Jets fans of a certain age remember when this was all part of the deal of rooting for the Jets, perhaps part of the necessary surcharge for hopping along with Broadway Joe for that run to glory 55 years back. One of the great ironies of the fabled Namath years was this: There was a time when one of his greatest qualities was his indestructibility.
Despite ruinous knees, Namath went 77-for-77 in his first 77 career starts once he replaced Mike Taliaferro as the Jets’ starter in the second game of the 1965 season. There were weeks he could barely walk, but he still answered the bell. That all changed in Week 5 of 1970, when he broke his wrist in the final drive of a 29-22 loss to the Colts at Shea Stadium.
From there, Namath played in just 28 of the next 58 games the Jets played thanks to a knee injury (in 1971) and a shoulder injury (in 1973). Fans who came to the Jets in those years knew Namath mostly from the movie screen or “The Brady Bunch” or Noxzema commercials, only occasionally on the football field. There, the Jets were led mostly by Al Woodall (in 1970, ’71 and ’73), Bob Davis (’71) and Bill Demory (’73).
Not surprisingly, they suffered in Namath’s absence, going 9-21 in the games Namath missed in those four years. And the quarterback play was … putting it kindly, “substandard,” certainly compared to Namath in his prime. Woodall/Davis/Demory completed 310 out of 688 passes with 32 touchdowns and 39 interceptions.
Fans were plenty miserable about that.
But in 1971, that angst wasn’t instantly compounded by seeing just how stark a difference it was between the dreck they were witnessing and what was happening across the league. In those years, what you had in New York was a Jets game on Sunday, a Giants game on Sunday (and the Giants’ QBs in those years weren’t much better, though at least Fran Tarkenton was fun to watch). And the Monday night game. Until the playoffs, that was it.
Now? Now there are Thursday games. There are Sunday doubleheader games. Sunday night games. There are Monday games. Most fans have access to Sunday Ticket, even if it’s just taking a ride to the local Buffalo Wild Wings. You can see every other quarterback, even the “bad” ones, so the fact that even the “bad” ones can complete the occasional 15-yard out pattern without making it feel that a nuclear code had to be breached first …
Well, Zach Wilson is bad. Everyone can see that. Everyone can yell it the clouds, too — starting with Namath himself, who on Monday summarized his opinion of Wilson thusly: “Disgusting.”
But with that many instant comparisons, it’s exponentially bad. It’s bad multiplied by 31. Time was, a Jets fan could moan that Bob Davis was the worst quarterback they’d ever seen, and though it might’ve been true, they had no proof.
Now, they know. Now they see. And see. And see.
There is no escaping it. A quarterback’s competence isn’t a matter of conjecture anymore. It’s a matter of public record. And that makes it all the more inescapable.
It is understandable why Robert Saleh and the rest of Wilson’s teammates have bent themselves into pretzels showing support — even if they have seen 100 different legit NFL observers breaking down the all-22 film and pointing out all of the open receivers Wilson never saw or simply never tried to throw to Sunday.
(Also worth noting that in 1970-73, there were about 33 people in the entire world who’d ever heard of the term “all-22.”)
“Everyone can see what’s happening,” Saleh conceded Monday afternoon, even as he reiterated the only choice he truly has at his disposal next week against Kansas City: sticking with Wilson (unless the NFL allows the Jets a special dispensation and allows Rodgers to suit up and play in a scooter).
The sad truth is, Wilson is bad enough if you just watch his games in a vacuum. But he is actually flooded in modern-day context, too. Jets fans were expecting to watch a first-ballot Hall of Famer this year, after all. The eye in the sky allows every amateur offensive coordinator a chance to second-guess every quarterback’s choices, but especially the vulnerable ones.
And now you can see folks like Joshua Dobbs and C.J. Stroud emerge in real time, you can watch a journeyman like Gardner Minshew make money throw after money throw and, well, it’s pretty stark. Justin Fields is probably experiencing the same kind of thing Wilson is, only in Chicago — another town much like ours which has been lately overrun with quarterbacking malfeasance.
Tough town. And a tough time to be scuffling in a tough town.