This series of articles will celebrate (or laugh at) some of the worst professional sports teams of all time. I will focus on teams within my lifetime so expect the worst from the 1970s to present day.
J-E-T-S. JETS, JETS, JETS! The famous cheer started by superfan Fireman Ed, was seldom heard in 1996. Instead it sounded more like, J-E-T-S. SUCK, SUCK, SUCK! Yes things were bad for the New York Jets in 1996. Gang Green finished with a putrid 1-15 record, the worst in franchise history. The Jets became regular punchlines during David Letterman’s monologue, and were roundly chastised and chortled on talk radio.
Where did it go wrong? Let’s start with the head coach. Rich Kotite came over from the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995, where he had moderate success, but failed to win the Super Bowl. After the Eagles missed the playoffs in 1994, Kotite was fired, but was quickly scooped up by the Jets. Kotite was deemed a “players coach” who was a good communicator, and easy to deal with. Turned out he was too easy to deal with.
Players skipped practice on a regular basis, with no reprimand from Kotite. Players falling asleep at team meetings, which Kotite totally ignored. Whenever a player needed to be disciplined, Kotite offered a hug, when he really needed to crack the whip. The Jets needed a hard ass. Instead they had Miss Manners.
Quarterback was a major issue for the Jets. In the offseason, the Jets offered Neil O’Donnell a huge contract to leave Pittsburgh, and join the Jets. O’Donnell led the Steelers to a Super Bowl appearance in 1995, but was awful on the biggest stage, throwing 3 picks in the Steelers loss to Dallas. That didn’t stop the Jets from offering O’Donnell a $25 million dollar deal. O’Donnell quickly accepted and headed to the Big Apple. He turned out to be a huge bust!
O’Donnell completed 58.5% of his passes for 1,147 yards, 4 touchdowns and 7 interceptions before succumbing to injury after only 6 games. The Jets lost all 6 games O’Donnell appeared in, as his leadership and toughness were questioned.
When O’Donnell went down, the Jets turned to veteran Frank Reich. The former Buffalo Bill signal caller did have some glorious moments with the Bills, which included a comeback for the ages against Houston in the playoffs, four years earlier. However, there were no moments of glory for Reich in New York. In 11 appearances, Reich completed 52.9% of his passes for 2,205 yards, 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He did lead the Jets to their only win of the season, a 31-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, but that was it for distinguished accomplishments, during Reich’s time with the Jets.
The Jets even tried Glenn Foley at quarterback. They would have been better off with Mick Foley at quarterback. In five games, Foley completed 49.1% of his passes for 559 yards, 3 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. A hall of fame player he was not.
The Jets did have decent receivers to throw to. Wayne Chrebet was a nice discovery for the Jets, as he led the team with 84 catches for 909 yards and 3 touchdowns. Then there was Keyshawn Johnson.
The number one overall pick in the 1996 draft, Key was brought in to aid a troubling passing game. Instead Key made headlines for shooting off his mouth, and being a general nuisance in the locker room. He did put up OK numbers, catching 63 passes for 844 yards and 8 touchdowns. But that wasn’t good enough for Key. In his mind, he was the next Jerry Rice. He even wrote a book titled “Just Give Me The Damn Ball.” The book serves no purpose, except that this was the first time Key didn’t use crayons, to express his thoughts on paper. Key and Chrebet were involved in a personal feud as well. While Chrebet stayed classy for the most part, Key though he should have been a bigger part in the offence. This feud played out for the entire season, and divided a fragile team.
Then there was Kyle Brady. The former Penn State star was drafted in the first round in the 1995 draft, in order to give the Jets a pass catching threat at the tight end spot. To be honest, Marcia Brady would have been a better choice. Brady caught a mere 15 passes for 144 yards and 1 touchdown in 1996. When Brady wasn’t dropping passes, he was missing blocking assignments. Kyle Brady was one awful NFL player!
The running game was actually not bad. Adrian Murrell had a decent season, despite the rest of the team being horrible. The West Virginia grad rushed for 1,249 yards and 6 touchdowns in 1996. However he did fumble 6 times, which isn’t very helpful to the offence.
Defensively the Jets were repugnant. The Jets surrendered 454 points in 1996. Only the Atlanta Falcons gave up more points, which is a miracle that the Jets weren’t the worst at something in 1996. The only bright spot on defence was Hugh Douglas. The defensive end recorded a team high 8 sacks, and stayed positive in an otherwise negative environment.
A big problem was turnovers. The Jets were dead last in turnover ratio, finishing with a ghastly -20 difference. The Jets were very generous in giving opponents terrific field position, which left the defence at a huge disadvantage.
There were many low points in 1996, but perhaps the lowest came on December 1 against the Houston Oilers. A cold rainy day greeted the teams at the Meadowlands. The Oilers were a lame duck team, as they would be headed to Tennessee next season. The Jets were playing like lame ducks. The crowd at Giants Stadium was sparse and their mood was ugly. The Oilers had little trouble with the hapless Jets, trouncing Kotite’s team 35-10. The fans who remained hurled insults towards their own team, while some players tried to hide their faces in shame.
When the season ended, major changes happened. The first move was the Jets fired Rich Kotite and immediately hired Bill Parcells as their new coach. They also released Frank Reich who went on to the Detroit Lions. Parcells made O’Donnell the starting quarterback and quickly ushered in a new era of discipline and a no-nonsense attitude. No players skipped practice. No players fell asleep during meetings. It was Parcells way or the highway. It worked. The Jets improved to 9-7 record in 1997. The following year the Jets finished 12-4 winning the AFC East. The Jets made it all the way to the AFC Championship game, before falling to the Denver Broncos.
Today the Jets are a mess yet again. A never-ending quarterback controversy combined with a coach who loves the spotlight too much has hurt this team. Yet they’re not as bad as they were in 1996.
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