Happy Golden Anniversary, Green & White.
Today is, in fact, the Jets’ 50th anniversary, if you consider their birth to be March 28, 1963, when the sale of what was left of the New York Titans franchise to the five-man ownership syndicate of David A. “Sonny” Werblin, Townsend Martin, Leon Hess, Donald Lillis and Philip Iselin was reportedly completed.
Werblin became the new club’s president and CEO. He presided over the renaming of the original AFL franchise as the Jets and the naming of Weeb Ewbank as the new head coach, both listed as occurring on April 15, 1963 (so there’s another two golden anniversaries waiting to happen). And Sonny was the pointman, with the AFL draft late in 1964, in ushering in the Joe Namath era, which of course led to Jan. 12, 1969. Say no more, say no more.
Since that day, of course, the Jets have not returned to the NFL’s championship game. Many would argue about the number of highlights and great players and coaches in the first 50 seasons of Jets football. Certainly the record shows that in that half-century the Jets have had 27 seasons of .500-or-better ball, 18 winning seasons, 13 postseason appearances and 11 playoff wins.
However, I have always been of the opinion that cheering hard for any team, pro, college or high school, is a lot like being a member of an extended family. You may not always like all the members of your family or the events and outcomes that occur from the actions or inactions of some of those characters.
But when under attack from the outside, it’s time to circle the wagons and let folks know you’re now and always a member of the Green & White family. It’s the only family (or at least one of the only families) you’ve got. You’ve lived your life with them. And the current incarnation of the family has seen that things need to improve and they’re hard at work on improving them. It’s time to celebrate the good.
So in advance of the season ahead, when the Jets organization will celebrate the first 50 years of Jets football, let us know at any time of your favorite all-time Jets and your top Green & White memories. Naturally you can refer to your less-favorite reminiscences as well. But at this moment we’re focusing on the good times of the last 50 years and the good times of the next 50 years.
Now where’s that gold-plated party horn?
Tags: Donald Lillis, Joe Namath, Leon Hess, New York Jets, New York Titans, Philip Iselin, Sonny Werblin, Townsend Martin
Posted in Randy Lange | 126 Comments »
Here’s one more salute to the memory of Leon Hess.
Hess, the former Jets owner and longtime Garden State resident and businessman, was inducted posthumously into the New Jersey Hall of Fame on Sunday night.
He was one of the group of five men who originally bought the New York Titans out of bankruptcy early in 1963, and appropriately enough, his induction was presented to the crowd at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark by none other than Joe Namath, who was drafted by Hess, Sonny Werblin and the Jets ownership group in 1965 and signed a contract for the then shocking sum of $427,000. Connie Hess Williams, Hess’ daughter, accepted the induction honor from Namath.
Hess became sole owner of the team in 1984 and he always treasured the Jets and wanted to see them return to the Super Bowl. He held few news conferences over the years but he became known for addressing team and giving them a Hess peptalk following each Thanksgiving Day practice.
After hiring Bill Parcells to coach the Green & White in 1997, he almost got his Super wish when the Big Tuna, Vinny Testaverde and the Jets reached the AFC Championship Game before losing to the Broncos, 23-10, in Denver. Hess died four months later at 85. Soon after, Woody Johnson, the Jets’ current president/CEO, bought the team from the Hess estate.
When Hess did speak, he was an engaging interviewee. He regaled fans and reporters with details of how he used to dig up clams on the beach near his home in Asbury Park. As detailed in the Star-Ledger story on the event, he got his start running running a one-truck oil delivery business in Asbury Park during the Depression. Today, Hess is one of the largest oil companies in the country, with more than 1,360 Hess stations, refineries in New Jersey and the Virgin Islands, and operations in the United States, South America, Africa, Europe, Eurasia and the Asian Pacific.
Two other NFL luminaries in the hall’s fourth class are Pro Football Hall of Fame RB Franco Harris and Super Bowl-winning QB Joe Theismann. The other 10 in the hall’s fourth class: Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Tony Bennett, Queen Latifah, Martha Stewart, former Gov. Brendan Byrne, World War II heroes John Basilone and Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, novelist Mary Higgins Clark and jazz great John “Bucky” Pizzarelli.
