punts and held on extra points and field goals. As a receiver, he caught 51 passes for 779 yards and nine touchdowns.
Case against enshrinement: Special-teamers just don't get enshrined. Kicker Jan Stenerud is the only pure special-teamer with a bust. Legendary punter Ray Guy isn't in. No return specialist has been honored, either.
The common retort to that is one of the silliest sayings in football: Special teams are one-third of the game. Sorry, but that's not true. If each team plays a perfect defensive game and forces the opponent to go three-and-out on every possession, then special teams are needed once every four plays. And if football people truly believed special teams were that integral to the game, they would draft special teamers rather than fill out those units with offensive and defensive reserves.
Parting shot: I'd like to see more special-teamers recognized in Canton. But unless there's a substantial change in selection philosophies, Tasker won't make it into the Hall of Fame.
Miami Dolphins: Jake Scott, safety.
Case for enshrinement: Scott is one of the most overlooked players in NFL history. His career was relatively short, but it burned brightly. For five years in a row, starting with his second season, Scott went to the Pro Bowl and was named first- or second-team All-Pro.
Despite playing only nine NFL seasons, Scott recorded 49 interceptions, a total that ranked 18th all time when he retired. Hall of Fame safety Ken Houston played 14 seasons and finished with the same total. Scott still holds the Dolphins record with 35 interceptions. He added 14 more in three seasons with the Washington Redskins. Scott recovered 13 fumbles in his career.
He also was a slick punt returner. He holds Miami career records in returns and yardage and ranks third in average.
Case against enshrinement: There's a stigma that comes with playing on the No-Name Defense. Only one player from that great unit, linebacker Nick Buoniconti, is in the Hall of Fame, and his cause certainly was helped by previous work with the Boston Patriots and by remaining in public view as a broadcaster.
Scott, meanwhile, became a recluse. He moved to Hawaii and for a time avoided attention at all costs. He reportedly declined the chance to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame because he wouldn't commit to attending the ceremony.
Also working against Scott, who never has made the cut to 15 modern-day finalists, is the dearth of safeties enshrined in Canton. Only seven have been inducted.
Parting shot: Scott didn't play long enough to get traditional consideration. His best hope would be through the senior committee.
New England Patriots: Adam Vinatieri, kicker.
Claim to fame: If Vinatieri is not the greatest clutch kicker in NFL history, then he's in a short conversation. He won the Patriots' first two Super Bowls with field goals in the final seconds.
Case for enshrinement: Vinatieri has kicked for six Super Bowl teams, played in five Super Bowls and won four rings -- three with the Patriots and one with the Indianapolis Colts. He directly delivered a pair of Lombardi Trophies for the Patriots. He kicked a 48-yarder as time expired to win Super Bowl XXXVI and a 41-yarder with four seconds left to win Super Bowl XXXVIII.
In blizzard conditions at the end of the infamous Tuck Rule game, Vinatieri kicked a 45-yard field goal with 1:39 left in regulation to force overtime and then won it with a 23-yard field goal.
Vinatieri has been an All-Pro twice. He has kicked a record-tying five field goals in a postseason game twice and owns multiple playoff and Super Bowl records. He has scored the most points for a kicker (34) in Super Bowl history and converted the most field goals (seven) and extra points (13). His 177 postseason points rank first.
Case against enshrinement: Stenerud is the only true kicker in the Hall of Fame. Morten Andersen and Gary Anderson will have to get in first, and the idea of quadrupling the number of kickers (if you consider Vinatieri the next one inducted after Andersen and Anderson) won't be an easy sell to the voters.
Vinatieri has led the NFL in scoring and field goals once and probably won't finish with attractive enough career stats. At 37 years old and showing signs of slowing down -- he played six games for the Colts last season because of hip and knee surgeries -- and he ranks 15th in scoring and 13th in field goals made. Players such as John Carney, Matt Stover and John Kasay have more. Vinatieri has kicked almost 100 fewer field goals than Jason Elam. Nobody envisions Canton when they think of those guys.
Parting shot: Vinatieri provided two of the most indelible memories in Patriots history. As his career stands now, however, two big kicks won't overcome the circumstances of his position.
New York Jets: Joe Klecko, defensive lineman.
Case for enshrinement: Klecko was the first player to make the Pro Bowl at three positions. He went as a defensive end in 1981, a defensive tackle in '83 and '84 and a nose tackle in '85. To illustrate his importance, the Jets made his No. 73 the third number retired in club history after Joe Namath and Don Maynard.
