This is the latest post in Kurt’s continuing series to identify the NFL’s Ultimate Franchise Player of All-Time. For an explanation of his methodology for choosing each franchise’s ultimate franchise player, and then how you and he will choose the NFL’s Ultimate Franchise Player from that list, click here.
So just who is the greatest player in New York Jets history?
Perhaps the answer to this type of question is best left to the know-it-alls on WFAN.
But here we go anyway, and there is a compelling argument depending on the type of criteria you want to use for the honor.
Obviously the Jets have not had nearly the success of their counterparts the Giants over the years. But the Jets do own a place in one of pro football’s most historic games, which goes far in deciding the Jets best player ever.
Before making the final arguments, here’s a look at our own all-time Jets team…
Mark Gastineau (DE 1979-88)
The All-Time Jets squad starts pretty good with the New York Sack Exchange. Gastineau was known for his post-play dancing ability as much as getting to the quarterback. During one game versus the LA Rams in 1983, Gastineau’s sack dance led to a nearly all-out brawl.
Sacks officially became a NFL stat early in Gastineau’s career. In 1983 and 1984 alone, he had 41 sacks, which came during a period in which Gastineau earned five consecutive Pro Bowl appearances.
Joe Klecko (DT 1977-87)
Sacks were not yet an individual statistic in 1981, but the Jets recorded 66 as a team that year with Klecko himself unofficially recording 20.5 sacks from the defensive tackle position.
Marty Lyons (DT 1979-89)
Lyons never did get Pro Bowl recognition like teammates Gastineau and Klecko, but the University of Alabama alum had his own decade-plus run in the league. Lyons remains in the organization as the team’s radio analyst.
Shaun Ellis (DE 2000-10)
A 12th overall pick, Ellis recorded 73.5 sacks in his career. One of his most memorable moments came when he ended a snowball war with Seattle Seahawks fans by shoving the entire snowbank at the section.
Dennis Byrd (DE 1989-92)
Byrd is remembered for suffering a serious spinal cord injury that ended his career in November, 1992. The injury cut short a career in which Byrd had recorded 13 sacks two seasons prior. Byrd’s #90 was formally retired by the Jets during the 2012 season.
Larry Grantham (OLB 1960-72)
One of the original stars of the franchise, Grantham was one of seven players to play all ten years of the AFL with the same franchise. Grantham’s tenure started with the sparsely attended New York Titans era and culminated with the franchise’s Super Bowl III win.
Kyle Clifton (MLB 1984-96)
Clifton never was selected for the Pro Bowl, but he patrolled the middle for 13 years, recording astounding tackle numbers in the process, including 199 (tackles are an unofficial stat kept by the team) in 1988.
Mo Lewis (OLB 1991-2003)
Lewis started 200 games, the third most in franchise history, and was defensive captain his last seven years. One of his most memorable plays was when he knocked out Drew Bledsoe in 2001, which inadvertently ushered in the Tom Brady era.
Wahoo McDaniel (MLB 1964-65)
The University of Oklahoma has made an incredible contribution to the pro wrestling world over the years, starting with Wahoo McDaniel and continuing with Dr. Death Steve Williams and most recently Jack Swagger.
Wahoo also had an eight-year football career with four different AFL teams, and was with the Jets in 1964-65. He was best remembered for making a ton of tackles in a game versus the Denver Broncos and quickly becoming a cult favorite of fans and Jets radio announcer Merle Harmon.
If I need to go to a 3-4 scheme, I’m plugging in Wahoo. Between Wahoo, Dennis Byrd, and Gastineau, the state of Oklahoma is well-repped on the Jets all-time defense.
‘Come on Darrelle, you know you interfered before making that pick against the Dolphins, just admit it now!!!’
That was basically how a silly ten-minute exchange between Mike Francesca and Revis went down, which ended with a Jets staffer urging Revis to hang up the phone.
Revis tore his ACL early in the 2012 season, and as of this writing a soap opera is going on regarding whether the Jets actually have Revis on the trade block.
Aaron Glenn (CB 1994-2001)
Glenn became a two-time Pro Bowler for the Jets before leaving for the Houston Texans and other teams in the final half of his 15-year career. Glenn was a two-time Pro Bowl selection for the Jets in the late 1990’s.
Victor Green (S 1993-2001)
Green started every game in his final 6+ years with the team, and he is tied for third place with several other players with 24 interceptions for his career.
Dainard Paulson (S 1961-66)
I go old, old, old, old school for my second safety. Paulson intercepted 12 passes in the 1964 season. Another option at safety would be Ronnie Lott, who spent his last two seasons with the Jets.
Winston Hill (OT 1963-76)
The offensive tackles on the All-Time team are big-time. Hill was a perennial All-Star/Pro Bowl selection from 1967 through 1973. He was one of the heroes of Super Bowl III opening gaping holes for Matt Snell.
Marvin Powell (OT 1977-85)
One of many, many great offensive tackles to come out of USC, Powell was a top-five overall draft choice and mostly lived up to his billing, earning Pro Bowl recognition five consecutive years.
Randy Rasmussen (OG 1967-81)
A longevity pick here, the Nebraska native never made the Pro Bowl, but he appeared in 207 games for the Jets (tops among non-kickers) and was one of the final members of the Super Bowl III squad to retire.
Dan Alexander (OG 1977-89)
His career was similar to Rasmussen. He also never achieved Pro Bowl recognition, but he played in 192 regular season games, starting 182.
