When covering the complete history of the New York Jets, the story begins in 1959. However, it wasn’t the Jets at that time. It was the Titans. The name change came in 1963 when the ownership of the team changed hands. As the New York Titans, this team was registered with the American Football League. The merger of the AFL with the National Football League didn’t take place until 1970.
The brainchild behind the New York Titans began with Harry Wismer. While at a political meeting, he stated New York City, as well as the state, should expand its professional football league team roster from one team to two. At this time, the New York Giants of the NFL were already established as a team. It was Wismer’s vision to install a second team, much like how the city already had at least two pro baseball teams in the MLB. Wismer pitched the name as a grander version of the Titans, which he knew was perfect to spark an inter-city rivalry with the older team. He also convinced the interested parties that he would be the right man for the job to manage this brand-new football organization.
As soon as Wismer got the approval, he and the Titans were granted the Polo Grounds as the team’s home base. However, it was a facility that was in a state of disrepair. Although the Titans played there for three seasons, there was a need to find a better football field. Adding to the woes of the Titans was the team’s financial state. Going into 1962, Wismer’s debt was so great that the AFL had no choice but to cover the costs until the season was over. Because of this unfortunate development, the future of the Titans didn’t look good.
Saving the day was Sonny Werblin and his associates. As a five-man operation, they purchased the team for a million dollars in 1963. The first thing these men did was change the name from the New York Titans to the New York Jets. The name change came about due to the fact this football team played close to LaGuardia Airport. It was also a name play off the New York Mets in the form of a rhyme. For Werblin, it seemed only fitting as the new home base for the Jets was Shea Stadium. This was the same facility that handled the home games of the New York Mets.
Associated with Werblin at the time as part of a five-man syndicate were Leon Hess, Philip H. Iselin, Donald C. Lillis, and Townsend B. Martin. Although they were supposed to work together as a group, Werblin often made decisions on his own without consulting his partners. As a result, the animosity against him grew. Granted, the Jets were finally making a profit but that wasn’t the point. Werblin, as a businessman, was not a team player, at least not with his associates. Because of this, there was a push to put an end to the partnership. At first, Werblin resisted. Then in 1968, he agreed to be bought out. Leon Hess, Philip H. Iselin, and Donald Lillis would become the team’s new owners.
As for Werblin, his involvement with the AFL, and then the NFL, didn’t come to an end there. He moved on to become the first chairman and CEO of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. While there, he used his influence to create the Meadowlands Sports Complex. This also included the development of Giants Stadium.
Hess vs. Shea
As soon as Leon Hess assumed partial ownership of the New York Jets, he fought to improve how the team was accommodated by Shea Stadium. This is the same Hess behind the Hess Corporation and its collection of gas stations. For Hess, the busy businessman left the day-to-day football-related operations of the Jets to coaches and a general manager, hoping they’d make sound decisions that would benefit the team. This paid off during the second half of the 1960s, especially in 1969.
Hess hired Weeb Ewbank as its head coach and general manager. It was Ewbank who coached the team to its first Super Bowl win in 1969. He, along with star quarterback, Joe Namath, scored the upset over the Baltimore Colts in what was the league’s third annual Super Bowl championship. This was also the final season the Jets had with the AFL as it would merge with the NFL going into the 1970 football season.
While Ewbank concerned himself with the team’s performance on the field, Hess constantly found himself at odds with Shea Stadium. This facility was shared with the New York Mets and it was clear William Shea had this designed with the Mets in mind over the Jets, even though both of them were already scheduled to take up residency at the facility. Already familiar with each other as roommates, so to speak, since Polo Grounds, the Jets, and the Mets had schedules that occasionally conflicted with each other, especially when the Mets would have a good playoff run in MLB.
As soon as the New York Jets and the AFL became affiliated with the NFL, it struggled to function as a winning team. It didn’t help matters when Joe Namath’s star quality as a quarterback was directly affected by a series of injuries that plagued his career. Even though Hess was busy with his gas stations, he had a genuine passion for his football team. He was unhappy each time it failed to deliver as a top-quality team in the AFL and the NFL. For him, it was a series of failures that struck him hard.
The prominence the Jets earned in 1969 began to take a nosedive that would last clean through the 1970s. This didn’t sit well with Hess, so he sought to do something about it. In 1973, he became a major stockholder. Three years later, Iselin’s passing enabled him to purchase his shares. By 1981, he assumed full ownership after buying out the shares belonging to the estate of Donald Lillis and his children. In the meantime, Hess continued to run into issues with Shea Stadium. In 1977, the Jets announced they were going to play two home games in the brand-new Giants Stadium located in New Jersey.
This didn’t sit well with New York City and there were lawsuits that came about. As soon as the dust settled, the city agreed to allow the Jets to play two of its September home games per season at Shea Stadium going into the 1978 season. This was an arrangement that continued until 1983. That was the year the lease the Jets had at Shea Stadium expired.
New Jersey Bound
When Hess approached the New York City mayor at the time, Ed Koch, to renew the lease of Shea as the home turf of the Jets, he didn’t exactly get the results he hoped for. Because of this, he looked to relocate his football team to a new location. As it turned out, the Meadowlands in New Jersey was eyeballed as the new home that would host Hess’s team. After the New York Jets played its final game in Shea Stadium on December 10, 1983, the fans grabbed whatever they could as memorabilia before going home. The scoreboard labeled the team N.J. Jets as part of the stadium’s announcement that the team was headed for New Jersey.