Unlike the Fearsome Foursome or Purple People Eaters, the Sack Exchange doesn't have a single Hall of Fame representative. While Mark Gastineau's histrionics garnered the most attention, Klecko was the most complete player of the four. He was a dangerous pass-rusher and nasty against the run.
Klecko unofficially recorded 20.5 sacks in 1981 and notched at least one sack in 10 straight games, a franchise record.
Case against enshrinement: What hurts Klecko is that he somehow remained relatively anonymous in New York. He was overlooked because he played thankless positions and was trumped by Gastineau's sack dances.
Klecko also played on some lousy teams. The Jets went to the playoffs only four times during his tenure (1977 through 1987). Once was in the strike-shortened 1982 season and he was hurt for the 1986 postseason.
Parting shot: Klecko never has made the cut of 15 modern-era finalists. He might need to rely on the senior committee.
NFL.com editors narrowed each team's list of candidates down to the top 10, which seems a little unfair to the organizations steeped in history. The Dallas Cowboys' 20th most impressive pick is more deserving than the Houston Texans' sixth.
How can they be considered great draft picks if the teams that evaluated them declined to include them on their final rosters? Sounds to me like they were accidental draft picks more than savvy selections.
But if that's how they're going to do it, then I'd like to see Gary Fencik, a 10th-round pick in 1976, listed under the Dolphins.
Anyway, each team has 10 candidates fans can choose from when voting through April 18 at NFL.com. Parts of the list will be revealed on NFL.com and the NFL Network beginning April 19. The top 10 will be saved for the draft telecast.
The AFC East candidates, in alphabetical order:
Buffalo Bills: Gary Anderson (seventh round, 1982); Ruben Brown (first round, 1995); Joe DeLamielleure (first round, 1973); Jim Kelly (first round, 1983); Reggie McKenzie (second round, 1972); Andre Reed (fourth round, 1985); O.J. Simpson (first round, 1969); Fred Smerlas (second round, 1979); Bruce Smith (first round, 1985); Thurman Thomas (second round, 1988).
Miami Dolphins: Dick Anderson (third round, 1968); Larry Csonka (first round, 1968); Leon Gray (third round, 1973); Bob Griese (first round, 1967); Sam Madison (second round, 1997); Dan Marino (first round, 1983); Jake Scott (seventh round, 1970); Dwight Stephenson (second round, 1980); Jason Taylor (third round, 1997); Zach Thomas (fifth round, 1996).
New England Patriots: Tom Brady (sixth round, 2000); Nick Buoniconti (13th round, 1962); John Hannah (first round, 1973); Mike Haynes (first round 1976); Lee Roy Jordan (second round, 1963); Ty Law (first round, 1995); Curtis Martin (third round, 1995); Lawyer Milloy (second round, 1996); Richard Seymour (first round, 2001); Andre Tippett (second round, 1982).
New York Jets: Joe Fields (14th round, 1975); Mark Gastineau (1979); Craig Hentrich (eighth round, 2000); Keyshawn Johnson (first round, 1996); Joe Klecko (sixth round, 1977); Mo Lewis (third round, 1991); Joe Namath (first round, 1965); Marvin Powell (first round, 1977); John Riggins (first round, 1971); Wesley Walker (second round, 1977).
After two weeks of polling, the ballots have been counted to determine your picks for the Mount Rushmore of each AFC East team.
To play off ESPN's quest to determine the best sports Mount Rushmore from the 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, I asked for your thoughts on the four legends who best symbolize the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and New York Jets.
Readers mentioned 18 Jets, creating the most eclectic menu of the four clubs. Fireman Ed was nominated. So were former public relations director Frank Ramos and, despite one wildly erratic season, Brett Favre.
But the votes piled up for an unmistakable foursome of quarterback Joe Namath, running back Curtis Martin, receiver Wayne Chrebet and defensive lineman Joe Klecko.
There was a huge drop from Klecko to the fifth-place candidate, old-school receiver Don Maynard.
I was surprised to see Maynard not make the list. He's one of only two Hall of Fame players known primarily as Jets. I included him in the Jets Mount Rushmore I set forth in the original post.
But I do realize Chrebet's popularity and agree he's a symbolic figure in Jets history. It's tough to argue with him being etched into the Jets' Mount Rushmore.