Kevin Mawae (C 1998-2005)
Center is a position of strength on the All-Time team, a list that also includes Joe Fields (1975-1987) and Nick Mangold (2006-present). In addition to being a perennial Pro Bowler, Mawae also served as player rep and later become president of the NFLPA. Mawae remains one of the most respected men in franchise annals.
Mickey Shuler (TE 1978-89)
There has never been a tremendous lineage at tight end in franchise history, but Shuler is the best of the bunch. Between 1984-88, Shuler recorded seasons of 68, 76, 69, and 70 receptions.
Wesley Walker (WR 1977-89)
Legally blind in one eye, Wes Walker remains the most dangerous deep threat the Jets have ever had, averaged 24.4 yards on 48 receptions in his sophomore year in 1978. Walker caught 15 passes for 300+ yards over two playoff games while helping the Jets to the AFC Championship Game in January, 1983.
Don Maynard (WR 1960-72, HOF)
An original Titan, Maynard is very much in the conversation as Jets best ever player and is ranked #60 on Pro Football References EloRater. Maynard still holds the three highest single-season yardage totals in franchise history, all in 14 game seasons.
Other receivers on the all-time depth chart include fan favorite Wayne Chrebet (1995-2005), and Wisconsin Badgers legend Al Toon (1985-92).
Freeman McNeil (RB 1981-92)
A third overall draft pick, McNeil was considered underwhelming by some, but after further examination his career was not bad.
He lasted 12 years, and while he did get phased into a part-time role late in his career, even in his peak years he was rotated with Johnny Hector and others.
That said, McNeil is second in career rushing, and ended his career with a 4.5 average per rush, never averaging below 4.0 in any season. His only fault was he never had a heavy-duty 300+ carry season, which actually extended his career.
As a Jet, he rushed for over 10,000 yards. For his career, CuMart ranks fourth all-time with over 14,000 rushing yards. Counting his New England days, Martin rushed for over 1,000 yards in ten consecutive seasons. His next-to-last season was his best, as Martin went for nearly 1,700 yards at age 31. Martin’s RPI on Pro Football Reference sits at #57.
Backups in the Jets all-time backfield include John Riggins, along with AFL icons Matt Snell and Emerson Boozer.
Joe Namath (QB 1965-76, HOF)
Even compared to others in his era, Namath’s stats don’t necessarily stand out. He completed just over 50% of his passes and his career QB rating is a mere 65.5. Pro Football Reference only ranks him at #342.
But Namath is not to be judged by statistics, although he did become the first in pro football to pass for 4,000 yards in a season and he threw for 55 TD’s between 1966-67.
If he hadn’t had a knee injury dating back to his days at the University of Alabama, Namath’s career would had been even greater, with potentially more championships. As it is, January 12, 1969 continues to sit on its own merits.
Ken O’Brien (QB 1984-93)
Part of the QB Class of ’83, O’Brien also had a much better career than many give him credit for.
In his second season as a starter, O’Brien threw 25 TDs against just eight interceptions. One of O’Brien’s most memorable games was a duel versus Dan Marino in 1986 that saw the Jets win 51-45. O’Brien threw for 479 yards that day while Marino went for 448. That would be the most yards between two QBs in a game in league history for 25 years.
That 1986 season looked like would finally be the Jets year as the team stood at 10-1 at one point. That was before Paul Maguire got on television and proclaimed the team would not win another game the rest of the season.
The Jets did wind up finishing 10-6, although they did win a first-round playoff game.
Pat Leahy (K 1974-91)
Leahy is not only the Jets all-time leading scorer but the greatest Saint Louis Billiken to ever play in the NFL. Leahy made 71% of his kicks over a career playing his games in the swirling winds of Shea Stadium and the Meadowlands.
There are so many to choose from!
Many people will forget that Lou Holtz was once the Jets head coach, though he stayed on the job only slightly longer than Bill Belichick.
Charlie Winner also coached the team, but at 9-14 he did not quite live up to his name. And who can forget Bruce Coslet and Richie (4-28) Kotite??
And then there’s always Herman Edwards – ‘HELLO, YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!!!’
Or there’s Pete Carroll, he did a year in the 1990s. Or Eric Mangini.
Or – just maybe, we just continue to roll with Rex Ryan.
Actually, I’m going to pass on all of the above and go with Weeb Ewbank.
JETS ULTIMATE FRANCHISE PLAYER
Remember the Pro Football Reference Rankings I mentioned earlier? Curtis Martin #57, Don Maynard #60, Joe Namath #342.
The NFL Network Top-100 list had things vastly different, ranking Namath exactly at #100 and leaving Martin and Maynard unranked. Namath was also the lone Jets player ranked (at #96) on the Sporting News 1999 list.
If you like stats and longevity, your choice might be Martin or Maynard.
However, one must shudder thinking how differently pro football might be today if Joe Namath chose the St. Louis Cardinals in the NFL instead of the New York Jets in late-1964.
With a new owner, and a new television contract in tow, Namath was the right man for the right team at the right time. Namath was the lone 4,000 yard passer in a season until Dan Fouts came along in the late 1970s with an expanded schedule.
When NBC pulled the plug on the infamous final moments of what would become the ‘Heidi Game’, it was realized that Joe Namath now meant something, and when the Jets beat the Colts a couple months later, the AFL officially became equal to their NFL counterparts.
With all due respect, Martin and Maynard would probably (in my opinion) tell you that Namath was, and remains, the New York Jets.
The selection of New York Jets Ultimate Franchise Player is…