By MICHAEL FAIRLIE //
For the second entry in my, randomly ordered, All-Time Favorite Jets series, I am going to stick with the quarterback position. Although his reign as the starting signal caller of the New York Jets only lasted for a half season, Ray Lucas left a lasting impression on me as a fan that will last a lifetime.
I was a fan of him as a player before he even came to the Jets. An undrafted free agent quarterback out of Rutgers, he was willing to do whatever it took to make it in the NFL, by agreeing to try out as a WR and play on special teams. Utilizing his athletic abilities, along with his sheer tenacity, he earned himself a spot with New England as a special teams demon in 1996.
This was prior to the intense rivalry that exists today between the Jets and the Patriots, so it did not make me want to throw up in my mouth to admire the play of a member of « that team. » The 6’3, 215 pound Lucas was a kamikaze pilot who operated with precision as he lit up returners on the regular. This was a college quarterback hitting people with the tenacity of Ronnie Lott. As a football fan, how could you not love watching that?
Then, lucky for me, Bill Parcells brought Lucas to the Jets after taking over the team in 1997. One day, early on in the 1997 season, I was walking through J.C. Penney at the mall, and right there before me was a white Jets, number 18, Ray Lucas jersey. Not even close to a household name at the time, I thought that there had to be a reason why this particular jersey was staring me in the face, and I bought it. How could I not?
It was not until the 1999 season, after everyone, including the punter and Rick Mirer, had a chance, that Ray Lucas finally got his opportunity to shine in the role of the New York Jets Starting Quarterback. And shine he did.
After Vinny Testaverde suffered a ruptured Achilles’ tendon in the opening game, in a season following a 12-4 record that came within 15 minutes of a Super Bowl berth, the Jets turned to Rick Mirer, the second pick in the first-round of the 1993 draft by Seattle.
Following a disastrous run that saw him go from Seattle, to Chicago, to Green Bay, and labeled as one of the biggest first-round quarterback busts in NFL Draft history, Mirer led the Jets into the perilous position of 2-6.
Pressed up against the wall, and knowing that a 7th loss would all but spell doom, Parcells finally made the switch to Lucas. Ray quickly formed a solid chemistry with wide receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet, leading to Lucas completing almost 60% of his passes while throwing for 1,678 yards with 14 TD’s and 6 INT’s as well as 41 rushes for 144 yards in 8 games as the starter. But more importantly, the team had a 6-2 record with Lucas leading the way.
Despite the fact that the ’99 season ended in a disappointing fashion with the Jets falling short of a playoff berth at 8-8, it is a year that I will always remember fondly as a fan.
In the first game of the year, with dreams of a Super Bowl planted firmly in the minds of most fans, all was lost as Vinny Testaverde went down in a heap. Tom Tupa, the team’s punter, took over at quarterback before making way for Mirer, sending the Jets into a tailspin that seemed as if it would never end.
When Ray Lucas finally took over that year, playing with the heart of a lion, he brought excitement back to the fans and breathed life back into the team. He left everything he had out there on the field and helped to make the most out of a lost season, giving us something to cheer about along the way, including four straight wins to end the season.
Although I was happy to have Testaverde back behind center the next season, there was a part of me that wished Lucas could somehow be in there too. I truly believe that he could have put together a rather decent career if he would have been given the right opportunity and did not end up having to give up the game early due to debilitating neck injuries.
However, I am glad that he made his way back to the Jets as part of the SNY team of analysts. In his current role, Ray makes the wins that much sweeter and the losses a bit easier to deal with (Well, the losses are NEVER easy to deal with, but I still enjoy his commentary). And nobody can say « Bilaaaaaaal Powell » better than Mr. Lucas.