By MICHAEL FAIRLIE //
This will be the first installment in my All-Time Favorite Jets series. I figure that, as Jets fans we have had to deal with a lot of negativity over the years and we tend to place too much focus on the devastating defeats, both on and off the field.
There is no possible way that I can deny that I have had more than my fair share of angry outbursts and pleas for pity when it comes to the Jets, but it has not all been bad. Sometimes we have to talk about the good, along with those who have made our existence as Jets fans somewhat tolerable.
Not all of the players I feature will necessarily be all-time greats, but they will all be members of the franchise that have had a positive impact on me as a fan at some point in time, during their career with the New York Jets. Furthermore, the figures I put forth are not in any kind of particular order as to how I rank them in Jets history. It will be a collection of the characters that have left a lasting impression on me during my three plus decades of Jets fanaticism.
I decided to start out with one of my childhood heroes, who, like so many other Jets over the years, has been the source of much debate over what his true worth was. From the moment he was selected by the Jets, in the first round of the 1983 draft, strong-armed UC Davis quarterback, Ken O’Brien was stuck in the shadow of Dan Marino, picked three slots later by the Miami Dolphins.
The raucous reaction of the Jets fans attending the draft was something that would follow him throughout his career, as Marino went on to become one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. If taken on his talent and performance alone, O’Brien would get much more credit than he does. But when compared to Marino and Elway, two of the all-time best, it is impossible to live up to those standards. How many QB’s ever have?
From the second he was selected by the Jets, O’Brien had the spotlight of scrutiny shining bright upon him. Lucky for him, at the time he was drafted, some teams still gave first-round quarterbacks time to develop, and Ken was given a little time to learn before being thrown to the wolves during the 1984 season. But no one would ever forget, or let O’Brien forget, that he was chosen just prior to Mr. Marino.
In 1985, his first full season as the starting quarterback, O’Brien had 25 touchdowns along with 8 interceptions, amassed almost 4,000 yards passing, led the NFL in passer rating and was selected to the Pro Bowl, all while leading Gang Green to an 11-5 record and a playoff appearance. One of the highlights of that season was a game in which O’Brien was 23/30 with 5 TD’s and 1 INT in a 62-28 triumph against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The very next season, in a 38-7 victory over the Seattle Seahawks, during which he tossed 4 touchdown passes, O’Brien became the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for 400 or more yards (431) in a game and earn a perfect QB rating of 158.3, an accomplishment that would not be repeated for 27 years.
1986 was also the year that saw O’Brien outduel Dan Marino in an all-time air assault in which the Jets emerged victorious 51-45 in OT. O’Brien was 29/43 for 479 yards and had 4 TD passes to Wesley Walker.
Unfortunately, it was also a year which saw the Jets drop five in a row to finish at 10-6, eventually losing 23-20 in OT of the divisional playoffs, due in large part to Gastineau’s late hit on Bernie Kosar late in the 4th quarter, which occurred at a time when the Jets were up 20-10.
While it is true that O’Brien never truly returned to the form he displayed in his first two seasons as a starter in the league, the strike-shortened 1987 season did not do him any favors with keeping up his continuity. He did however have the lowest interception rating in 1987 as well as in 1988.
As the years went on in his professional career, the overall talent level on offense diminished and the combination of inadequate offensive line play with O’Brien’s inherent lack of mobility played a major role in him slowly breaking down physically. Things did not get much better for Ken or the Jets when Bruce Coslet took over the team in 1990.
Although he may not be the best quarterback to ever play for the Jets, Ken O’Brien is certainly not far from it. He holds the franchise record for career completions with 2,039 as well as being second to Joe Namath in yards (24,386) and touchdown passes (124). He is also third in single-season passing yards with 3,888 and tied for fourth in passing TD’s with 25, a feat he accomplished twice.
Watching Ken O’Brien play the game was a true pleasure when he was on top if his game. I just wish he would have had the proper supporting cast during his days in the green and white. He played with some extremely talented receivers in Wesley Walker and Al Toon, but rarely had more than one consistent receiving weapon on the field at a time. Who knows how far the Jets could have gone if he would have been given the proper tools?