From their beginnings in 1959, the team originally known as the New York Titans has certainly contributed their fair share of facts to the history books. The squad started playing at New York’s Polo Grounds, but just a few years later, they couldn’t meet their payroll. Five men bought the bankrupt Titans for what would seem like a drop in the bucket today: one million dollars. They were renamed the Jets, and future Hall of Famer Weeb Ewbank was brought in as coach. In ‘64, they moved into Shea Stadium and drafted one of the most notorious showmen ever to grace a football roster: Alabama quarterback “Broadway Joe” Namath.
The day after the ’65 Orange Bowl, Namath signed his then-record $427,000 rookie contract, joining star players like Don Maynard, George Sauer and Matt Snell on his new team. Even after undergoing knee surgery just 23 days after the signing, he was still named Rookie of the Year. In ‘67, he became the first Jets QB to throw for 400 yards in a game, and on Christmas Eve, he notched another first in NFL history by throwing for 4,000 yards in a single season.
Namath proved he didn’t just talk the talk but that he also walked the walk. While accepting an award in January 1969, he made his famous “guarantee" that in three days, his team would beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Not only did the Jets win 16-7, but Namath was also named MVP. He played his final contest in a Jets uniform in 1976, retiring from the sport altogether two years later. Of course, he’s now enshrined in Canton’s Hall of Fame.
But there’s a lot more to the Jets’ past than just Namath, from Steve O’Neal punting a record-breaking 98 yards, to Chad Morton becoming the first player in league history to return kickoffs for touchdowns in both regulation and overtime play. The teams of the early ‘80s were led by the intimidating “New York Sack Exchange” (Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau, Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam), who powered the Jets to the playoffs in ’81 -- the first time they’d made an appearance since ’69. And no one can dispute the effect that Bill Parcells had on the team; during his very first game as head coach in ‘97, the Jets routed the Seahawks 41-3 on the way to their first winning season in nine years. In 2000, the team had its most spectacular comeback in franchise history, as they scored 30 fourth-quarter points in a 40-37 overtime victory against the Dolphins.
The Jets have made their mark on television, too: their 1970 contest with the Cleveland Browns was shown to the country in the inaugural Monday Night Football telecast. And many fans still remember their ire just a few years before that, when NBC didn’t broadcast the final 50 seconds of the Jets/Raiders game to allow the children’s movie Heidi to begin on time. The Jets had just taken the lead with only 1:05 left to play, and rather than allow fans to continue watching, the network cut away; Oakland scored two touchdowns in the last 42 seconds to win! This is widely known in NFL folklore as the Heidi Bowl.
Today, Jets fans flock to MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, just across the river from the stunning New York City skyline, to cheer on a squad with one of the most vivid histories in all of football.