Tags: Joe Namath, Leon Hess, New Jersey Hall of Fame, Sonny Werblin, Woody Johnson
Posted in Randy Lange | 6 Comments »
It’s always great to check in with Frank Ramos, the Jets’ longtime public relations director, but sometimes these days Frank is the bearer of sad news.
Such was the case Saturday when we talked about the recent passing of Norma Hess and Mike Martin, two whose names reached back to the Jets’ Super Bowl III era.
Norma, who died Thursday, was the wife of Leon Hess, who before assuming full ownership of the team in 1984 was part of the five-man group that bought the Jets back in 1963.
"Norma was just a great lady and she lived and died with the Jets," he said. "She still had her season tickets. She went to games all the time. She was a real regular type of fan. They were so excited, especially Leon, who got one of his great wishes when Bill Parcells came there, when the Jets went to the championship game in ’98. That was one of the great highlights of their life.
"And of course there was Super Bowl III. There were no luxury boxes at the Orange Bowl in 1969 and she sat in the stands and enjoyed the game with all the rest of the fans."
Ramos said Norma, like Leon, did great deeds but didn’t seek the limelight for them.
"She and Leon did so much and no one ever knew about it. They never asked for things to be named for them," he said. "They were among the great leaders of New York City in terms of philanthropy."
This was the time of year for Martin, who died on April 17. His connection to the Jets of the late Sixties was that he was the son of another of those five owners, Townsend B. Martin, and he rose to the title of assistant general manager of the Jets, at a time when the team had no GM.
"Mike had become assistant GM but he also worked with the special teams when Buddy Ryan and Charley Winner were there," Ramos recalled. "After the draft, he worked on signing some of our lower-round draft choices and in bringing in rookie free agents.
"He also was very involved in horse racing. He took over his father’s racing stable and had a lot of stakes winners, mainly New York-breds. And he worked with Tom Werblin, who was the son of Sonny Werblin [another of that five-man syndicate] in marketing."
Most fans won’t remember Norma or Mike, but both were a part of Jets history, and thus part of foundation that the current Jets continue to build on. Our condolences go out to their families.
Tags: Frank Ramos, Leon Hess
Posted in Randy Lange | 50 Comments »
Tom Petty was right. (Tom Petty’s always right.) The waiting is the hardest part.
I’ve been a part of these head-coaching waits when I was on the outside looking in (Little Anthony was right, too) as a Jets beatwriter from 1994-2006. But as a beatwriter, to be more accurate, the waiting wasn’t the only hard part.
The other equally difficult element of an NFL head-coaching search is going to sleep at night thinking you’ve got that day’s story nailed, then waking up the next morning to find you didn’t quite have it nailed, or someone else nailed it differently and perhaps better.
My first head-coaching watch I remember being an easy one. Then-Jets owner Leon Hess removed Pete Carroll as the Jets’ head coach after only one year. But there was no dog-and-pony interview process in early 1995. Hess knew who he wanted from the beginning and that was Richie Kotite, who Hess remembered "busted a gut" trying to get plays down from his coach’s box to the field when he was a Jets assistant.
Two years later Kotite "stepped aside" after his two Jets teams went a combined 4-28, and again there wasn’t much of coaching search intrigue. Hess, who as a kid used to go clamming on the shores of Asbury Park, N.J., knew what he had to do: reel in the Big Tuna.
But there was intrigue, and it had to do with the New England Patriots not wanting to let Bill Parcells go to their division rivals. This all led to some great NFL theater on Feb. 3, when Bill Belichick was introduced as the Jets’ new head coach alongside a microphone on the table next to him, which was connected telephonically to the team’s new consultant, Parcells, at a remote location.
Eight days later, Hess, Pats owner Bob Kraft and then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue hammered out the matter in a New York City office. The Jets gave up four draft picks, the Pats gave up any hold to Parcells.
Hess before he died went 1-for-3. He probably should’ve kept Carroll. Kotite didn’t work out. But Parcells was Parcells.
The BP era of Jets football was too short, three seasons. Then as Woody Johnson was about to come aboard as the new owner in early 2000, Parcells announced his retirement and was attempting to contractually turn the football controls over to Belichick. But BB had other designs than to become the H.C. of the N.Y.J. And the hunt was on again.
I recall writing, once Belichick resigned after one day as Jets head coach, that many good candidates were available, among them Marty Schottenheimer, Gary Kubiak and Jets assistants Dan Henning, Maurice Carthon and Al Groh.
