The Jets, although winning only one game in Oakland in recent history, were ready for this prime-time showdown and determined to prove, once and for all, that the "same ol' Jets" was just a phrase and that winning was now in vogue for these new Jets.
The new Jets have arrived in 2003 with a remarkable performance and captured the AFC East Title. Lead by a diverse combination of players both young as well as veterans; from Pennington, Coles, Chrebet and Moss to Martin, Lewis, Abraham and others. All 53 players contributed in many ways to this team's success.
As the Jets have certainly arrived in 2003, so did we at the SFO airport hotel, which was now known as the Jets home away from home. Yes, the local Starbucks is a Herm favorite. It's always a little more exciting to stay at the team hotel and possibly see some of your heroes up close and get some autographs without being too obnoxious and annoying while being respectful of the players privacy.
We ran into Terry Bradway Sunday morning in the elevator and wished him luck on the afternoon's upcoming contest. Terry was very nice and said that it is now up to the team to step it up on the field. We agreed and felt that optimism once again. The Jets were prepared for the Raiders. Chatting with Matt Turk in the lobby and then watching him toss a football with some young kids before boarding the bus was another way of understanding that the players, like most fans, are also good people doing their jobs. As the Jets began boarding their bus, we left the hotel to have our traditional pre-game meal of chicken wings before heading off to the stadium. Was it a coincidence that many locals recommended "Buffalo Chicken Wings" on Columbus in the North Beach section of San Fran? Faith Hill's "Nashville" and San Fran's "Buffalo" just added a bit more of a swagger to our optimism as we arrived at the stadium.
Network Associates Stadium really is the damnest place to go in the NFL. Fans of the opposing teams scurry into the closet to hide their team's wardrobe from the abuse that Raider maniacs will shower them with. Unfortunately, this image is fueled even more during the playoffs by all this media attention about the decadence of the "Black Hole". The Raider fans, though, get their reputation deservedly. They are a piece of work. The most foul-mouthed people in America and we are talking primarily about the women!! The guys are relentless and utterly annoying, but really not as bad as their celebrated reputation. It really is a unique piece of Americana that should be experienced once by every football fan. But the Jets have seen and been here enough. And by schedule quirk will be back again in 2003!!
We survived this experience again to write our epilogue of the game and the season. Somewhat drowsy and dopey from a whirlwind weekend of seeming unparalleled joy and agony only to be crammed in a full redeye American flight of Jet fans, we will render our final thoughts.
The game was only a good first half. One Chad Pennington miscue and the Raiders got seven but the score was still 10-10. On the opening drive of the second half, Janikowski shanks a gimme and we start to think the unpardonable thoughts. Momentum should now be changing and we can play with these guys. Well, we were half right. The Raiders just stepped it up a notch and the Jets were rattled. Especially our new leader, who had trouble throwing all day and his protection started to breakdown leading to those 4 sacks. His heretofore reliable receivers were dropping too many and Lavarneous Coles never seemed to be able to make the game breaking play. The defense was exposed primarily from having to be on the field too much. Our Special Teams (where we clearly had a major advantage) were neutralized by great coaching. All in all Chad had a bad day and you cannot win in the NFL by making countless mistakes and committing 4 turnovers. Continued analysis is duplicitous. The Raiders again showed that they are still a better team and belong as the Super Champs that they will inevitably become on Jan. 26th.
For the season, we had many positives but none bigger or more important than the development of Chad Pennington. He will be a good QB for years to come. If he continues to work hard and get better, he could be a star. Again, we will not designate him in the Namath or Montana class for many more years. Our only criticism is still his lack of a real gun. This can be seen in his trouble with the all important "out pass" that requires that arm strength. In time we think that he can overcome that. We also heard a rumor on the Coast that he just learned that his family has a major medical issue. Perhaps this distracted him just a bit in Oakland. The Vinny years are officially OVER, even though he has done a tremendous job for this team both on and off the field.
The Jets are not really a young team and we expect certain changes off-season. Randy Thomas will probably join the Coach in Dallas so we must hope that Jonathan Goodwin comes through and we get rid of J. Machado who hurts us all the time. We think that Chris Baker will come on and replace Anthony Becht as the primary TE because he blocks well and has great hands. That should be our only changes on offense. On defense, look for a new quick linebacker to move in to replace one of the aging trio. Jon McGraw should become a regular at safety, as we will finally bid farewell to Damien Robinson, who certainly did not play well again on Sunday. And as a long shot, maybe we will get lucky with another defensive lineman, because Larry Webster who did nothing for us all year will not be back. But the core of the team is set for 2003. Remember what Al Groh's first words were. "The NFL is about winning NOW". The nucleus is there. Hopefully Oakland starts to age and Miami still wilts in the heat. Beyond the next year, it is folly in the NFL to even think or discuss. Our coaches will probably stay intact. Hackett's professorial ways bedevil us, but he seems to get to Chad. Herm with all of his cerebral shortcomings is the winningest coach in Jet history and will probably live for many more years here mismanaging the clock. So when the new generation of fans says "It's the same ol' Jets", maybe, just maybe, that will now finally carry a positive connotation.
Another season has ended without the Lombardi Trophy making its way to Weeb Embank Hall. The Jets made a gallant effort to get back to San Diego and finally bring the championship back to Long Island. Maybe next year. The prospects and opportunities for this team, with only some minor changes and tweaking, should put them in a position to go deep into the post season next year. The nucleus is there and anyone who does not believe in Chad Pennington at this point, is nothing but a fair-weather fan. Chad did great. He did everything he could to help turn around this team and make it to the playoffs. The receivers; Chrebet, Coles and Moss are going to be major factors going forward. The defense improved tremendously and special teams are also a top-notch group.
The Jets may have fallen short on the field this year in some people's minds, but we believe that they did an incredible job and have set the stage for an exciting and competitive campaign in 2003. We can't wait until kick-off in week one when the NY Jets will begin their march for next year's championship trophy. Our only problem now is to find something to do on January 26, 2003… without the Jets, the game certainly has a different meaning, let's hope that this year's commercials carry the broadcast!!