Sam Darnold, Quincy Enunwa, and Josh McCown react to the news of NY Jets head coach Todd Bowles being fired after yesterday’s loss against the Patriots.
Danielle Parhizkaran, NorthJersey

Five decades later it remains one of my fondest memories, despite the lifetime of misery it created. 

It was the middle of the night when my Dad woke me up.

“C’mon, Butch. The game is about to start,” he said.

It was Jan. 12, 1969 — two days before my 11th birthday. This was one of my presents. My dad, an Air Force sergeant, was away a lot. I was the oldest of five, and alone time with him was rare. This was one of those times.

We sat next to the hi-fi in the living room. Mom made cookies and hot chocolate with marshmallows and everything. Together, we listened to the underdog New York Jets upset the mighty Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. 

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Until that year, my favorite team had been the “Hahn Hawks,” from tiny Hahn Air Base in Germany, where we lived. They played against squads from other U.S. bases in Europe and it was a big deal. There was a parade through housing before each home game, and then everyone went to the “Grape Bowl,” our little sports complex, to cheer them on.

I was the water boy, and got to sit on the bench during games. I learned a little about football and a lot about cursing, which would come in handy in the years that followed.

We kids didn’t know much about teams “back in the world,” which is how we referred to America. Armed Forces Television only broadcast one game a weekend, two weeks after it had been played. The radio was the only way to get a live game, and the broadcasts were too late at night for kids my age.

Magical year

It just happened that 1968 was the first year I paid attention to pro sports. My grandparents sent me a Joe Namath jersey and a Jets team pennant early in the season and I devoured all the magazine stories about him and the team. Namath had long hair (which my dad hated), wore white shoes (which Dad also hated), and was the coolest guy I’d ever seen who wasn’t a Beatle (Dad wasn’t crazy about them either). 

The Jets’ stunning win over the Colts kicked off an improbable, golden year for New York underdog teams. In October, the Amazing Mets beat the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles to win the World Series. And the New York Knicks won their first NBA Championship at the end of the 1969-70 season, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers.

I was doomed.

Until I left home to go into the Army, I had posters of Namath, Tom Seaver and Walt “Clyde” Frazier hanging in my room at every base we lived at, and in White Plains after Dad retired. I waited for them to become dynasties, like the Green Bay Packers or the New York Yankees or the Boston Celtics.

They never did.

Loyalty has its price

But I’ve remained loyal. I’m rarely not wearing one of my Jets hats. I ignored the taunts of friends and younger brothers (Giants and Yankees fans) as the years went by and the Jets became the symbol of football follyism. To this day, if the Giants win and the Jets lose (a common occurrence), one brother calls me, laughs, and hangs up without saying a word.

For those of us who bleed green, the low lights have been plentiful. “Same old Jets,” didn’t become a catch phrase by accident. For 50 years now, Gang Green has come up with uniquely creative ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They give you a little hope — maybe take an early lead or start making a comeback — and then they rip your heart out.

Fans have endured all kinds of humiliations: In 1970, the Jets lost the first ever Monday Night Football game to the Cleveland Browns. Until his legal woes began, seemingly every football highlight show featured the 1973 clip of O.J. Simpson running through the snow at Shea Stadium to become the first 2,000 yard rusher in NFL history. There was Miami legend Dan Marino’s “fake spike” play in 1994 and our own Mark Sanchez’s “butt fumble” in 2012, one of the all-time most embarrassing plays in NFL history.

And on, and on, and on, and on.

The Jets have not had a reliable quarterback since Namath. Yeah, Richard Todd, Kenny O’Brien, Vinny Testaverde and Chad Pennington had their moments. Mostly though, we’ve been subjected to a rogue’s gallery of over-the-hill retreads —  Boomer Esiason, Neil O’Donnell and Brett Favre — or over-hyped, underwhelming youngsters including Browning Nagle, Sanchez and Geno Smith.


Years ago, my friend and colleague Gary Stern and I took a road trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Gary, a Brooklyn boy who somehow became an Oakland Raiders fan, spent at least an hour seeing all the silver and black memorabilia and watching film clips of historic plays made by historic players during historic seasons. 

The Jets exhibition area (and that’s a generous description) featured Super Bowl III coach Weeb Ewbank’s film projector, one of Namath’s knee braces, wide receiver Don Maynard’s helmet and a handful of black and white photos.

You’d think they’d at least have pictures of some of the great players (yes, there have been some) who toiled in vain for the Jets. Freeman McNeil, Joe Klecko, Al Toon, Wayne Chrebet and a few others all had fine careers, wasted on the hapless franchise they were unfortunate enough to play for.

Some managed to escape. Running back John Riggins went to the Redskins and a Hall of Fame career. Defensive back Darrelle Revis left to grab a Super Bowl ring with the hated Patriots, then returned to the Jets to end his playing days.

I had season tickets during the 1980s, and still have four or five “season highlight” videos from that era, which I’ve sworn never to watch until the Jets win the whole shebang again. I’ll have to borrow a VCR from a museum should that ever happen.

There have been a few happy moments — regular season upsets against Miami or New England, and even a handful of playoff runs, which all ended badly.

Hope springs eternal

One of the perks of my career came in 1999, when I was sent to Denver for a week to write features before the Jets’ AFC Championship game against the Broncos. I’d interviewed Dave Herman, a Valhalla resident who blocked the legendary Bubba Smith in Super Bowl III, and he arranged for me to have lunch with Winston Hill, another member of that team, at Hill’s restaurant in Denver. Meeting both was a thrill, and brought out the 11-year-old in me.

At halftime of that Denver game, the Jets were winning 10-0. and I thought I was going to the Super Bowl. I was politely asked to leave the press box because I couldn’t contain my joy and let out a few whoops and cheers — a no-no among sports writers.

Then came the second half, the predictable debacle, and that was the end of that. The Jets lost 23-10.

Nowadays, I take solace in little things. I still think the J-E-T-S cheer is one of the best in sports. If Gang Green beats the Dolphins or Patriots, it’s been a good year. Every few years they’ll get rid of the coach or general manager, and I start thinking that the new one will turn things around. That’s where I am now, with the merciful firing of Todd Bowles.

Maybe the next coach will be the one we Jets fans have been waiting for. Our rookie quarterback, Sam Darnold, looks like he may be the real thing.

Hope springs eternal.

In the meantime, it’s just a few more weeks until pitchers and catchers report for baseball’s spring training.

Let’s go Mets!

Twitter: @RichLiebson

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