Parcells listened to the new owner and decided to stay on as general manager for a year, and recommended to Johnson that it was time to Groh. So that coaching search didn’t take long.
But it was good for less than a year, until I broke the story in the days after the end of the 2000 season that Groh was leaving the Jets after one season to coach at the University of Virginia.
On to the next coaching search, this time with Terry Bradway as the Jets’ new GM. Bradway interviewed four candidates: Carthon, Ted Cottrell, Dom Capers and Herm Edwards. Even though the search was on for three weeks, Edwards was the frontrunner from the beginning, in part because of his previous relationship with Bradway in Kansas City and in part because of the incredible energy he brought to his first head-coaching job.
"I heard him on the radio while I was driving in my car,” wide receiver Wayne Chrebet said at the time. "He made me want to strap on my helmet, stop on the side of the road and start hitting things. It was a ‘Remember the Titans’ kind of motivational speech.”
Five years later, in early 2006, Edwards had moved on to Kansas City and Bradway and assistant GM Mike Tannenbaum began an ambitious search for a replacement. The list contained Jim Haslett, Mike Tice, Tim Lewis and Joe Vitt, along with Jets assistants Mike Westhoff, Mike Heimerdinger and Donnie Henderson.
But the frontrunner this time was Eric Mangini, who had decade-long ties with Tannenbaum, and so after another three weeks of interviews and dinners and discussions, Mangini took over the Green & White reins. And we had no coaching searches for three years. Until now.
This is the first one that I’ve been behind the scenes for, and no question the view from here is better. There are some things that the reporters have gotten right, some they’ve gotten wrong. I don’t have to be mixing it up in that arena anymore, especially since the arena has inexorably changed from an AM/PM news cycle into a 24/7 cycle, during which anything you’ve written about, blogged, said or thought is in danger of momentarily becoming yesterday’s news. I don’t envy my former brethren.
Everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion, but I can say that those criticizing the direction or completeness or rigor of this search are out in left field. You may agree or disagree with who’s been interviewed or not, but from what I’ve seen there is no question that Woody Johnson and Mike Tannenbaum want to win and want to find the right man to help them and the Jets do that and they have been thorough and diligent in attacking this task. "Under every rock" doesn’t just apply to players.
And SOJ? That acronym means nothing. As Paul Newman repeated several times in "The Verdict," turning tired repetition into a mantra: "There is no other case. This is the case." For Jets fans, consider that there is no other search. This is the search.
And perhaps in a few days, or two weeks and a few days, it will be over. And the Jets, with a new skipper at the helm, will sail into the future.
Reports: Rams Hire Spagnuolo
According to reports out of St.. Louis this afternoon, the Rams have hired Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to be their new head coach. Spagnuolo had interviewed twice with the Jets, most recently Tuesday with Johnson and Tannenbaum at Johnson’s Manhattan offices.
Tags: Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, Eric Mangini, Herm Edwards, Leon Hess, Mike Tannenbaum, Pete Carroll, Terry Bradway, Woody Johnson
Posted in Randy Lange | 85 Comments »
One of the great things about the NFL is that it brings the holidays to its fans not just one day a year but several. There’s the national holiday known as the Super Bowl, the morning of every team’s opening day and the draft.
And there is Friday morning, when fans will see if Pigskin Santa left an unrestricted free agent under each team’s tree.
Of course, the free agency signing period extends for more than one day — restricted FAs can be signed to offer sheets through mid-April and unrestricted FAs on into July — but we all know of the frenzy that will begin for some teams and players at 12:01 a.m. Friday, when the courting and the signing can officially begin.
From the reports of our friendly beatwriters today, it sounds as if the Jets will be active. However, I can neither confirm nor deny that will be the case and can only refer you to GM Mike Tannenbaum, who said in his Sirius NFL Radio interview from the Indy combine last week: "We can sign seven guys or not sign any. You just never know the vagaries of free agency, but we’re prepared and we’ll see what happens."
I can’t go back in Jets history with some fans who remember every game from the hot-and-cold Eighties, the bleak Seventies, the soaring Sixties, but I can go back-back-back to the beginnings of free agency.
Unrestricted free agency began in the NFL in 1993, following several years of the transitional Plan B system. And there was probably no more exciting free agency period in Jets history, oddly enough, than in March 1996.
