Like It Or Not, Broadway Joe Will Loom Large Over Franchise Until New Heroes Emerge

By Jason Keidel
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Maybe Joe Namath should tweet more often.

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Whether it was Namath’s halftime call for Ryan Fitzpatrick to be benched or coach Todd Bowles’ fiery locker-room speech, the Jets stormed out in the second half Sunday in Cleveland with 24 straight points, beating the Browns, 31-28.

Imagine the headlines if they hadn’t. In a season already rife with disorder and a 1-5 start, the Jets (now 3-5) kept their microscopic playoff hopes alive by not being Cleveland’s first victim of 2016. The Browns are 0-8 for the first time since 1975.

Before the season started, Jets fans lamented the bumpy six-game stretch to start the season, which included five playoff teams from 2015. But a loss to the most forlorn franchise in the sport, still trying to find its legs under rookie coach Hue Jackson, would have been an unforgivable gaffe.

But the Jets did just enough to duck under that pole. While Fitzpatrick had just three completions in the first half, he led the Jets to three scoring drives in the second half. Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte and the ever-improving Quincy Enunwa (four receptions, 94 yards and a TD), formed the Jets’ offensive trident.

Jets-Browns

Jets running back Matt Forte carries the ball for a touchdown during the third quarter against the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 30, 2016, at FirstEnergy Stadium. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

It seems surreal that a two-win team needed their head coach to remind them to play with attitude against the worst team in football. And Bowles is too modest to take any credit for the tongue-lashing. But it’s enough to keep the media hounds at bay, at least for one week, until the Jets travel to Miami and face Jay Ajayi, who’s been running like Earl Campbell the last two games.

It’s not enough to make you forget that the Jets lost five of their first six games, or the musical chairs they were about to play at QB before Geno Smith tore his ACL, or the fact that their only franchise quarterback played in Shea Stadium 40 years ago.

You will see and hear many sardonic (if not vitriolic) references to Namath’s social media musings, part of a mounting hostility toward the Jets’ iconic QB. But Gang Green have only themselves to blame for the Hall of Famer’s voice still having any heft.

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Namath isn’t a part of the Jets’ history. He is the Jets’ history. And until the team forges new January and February memories, Namath, for better or worse, will be the club’s conscience.

Namath has become something of a caricature over the years — much of that his own doing — and the twin avatars of his and the team’s failures over the decades. Younger fans, who weren’t even around to see Ken O’Brien, much less Namath, are sick of the recycled tales of his guarantee and flexed forefinger in the Orange Bowl.

But until the Jets find his spiritual, physical and historical replacement, Namath will stand on his prerogative as the only QB to win a world title in a Jets uniform.

Sure, it’s absurd. But it’s part of football life. The reason the Giants don’t constantly jam to Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor is the fact that Eli Manning and the Giants made their own NFL mark, thus creating a fun debate between eras.

The Jets have only Super Bowl III and a bunch of woeful moments, regrets and Namath as a constant reminder of them. In the zero-sum calculus of pro sports, only championships wipe the slate clean. Just ask the Cubs.

And if the Jets want to shake the ghosts they’d better be more fired up than they were in Cleveland. It will likely take four quarters of solid football to win their next game.

And to keep a former QB off the keyboard.

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Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel