Al Groh, the 56-year-old coach who replaced Bill Parcells this season, bolted the Meadowlands for his alma mater, Virginia, leaving my beloved Gang Green in yet another bind.
Groh was technically the third head coach for the Jets during the past year. Parcells stepped down following the 1999 season and seemed ready to ride off into the sunset after a disappointing season - which saw the team lose its starting quarterback on the first play of the regular season - handing the reins over to his defensive coordinator Bill Belichik.
Belichik surprised the entire sports world when at the news conference to announce he was to be the new coach, he said he would not take the job. The Jets, obviously stunned, regrouped a few weeks later and Parcells, director of football operations for the franchise, appointed Groh to steer the ship.
Groh was a virtual unknown to me, though he had coached in the shadow of Parcells and Belichik for years. He spent six seasons at Wake Forest as head coach, compiling a 26-40 record, but spent the majority of his time in the pros working for Parcells, Belichik or former Giants coach Ray Handley.
But, probably like most Jets fans, if Parcells was willing to give him control of the team, I was more than willing to go along with it. Parcells, after all, may be the best pro coach in history, right up there with Vince Lombardi, George Halas and Joe Gibbs. Anything the man said about football you had to respect.
When Parcells came to the Jets four years ago it was amid a swirl of controversy. He left the New England Patriots in a lurch after guiding the team to a Super Bowl loss and long public battles with the team's owner. The Jets had to give New England compensation and even went through the guise of hiring Belichik, Parcells' assistant in New England, as interim head coach until Parcels could get away legally.
And as a long suffering Jets fans, it didn't matter if we had to give up one draft choice or 10, because we knew that with Parcells in the fold the Jets would finally soar again.
Before Parcells came the Jets were the joke of the NFL. They lost all but one game the year before under then coach Rich Kotite and won only three games the year before that despite having plenty of talent and playing in a city that demands winning.
I have never seen the Jets win a title. I was born the year after "Broadway" Joe Namath made good on his daring prediction to beat the Baltimore Colts and win the Super Bowl and the closest the team had come before Parcells was a trip to the AFC title game against Miami in the early '80s when A.J. Duhe intercepted Richard Todd three times, foiling any hopes of a return trip to the Super Bowl.
For some reason, and I don't know why, I became a diehard Jets fan - though I do and have always rooted for the Giants as well - sometimes much to my chagrin. But Parcells changed that, if just for a little while, bringing the team to the AFC championship game in 1998. But that was as close as we would get again.
Last year the team finished 8-8 and then Parcells said he would step down from coaching, opening the door for Belichik, then Groh.
Under Groh, the Jets came out of the gate like gangbusters, winning their first four games of the season in spectacular fashion. They opened with a come-from-behind win over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, following that with another dramatic win the following week on "Monday Night Football" over the New England Patriots - the same team the scooped up Belichik after he turned up his nose at the Jets.
Next was a solid win over the Buffalo Bills and then a tremendous come-from-behind effort against the playoff-bound Tampa Bay Buccaneers and former Jets star receiver Keyshawn Johnson.
I thought the season was almost over the next time the Jets took the field, when quarterback Vinny Testeverde went down against Pittsburgh and the team was blown out. But Vinny came back the next week, again leading the team over New England.
The high point of the season came the next week, again on "Monday Night Football," as the team hosted the hated Miami Dolphins. Miami rolled out to a 30-3 lead and looked to all the world as a lock to win the game.
That's when the Jets mounted the greatest comeback in franchise history and Testeverde became a Greek god for one quarter. The Jets forced overtime and then won it on a field goal in the wee hours of the morning. That game ranks up there with my all-time greatest sports memories.
But that's all it would mean, for the Jets lost their next three, won three straight - to go to 9-4 - and needed just one win to secure a playoff spot. But the team lost three games to end the season, to Oakland, Detroit and Baltimore, falling out of playoff contention on the final day of the season.
Of course losing is nothing new to Jets fans; we accept it. But I thought it was over then. As if by karma, a week later Jets fans got one final punch in the stomach with the news of Groh's going bye-bye, leaving us in a lurch once again.
Hopefully, Parcells will rescue the Jets again. Whether he comes back to coach or appoints a new team leader, I believe in Bill. But I also know my history and maybe this is the one franchise he will not be able to resurrect. Either way, I'll be cheering next year, hopefully not in vain.
©2001 Community News Group
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