By Jason Keidel
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Roger Goodell preaches the paradigm of parity, with all 32 NFL teams stuffed into a football blender, stirred and poured onto the map. Peter King writes about all the sub-.500 teams that have reached the Super Bowl the next year.
But how many win it? And how many do so without a franchise quarterback? After the Dallas dynasty in the ‘90s, the league made it exponentially more difficult for teams to keep all their studs in the barn.
Then the Rams became the nouveau face of the rags-to-riches coda. But that never would have happened had Kurt Warner not sprung from a Horatio Alger novel, from bagging groceries to perhaps the Hall of Fame. And every team since, save for the Ravens and Buccaneers, has relied on a top-flight signal-caller.
So San Francisco – with a harrowing, chainsaw defense – aside, the best teams will fly the wings of their quarterbacks.
Eli Manning has the indefinable and indefatigable character of winners. It’s not always aesthetically pleasing, but the results need no defense. The next Giants fan who calls WFAN to gripe about him should be arrested. If you need proof of how lucky you are, just look at the locker next door, and imagine Manning as a Jet.
There are less than 10 quarterbacks in the NFL who can lead their teams to the Super Bowl, and at least one New York team has one. This season will test the timbre of Mark Sanchez and his coach Rex Ryan, each tethered to the same goal, and each other, with their legacies intertwined.
When the Jets drafted Sanchez he had to be a franchise player — you can’t miss with a QB so high in the draft. Just ask the Giants. Just ask the Chargers, who got Ryan Leaf as consolation for Eli’s older brother and then traded Eli for Philip Rivers.
My father took me to the final football game at Shea Stadium in 1983, for my 14th birthday. Largely unaware of the Jets’ past, and spellbound by Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll and the aura of my childhood heroes, I didn’t realize that I was witnessing history. I didn’t care that the Jets were moving to New Jersey, and I certainly didn’t know it was Bradshaw’s final game or that the Steelers were in the embryonic stage of a drought. I was 10 years old when the Steelers won their fourth ring. I was 35 when they won their fifth. It took that long for us to draft a winning quarterback.
The difference between the Jets and Steelers, beyond the obvious stability in the front office, scouting and coaching, was that Ben Roethlisberger wears black and gold, and Sanchez wears Gang Green. How many third downs did Big Ben extend, and how many did the Sanchise?
The Jets don’t lose because they’re playing in Pennsylvania any more than the Red Sox lost all those games because they traded Babe Ruth. Was Boston better than the Big Red Machine? The ’86 Mets? There are no curses. It’s about talent, timing and some temerity. The Jets never seem to hit that trifecta.
Sanchez has many years left in the league, but he has this year to prove that his first two years were more representative than the last two. Another 8-8 season could cement his fate as a second or third-tier quarterback.
The Jets have gone 43 years without a Lombardi Trophy. How many millions of Jets fans were born in that span? Why haven’t they won another? Probably because Joe Namath was their lone legend under center.
Does Sanchez have the talent to be a franchise quarterback down the line? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…