CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Nick Sanchez had taken a cross-country flight and a three-hour car ride to see the Green and White game Saturday night. He was running late, but as he walked out onto the sideline with his VIP pass, he arrived just in time to see his son throw a 70-yard touchdown pass to LaDainian Tomlinson on the first play from scrimmage.
On the arc of that pass, the father saw all the work it took to get there -- the knee surgery in February, the rehabilitation and the questions about how fully his son could recover. For Nick, Mark Sanchez would not be the quarterback he can be were it not for that journey.
"His confidence level has escalated dramatically he feels so much better about himself, his coaches and where he fits into the system," Nick said after the game.
Mark Sanchez had surgery to repair the patella ligament in his left knee. Nick said he talked to specialists and read up on the procedure, and, going into the operation, felt confident that it wouldn't hurt his son's career. The quarterback was entering the second year of a five-year contract with the Jets worth $28 million guaranteed, after a rookie season marked by playoff highs and turnover lows.
"From all the information I was able to obtain his chances of coming out of this with the surgery being successful were very, very high," Nick said.
After the surgery, Mark decided to rehab at the Jets' facility, and called his father to say that all the coaches were still there even though the season was over, so his work with the plays and structure of the offense didn't have to stop. Nick said his son didn't waste the opportunity.
Even as the OTAs ticked by and Sanchez's progress consisted of stretching or running underwater, progress was being made. He gradually started throwing, and then participated in the 7-on-7 drills.
"There was nothing to be gained by becoming emotionally involved in this," Nick said, "by losing focus on what his real goals were, and that was to get back 100 percent."
Mark's goal was to fully return for the Jets' mandatory minicamp, which he did. After throwing in 11-on-11 drills in a closed practice just a few days prior, Sanchez was on the field and looked steady.
"It's a big victory, a moral victory for me, personally, in the rehab process," Mark said in June.
Now he says the knee is like new and that there are no lingering physical issues, although the real test will come in the preseason. The talk has moved away from his knee to what the Jets' offense will look like with the acquisitions of Tomlinson and wide receiver Santonio Holmes.
"I was excited to test everything out after the surgery over the offseason and see how things go," Sanchez said this week. "I feel awesome. Mentally, I'm feeling so much better. I'm progressing so much that sometimes, I'm thinking too much, trying to get it all perfect."
Jets coach Rex Ryan said he could see his quarterback's progress in practice, and that the performance in the Green and White game was just more evidence that Sanchez is ready to play.
"He was on a roll, and like I said, we've been seeing it out here," Ryan said after the scrimmage. "He has a great grasp of our system. He's recognizing defenses and he's ready to go."
Nick knows just how far his son has come. If you strip away the guaranteed millions, the celebrity status and all the rest of the benefits of being a rising star quarterback in the NFL, the son would still just want to be out there on the field throwing the football.
"Honest and truly, he would." Nick said. "He'd do this for nothing."