That was the year when Rich Kotite and then-owner Leon Hess brought in several big names to wipe out the memory of the 3-13 record in 1995.
QB Neil O’Donnell was coming off a Super Bowl appearance with Pittsburgh. Tackle John "Jumbo" Elliott came over from the Giants and back to his Long Island roots. In the days before the UFA period began, veteran tackle David Williams, a cap casualty already on the street, came aboard. Dangerous WR Jeff Graham blew in from Chicago. Frank Reich, forever to be known as the QB in the greatest comeback in NFL history, signed to back up O’Donnell.
There was, I recall, something of a buzz surrounding the Jets, all the way up until the losses began. And by the 15th defeat, vs. Miami in December, none of the signings looked all that good. At least O’Donnell, Graham and Elliott helped Bill Parcells start rebuilding the next year, and Jumbo carried on into the new millennium, with his starring moment coming as a tight end in "The Miracle in the Meadowlands."
There have been other good free agency hauls since then, in quality and quantity, such as ’97 (seven UFAs, six of whom started), 1998 (Curtis Martin as a restricted FA and Kevin Mawae) and 2002 (which helped lift them to their last division title and into the playoffs).
What will this year’s free agency period bring to the Jets and their faithful? All we can do is wait and see. Until then, here is a list of UFAs and RFAs who signed with the Jets since 1993. Keep in mind that I’m not listing garden-variety veteran FAs who were cut by their teams and signed by the Jets, such as Ty Law and the aforementioned David Williams. (r-restricted)
|CB Clifford Hicks (BUF)||DT Donald Evans (PIT)||QB Bubby Brister (PHI)|
|S Ronnie Lott (LARD)||P Brian Hansen (CLE)||DT Matt Brock (GB)|
|DT Leonard Marshall (NYG)||S Pat Terrell (LARM)||KR Dexter Carter (SF)|
|S David Tate (CHI)||CB Perry Williams (NYG)||DT Erik Howard (NYG)|
|CB Eric Thomas (CIN)||S Gary Jones (PIT)|
|TE James Thornton (CHI)||S Todd Scott (MIN)|
|T Harry Boatswain (PHI)||LB Demetrius DuBose (TB)||G Todd Burger (CHI)|
|T Jumbo Elliott (NYG)||CB Jerome Henderson (NE)||RB Keith Byars (NE)|
|WR Jeff Graham (CHI)||LB Pepper Johnson (DET)||C-G Mike Gisler (NE)|
|T John Hudson (PHI)||DT Ernie Logan (JAX)||RB Curtis Martin (NE)-r|
|QB Neil O’Donnell (PIT)||DE-DT Rick Lyle (BAL)||C Kevin Mawae (SEA)|
|QB Frank Reich (CAR)||FB Lorenzo Neal (NO)|
|WR Rico Smith (BAL)||CB Otis Smith (NE)|
|DE Mike Frederick (BAL)||DT Shane Burton (CHI)||LB James Darling (PHI)|
|TE Eric Green (BAL)||S Damien Robinson (TB)|
|G Erik Norgard (TEN)|
|LB Roman Phifer (STL)|
|P Tom Tupa (NE)|
|QB Scott Zolak (NE)|
|CB Donnie Abraham (TB)||G Tom Nutten (STL)||CB David Barrett (ARZ)|
|CB Aaron Beasley (JAX)||T Brent Smith (MIA)||LB Eric Barton (OAK)|
|LB Sam Cowart (BUF)||S Reggie Tongue (SEA)|
|DL Riddick Parker (NE)|
|G Dave Szott (WAS)|
|P Matt Turk (MIA)|
|DE Steve White (TB)|
|RB Derrick Blaylock (KC)||LB Matt Chatham (NE)||FB Darian Barnes (MIA)|
|QB Jay Fiedler (MIA)||T Anthony Clement (SF)||LB David Bowens (MIA)|
|LB Barry Gardner (CLE)||WR Tim Dwight (NE)||DE Kenyon Coleman (DAL)|
|DL Lance Legree (NYG)||DT Monsanto Pope (DEN)||QB Marques Tuiasosopo(OAK)|
|LB Brad Kassell (TEN)|
|C Trey Teague (BUF)|
DE Kimo von Oelhoffen(PIT)
Tags: Leon Hess, Mike Tannenbaum, Neil O\'Donnell
Posted in Randy Lange | 58 Comments »