Here is a breakdown of the top 10:
- Joe Namath
- Curtis Martin
- Wayne Chrebet
- Joe Klecko
- Don Maynard
- Weeb Ewbank
- Dennis Byrd
- Mark Gastineau
- Mo Lewis
- Brett Favre
Take a look at a few comments from those who voted in the AFC East mailbag and in the comments section of the original post:
The Kid in Staten Island, N.Y., writes: JETS Mount Rushmore: Broadway Joe Namath- that guarantee will live in infamy Mark Gastineau- 22 sacks in a season stood for 17 years until Strahan broke it. Had a swagger. Part of the NY Sack Exchange Wayne Chrebet- the little man that could. Hofstra kid came from nowhere, and was a fan favorite because of his heart. The "Rudy" of the NY Jets Dennis Byrd- temporarily paralyzed, still a role model for Jets fans in the way he perservered.
Mike from Parts Unknown writes: Does it have to be players only? More so than Namath himself I'd say Weeb Ewbank is the most important figure for the Jets of that era. Namath won one with him, but not without. Joe Klecko is a must. He represents an era my father dubs "the weakest golden years in all of pro sports." The NY sack exchange almost brought the Jets back to the Super Bowl twice, but ultimately failed. Curtis Martin represents the best in all of us, and as a Jets fan he is a symbol of our fandom: full of hope but ultimately just a good guy who came up short in his one real chance. Has there ever been a better RB that so many just don't care about outside of his team's fanbase? Finally I believe Chad Pennington needs to be on the Mount Rushmore of the Jets. He was the best QB in franchise history and though he never won the big game like Namath, he simply was so identifiable for us. Joe Willy is like that much older sibling you think of as a second parent. Sure they are your sibling, but you just don't think of them in that way. They are also likely you wish you could be more like. Broadway Joe is such a larger than life figure even today, but the team never lived up to his legacy and as Jets fans I don't think any of us really identify with him very well at this point, though we wish we could.
Mark in Palm Coast, Fla., writes: Hey Tim, There are more than a few names that come to mind here, but if I had to go with just four they would be as follows: 1: Joe Namath (Goes without saying) 2: Wayne Chrebet (3rd down specialist) 3: Leon Hess (Is there any owner who cared more for their team) 4: Fireman Ed (The Ultimate 12th Man) Honarable mention should also be given to Dennis Byrd for his inspiration, and perhaps Curtis Martin.
Chris in Hartsdale, N.Y., writes: Though I think Joe Namath is incredibly overrated I guess he belongs on the Jets Mt. Rushmore. The other 3: -Curtis Martin. Not the most talented RB in Jets history(that was Freeman Mcneil but he was always hurt) but the best overall. -Al Toon. Would have been a Hall of Famer had his career not been cut short. -Joe Klecko. Should be in the Hall of Fame but may never make it. If he was a Steeler and had a lesser career than he had they would have enshrined him 15 years ago.
delfiorio writes: Nothing symbolizes the Jets quite like Ken O'Brien falling on the ball as 4 pass rushers converge on him.
wOoDfOoTbAlL writes: Joe Klecko, Weeb, Curtis Martin, Don Maynard.....forget about Namath he cursed our franchise when he made a deal with the devil 40 years ago. were never going to win another super bowl
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New York Jets have asserted themselves as one of the NFL's best big-play defenses.
A substantial reason for that is their inclination to force fumbles while sacking quarterbacks, a trend the New England Patriots are concerned about heading into Thursday night's game in Gillette Stadium.
"Their defense is playing very well," Patriots guard Logan Mankins told me Monday. "They're getting after the quarterback better, causing a lot of turnovers, a lot of strip sacks. It's going to be a challenge."
The Jets have jarred quarterbacks into fumbling eight times and have recovered six. Both figures lead the NFL, according to data compiled by Puneet Nanda of ESPN's Stats and Information department.
The Jets have amassed 31 sacks, meaning they force a fumble on 26 percent of them.
The Pittsburgh Steelers lead the NFL with 34 sacks, but they've forced only five fumbles. They've recovered three.
"We do a lot of work in that area," Jets coach Eric Mangini said. "That's something that I learned when I was first with the Jets. We spent a lot of time on what's called ball disruption. I know [Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson] does it a
lot up there.
"We focus on individual players, and you look at different areas you can exploit, maybe the way they hold the ball. It's maybe where the quarterback holds the ball and scramble patterns and giving the guys the awareness of 'If you do get an opportunity to get a sack or be the second guy in a pile, where you should pressure the ball, what would be the most vulnerable point?' "
Shaun Ellis leads the Jets with seven sacks. He's one of 15 Jets with at least a half-sack.
