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Despair for the New York Jets, now and always
On landing back in New York Monday, I will confess — poor form for a self-appointed sportswriter — to have not quite clocked that the NFL season would start while I was heading back stateside.
In the car home, then, I was presented with a happy surprise: I could watch a football game! Happy day!
Even without the Mobile Passport Control line — get it together, JFK — we made it past customs into the backseat of a Toyota Camry and propped a phone up on a backpack just in time for kickoff.
So we settled in for a nice little New York/division showdown that would probably have some real impact on how the year went. Jets-Bills was a good way to start the MNF season, right?
What followed three plays later was a surprise too, but it was not a happy one. Aaron Rodgers spun, fell, stood, and sat right back down.
He was helped to the sideline and carted off the field as a credibly cursed franchise — playing another one, FWIW — started biting its nails.
For about half a day, there was some reason to hope it might be a high ankle sprain, which is a bad thing to be hoping for. He’d probably have missed a season-killing portion of the year in that case too.
But if you’re a Jets fan, you already knew. In your heart of hearts, you knew. He wasn’t coming back.
How? Because this had already happened to you.
Jets QB Vinny Testaverde tore his Achilles in the first game of the 1999 season, immediately snuffing out what should’ve been a Super Bowl bid.
They’d gone 12-4 and made the AFC Championship the year prior, with a stack of Hall of Famers to lead them in ‘99: Bill Parcells with the clipboard, a spry young Bill Belichick at defensive coordinator, RB Curtis Martin, WR Keyshawn Johnson, C Kevin Mawae, even Steve Atwater at FS the year before he retired.
They were loaded.
Testaverde wasn’t Rodgers, to be sure. He’s a Hall of Pretty Good guy in my book, a dude who played for two decades and made as many Pro Bowls, but sits a lot higher on the career rankings for interceptions than touchdowns.
He was a good player near the peak of his powers playing the most singularly important position in sports.
That ‘99 roster was even better than the Jets’ roster today, though, and that might make what happened Monday worse.
Rodgers is probably the one guy they could’ve gotten who might’ve lifted them over the top.
There are ascendant young stars on both sides of the ball — Quinnen Williams, Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Breece Hall — all of whom seemed to rally around the old guy.
At 39, Rodgers brought a veteran’s sage wisdom to the locker room. But his age admittedly made him a maybe on the field. Now he’s a no, and worse yet, we don’t have any true guarantee that he’ll ever be back.
He could be 41 and coming off an Achilles by the time he’d be suiting up again. For a guy who’d already entertained retiring, will this put his career in (don’t) Final Jeopardy!?
You wouldn’t bet a whole lot on knowing the answer to that one.
It’s Not Fair
Take this as a reminder that sports can be cruel.
About a month ago, Shohei Ohtani went down with a torn UCL and we lost out on what was going to be the best baseball season in history.
That sucked in similar fashion. The Angels weren’t competitive, because of course they weren’t, but it’s never fun to see a career get waylaid like that. Now we don’t get to watch one of the people who bring the most to the sport.
He’ll now try to come back from a second Tommy John surgery, and while guys like Nathan Eovaldi and Hyun Jin Ryu prove it can be done, it won’t be easy.
The prospect of losing that measure of brilliance is pretty depressing, and history is full of those What Ifs in every sport: Bo Jackson, Sandy Koufax, Bobby Orr, Yao Ming.
We’re forever hoping that we’re not seeing new additions, either, as we wish good health on the likes of Zion Williamson.
It’s cold comfort for the Jets faithful who may be left wondering, but if this is it, the one silver lining here for Rodgers is that he’s had a long, successful career. Most guys don’t stay as good as he has as long as he has.
Again, he’s 39. He’s won a Super Bowl. He’s a four-time MVP. He wasn’t cheated out of a career.
It’s Jets fans who’ve been cheated here. They didn’t get to see what this could look like.
I haven’t mentioned the turf vs. grass issue because I don’t think you can make a strong case that that’s what doomed Rodgers.
The union is right to push for the surfaces players are most comfortable with — and that’s grass, ask anyone — but I have trouble believing that made the difference here. It happened in contact, and Rodgers’ spikes could’ve gotten stuck in grass too.
The only way to look now is forward. Maybe Rodgers comes back next season to avenge the disappointment of this one with Brady-like vigor in his 40s. He’s promised, in his words, that “I shall rise yet again.”
And maybe he will! Testaverde never played quite as well as that ‘98 season again, but he did come back, and he was 37 when he did it, 20+ years of medical advances ago. It’s possible.
For Rodgers, maybe a year not taking hits — and if you’re reading into the three out of three QB pressures he faced on his one drive, then there might’ve been a lot of them — could actually prolong his career, if you’re looking for the ultimate zag.
That’s buried deep in the Silver Linings Playbook, but it’s all there is to hold onto right now.
Sports tragedies aren’t actual tragedies, thankfully. You can always remind yourself that it’s just a game.
But this one was tough. Fans’ four-letter chant might not be J-E-T-S this year, and I hope they get a chance to root for a team with a shot. Everyone deserves that.
So let’s get Rodgers a shot on Broadway. Say what you will, but he’s a performer alright, and it’s never too late to put your name up in lights.
I’m something of a performer myself, so gather ‘round and subscribe if you’re one for sports musings. We’ve got musings on musings around here: