It’s early for a crisis but a good number of fans and reporters sense the Jets are at a vulnerable point on their 2011 timeline. Meanwhile, head coach Rex Ryan and the players resolutely say they’ll get it fixed. I’ll side with Ryan when he says “This locker room is closer than what we’re giving it credit for.”
One of the great things about the NFL is that the next major input on this topic comes in less than a week, Monday night vs. the Dolphins. But Rex is right about his premise. When all the adjustments and practices are done for the week, the closeness of the team must remain if the Jets are to pull through this rough patch.
That’s a point that came out several times on our conference calls this afternoon with the four members of the Jets Ring of Honor Class of 2011.
For example, I asked Al Toon, the Jets’ three-time MVP wide receiver, about one of the signature achievements of his eight seasons in green and white, a career-long 101-game pass-receiving streak that almost two decades later is still the Jets’ standard.
“How important? I guess it’s hard to pinpoint, the correct term to use for that,” Toon said. “I guess it was a significant accomplishment in retrospect, knowing how hard it is to stay on the field and be consistent. My goal as a player and an athlete was not to have super-high highs and super-low lows and just be consistent, so your coaches and teammates — and yourself, for that matter — don’t get overburdened with anxiety.”
Gerry Philbin, DE for the Super Bowl III Jets, similarly deflected one of his remarkable accomplishments — 19 sacks in 14 games, still one of the great unheralded sack seasons in NFL/AFL history from back in the day when sacks were not an official defensive statistic — from himself to the men around him.
“For anybody to get a lot of sacks, you really have to have a lot of good players on your line and at linebacker,” Philbin said. “If they can double-team the best pass rusher all the time and take you out of the game, that’s pretty good. But if you look at our defense, we had Verlon Biggs at the other end, and John Elliott and Paul Rochester at the tackles. They were great players, and we had great linebackers. That all helps.”
Larry Grantham, an outside ‘backer on that team, had memorable seasons before and after hoisting the Super Bowl trophy in early 1969. I asked him about 1971, one year before the final season of his career, when he was named the Jets MVP for the first and only time.
“I think Joe was hurt that year. Joe was the most valuable player lots of times,” Grantham joked about the QB who needs no last name for Jets fans. “But to be voted by your teammates … that’s an honor much like this honor, to be voted into the Ring of Honor. There’s nothing that can top that, because you’re with those guys so much, from training camp all the way to the end of the season.”
And Freeman McNeil just wasn’t going to pat himself on the back for one of the finest rushing days in franchise history, his 202 yards in 3½ quarters against the Bengals back when the Jets had their first taste of road warrior superiority in the first round of the 1982 AFC Playoffs.
“Whatever game it was, we understood it was a total team effort,” McNeil said. “Each and every individual had to give whatever they had to ensure our success. I can tell you without a doubt that my offensive linemen and supporting cast, they did such a tremendous job of blocking and we were very successful to the point where I was pulled out of the game before the fourth quarter was over.
“Looking back at my career with the Jets, one of the things that is so clear is that it’s a total team effort. One guy can’t have success unless the other guys are participating at a level that’s going to ensure each and everyone on that field success.”
If the 2011 Jets see this just as clearly — and I’m sure they do — it will be manifested in the upcoming games as they get back into the playoff picture.
And we’ll bring you profiles and photos of all four of this year’s Ring inductees later on this week as well as full coverage of the game and the ceremonies at Monday night’s swinging soiree against the Dolphins.
Tags: Al Toon, Freeman McNeil, Gerry Philbin, Larry Grantham, Miami Dolphins, Rex Ryan
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