It's Official: The Jets Are The Red Sox Of The NFL
In the wake of a 49-19 thrashing on Thanksgiving night, fans and pundits looking for historical context for the maddening New York Jets should probably look outside the NFL. Because a near perfect doppelganger to the Jets exists in another league; a franchise and a fan base just as familiar with frustration and just as frustrated with a lack of success.
That team, the Jets’ twin-under-the-skin, plays baseball just up interstate 95: the Boston Red Sox.
Think the comparison is a stretch? Read on, and accept the reality that the New York Jets are the Boston Red Sox of the NFL.
Reason #1: Stunning Victories for Upstart Leagues
Both the Jets and Red Sox experienced early success, and both provided signature wins in the formative years of their respective leagues.
Prior to January 12, 1969, most of the media and football insiders considered the NFL far superior to the upstart AFL. The Green Bay Packers won the first two Super Bowls, and most everyone expected the NFL’s Baltimore Colts to continue that dominance in Super Bowl III. The Colts were favored by 17 points, and conventional wisdom held that the NFL possessed superior players, coaches, and management.
However, quarterback Joe Namath famously guaranteed a victory, and the underdog New York Jets backed it up with a 16-7 win. The result shocked the football establishment, and it gave the AFL a much-needed shot of confidence and respectability. Including Super Bowl III, former AFL teams would go on to win 4 of 6 Super Bowls, which made it clear that old-guard and new-guard had no meaning in the merged league.
The Boston Red Sox had their own signature championship, when they beat the National League’s Pittsburgh Pirates in the first World Series in 1903. That upset was just as surprising for its time, if not more so. The National League had at least a 25-year head start on the American League (derisively called the “Junior Circuit”), and the entire baseball establishment believed the Pirates would toy with the AL champs from Boston.
The Red Sox served notice with that victory, and the AL won 10 of the first 15 World Series, including 5 championships by Boston. Just as with the Jets in 1969, the established order was turned on its head, and newcomers changed the course of the sport.
Reason # 2: Decades of Ineptitude
After that early success, both teams experienced quick and prolonged falls from grace.
The Jets made the playoffs the year after their Super Bowl victory, but they never posted another winning record under Namath. They won at least two-thirds of their games in only 3 of the next 38 years (and once was a 6-3 record in a strike year), and in that time frame, they won the AFC East only 2 times and finished last (or tied for last) 14 times.
Even more telling is the Jets’ postseason futility. They did make the playoffs 12 times from 1970-2008. But several times they barely squeezed in, and the team went only 6-10 in those playoff seasons. Perhaps worst of all, they never returned to the Super Bowl, reaching the AFC Championship game twice and losing both times.
The Red Sox years of frustration are well documented. The early championships were followed by 86 years without a single one. But there are two differences between the ineptitude of each franchise: (1) the Red Sox made it to the World Series four times during their drought, the Jets haven’t made it back to the Super Bowl at all; and (2) the Jets are only 43 years into their drought -- exactly half as long as the Red Sox’ march through the desert. That second thought might be a chilling one for Jets fans.
Reason #3: Inferiority Complex
The Jets and Red Sox (and their fans) live under inferiority complexes, competing with specific teams for on-field success and off-field buzz and adulation, and both suffering “little brother” syndrome in comparison to more accomplished teams from New York.
The Jets are overshadowed by their co-tenants at MetLife Stadium: the New York Giants. The Giants are eight-time NFL champions, and currently have one of the best quarterbacks in the league and a penchant for successful post-season runs. Since 1987, the Giants averaged a Super Bowl appearance every 5 years, and the franchise retains a much stronger hold on New York fans and media than the Jets.
The Jets spend time and energy battling the Giants for media attention, for fans and season-ticket holders, for companies to buy luxury suites, and for local broadcast deals. But in the end, the Jets lack of on-field success means they come out wanting in comparisons with their more successful big brother, who resides in the same house but is lavished with much more praise.
The Red Sox nemesis wears pinstripes and plays in the Bronx: the New York Yankees. The Yankees drove Red Sox management, players, and fans bonkers for decades, finding ways to derail seasons of great potential (1949 and 1978) and breaking their hearts when all looked certain to go their way (2003). The Red Sox inferiority complex lasted for over half a century, as they watched their southern neighbors rack up 26 World Series titles before the Sox finally broke through again in 2004.
Lack of success, a close neighbor heaped with praise year after year, and the drive to compete with them at all costs -- those factors are enough to push anyone to desperate measures, which brings us to similarity #4, the unfortunate effect of the inferiority complex...