The Jets had 29 sacks after eight games, a franchise record. Not bad considering this is the team that brought us the New York Sack Exchange. The celebrated crew of Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau and Marty Lyons had 27 sacks at the midpoint of 1981.
Cassel, however, has been sacked just once over the past two games. The Buffalo Bills did force him to fumble. The Bills recovered.
Overall, Cassel has done a decent job protecting the ball. He has fumbled three times while being sacked, losing two.
The Jets have recorded at least two sacks in all but one of their games. They've recorded four or more sacks in six games.
In their past six games, the Jets have forced 15 fumbles and recovered nine. They recovered all three fumbles they caused in Sunday's victory over the St. Louis Rams, returning one for a touchdown.
"I was really happy the last game because of the types of fumbles that we were able to generate, where guys went in and really ripped the ball out," Mangini said. "Sometimes those fumbles are a function of how you hit the player as opposed to a conscious effort of finding the ball and getting it out."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
|Joel Auerbach/US Presswire|
|Miami's Joey Porter is on pace to break Michael Strahan's single-season sack record.|
Porter, with an NFL-leading 10.5 sacks, is on pace to break Michael Strahan's record for most in a season. If Porter maintains his pace, he will finish with 24.
Strahan finished 2001 with 22.5 sacks for the New York Giants, a half more than Mark Gastineau had with the New York Jets in 1984. Strahan broke the record when Favre infamously fell down in the season finale.
The Dolphins visit Favre and the New York Jets in the season finale.
The season so far has been vindicating for Porter, who faced criticism after signing a five-year, $32 million contract last year and then finished with only 5.5 sacks. Former Dolphins defensive coordinator Dom Capers couldn't figure out how to use Porter, but new coordinator Paul Pasqualoni hasn't had much trouble.
"I told you, 'If you really watch football and know football you would understand it,' " Porter said Sunday. "But y'all just pen pushers. So all y'all see is 'Joey, 5 1/2 [sacks], that's not good enough.' Now you're understanding the defense and what we're doing out there.
"I told you, you get me in a 3-4 defense, 10 sacks is a given for a good outside linebacker. If you want to consider yourself good, nine or 10 is just what you're supposed to get. It's not even a big deal."
Porter's 10.5 sacks match his career-high set in 2000 and equaled in 2005 for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has been to three Pro Bowls and named All Pro once, but you wouldn't have known it by watching him last year.
"I've never really been in a system to where a lot of the defense I'm featured," Porter said. "They put me in position to make some plays. They put me in position to make plays a lot, and I put that on myself to go out and make the plays.
"It's a player-friendly defense, puts me in a lot of opportunities to have one-on-one with the back, one-on-one with the tackle. I'm isolated in a lot of situations. It's on me to win those matchups."
The Dolphins' record for sacks is 18.5 by Bill Stanfill in 1973 and Jason Taylor in 2002.
Porter lined up against Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters on Sunday. Porter beat Peters with an inside move on the sack that forced Trent Edwards to fumble, leading to a crucial fourth-quarter safety.
"He's still a good tackle," Porter said. "Take nothing way from him. He's still in the top three tackles in this game. Today, he was just put in some situations where I had the chance to make some plays on him."
|Tony Tomsic/Getty Images|
|Joe Namath was the first to throw for 4,000 yards in a season.|
Readers' pick: Joe Namath, QB
Four decades later, when you think of the New York Jets, you still think of Joe Namath.
Jets fans whose fathers weren't even born when Namath made his famous Super Bowl III guarantee know all about it. They've seen the slow-motion trot into the Orange Bowl tunnel, his finger defiantly wagging No. 1 after beating the favored Baltimore Colts.
Namath received the most votes in our poll, finishing ahead of defensive end Mark Gastineau and running back Curtis Martin, who last year had the team's MVP award named after him. Namath's favorite target, Don Maynard, was a distant fourth.
But there was little doubt Broadway Joe would be chosen the greatest Jet.
His celebrity magnetism and majestic passes drew fans to the AFL and forced the NFL to acknowledge the brazen start-up. Namath helped revolutionize the passing game. He was the first to throw for 4,000 yards in a season -- in 14 games, no less.
"Some guys have had a lot of accomplishments," John Madden said while criticizing Namath's omission from the NFL's 75th anniversary team. "But with Joe, here's a guy who made a league."
Let alone a franchise.