New Jersey Disappointment
As soon as the Jets relocated to Giants Stadium, it was hoped the name of the facility would change. However, the New York Giants of the NFL had the authority at the time to either approve or deny this request. It was denied. While the Jets played their home games at Giants Stadium, there was a requirement to alter its appearance so that it looked more like the team itself. There would be green banners put in place while the team’s logo would cover the one belonging to the Giants. However, the red and blue seating remained unchanged.
At this time, the Jets already showed signs of improvement as a team as of 1982. This was the year the team finally established a winning season that would lead them to an AFC Championship game. Even though the team didn’t qualify to make it to the Super Bowl, at least they were finally able to look like a team that knew how to play professional football. Despite this, the Jets never felt at home in a stadium whose name belonged to their New York rivals. Although they toughed it out until their lease expired in 2008, this plagued the team with an identity issue that wouldn’t be resolved until they were finally able to step out of the New York Giants’ shadow.
The Struggle Continues
Much like the 1970s, the early 1990s saw the Jets fall into mediocracy once again. There were coaching issues and management issues going on at the time. Fed up with the lack of performance on the field, Leon Hess fired Bruce Coslet as the head coach in 1994. He was replaced by Pete Carroll with the hope he could help the Jets end the season with better results. When that didn’t happen, he was fired by a fed-up Hess as soon as the season was over and was replaced by Rich Kotite. Unfortunately, the unimpressive track record for the Jets continued for the next two years. When Kotite left, the Jets brought in Bill Parcells.
The former coach of the New England Patriots was the missing link needed to turn the New York Jets into a winning football team. They were able to make it to the AFC Championship Game in 1998 but were unable to proceed any further. Since 1995, an eighty-year-old Leon Hess desperately wanted his New York Jets to make at least one more appearance in the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen as he passed away on March 7, 1999.
Thanks, But No Thanks
When Hess died in 1999, this added salt to the wounds the New York Jets were already suffering at the time. The roster had players who were riddled with injuries and this played a factor in the team’s inability to repeat the winning pattern they had in the previous season. Since the season ended with disappointment, Parcells stepped down as head coach and handed the reins over to his assistant coach, Bill Belichick. However, Belichick bowed out the very next day. Instead of accepting the job, he announced he was heading over to New England to serve as head coach for the Patriots.
Under New Management
The death of Hess had the New York Jets now up for sale. There were two interested parties that sought to seize control of the team. Cablevision competed against Woody Johnson for the opportunity to officially make the purchase. At the time, the only thing other NFL team owners knew about Johnson was his family heritage. He was the grandson of Johnson & Johnson’s Robert Wood Johnson II. When Johnson was awarded ownership of the Jets, it cost him $635 million. He had a passion for football and wanted to call an NFL team his own. When the opportunity came to buy the Jets, he seized it.
As a team owner, he also shared Hess’s business practice by having its fate decided by coaches and general managers. At least this seemed to be the case at first. However, after the conclusion of the 2008 football season, he began to get more involved with the team’s progress. In January 2009, Rex Ryan became the new head coach for the New York Jets. That same year witnessed Mark Sanchez, a star quarterback from the University of Southern California, join the team.
These two men led the New York Jets to the team’s first back-to-back AFC Championship games. However, the Jets were still unable to advance any further in the quest to earn at least its second Super Bowl appearance.
Cablevision vs. Johnson
In the meantime, there was an attempt to build a stadium on the west side of Manhattan but was met with heavy opposition by Cablevision. The idea of a stadium potentially competing against Madison Square Garden as a sporting facility left a foul taste in their mouths. When New York City voted in favor of Johnson and his Jets, Cablevision led the charge to block the development of this new stadium that was given the green light to proceed. There were two lawsuits filed, as well as a political veto that would put the brakes on what could have been the Jets’ new home.
Unable to realize the dream to place the Jets at a location that looked to be a sure bet, Woody Johnson opted to work out a deal with the owners of the New York Giants at the time, John Mara and Steve Tisch. The agreement was the two teams would share a brand new MetLife Stadium in a ninety-nine-year lease. This first-of-its-kind development in NFL history featured a stadium that possessed the technology to alter the illumination of each team’s color as they played their home games, respectively.
When the stadium opened in April 2010, it hosted the New York Jets and the New York Giants in a preseason exhibition game. For the Jets, this was a move that worked to their benefit as they no longer felt second fiddle to the New York Giants. The formula that at least had the Jets work better as a team than in previous years came to an end in 2014. The season once again ended in disappointment as the team only won four of its sixteen games. As soon as it was over, Sanchez was off the team, as well as Ryan as head coach and John Idzik as general manager.
The Trump Card
Until 2017, Woody Johnson’s ownership of the New York Jets continued. However, when Donald Trump became the President of the United States after the 2016 federal election, he appointed Johnson as the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Because of this, Johnson enabled his brother, Christopher, to assume co-ownership. Christopher also took over the daily operations for the team as soon as this happened. This continued until Woody’s term as ambassador ended in 2021 after newly elected Joe Biden replaced Trump as the nation’s next president. No longer serving the federal government, Woody Johnson was able to pour focus on his football team again.
The Turbulence Continues
As a team, the New York Jets continually struggles to branch out as a symbol of success in the NFL. The Jets do have a solid fan base but have yet to make the same level of impression the New York Giants have. This adds fuel to a rivalry between the two teams, even though the two are roommates at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
So far, the Jets have only chalked up one Super Bowl victory but it’s certainly not for a lack of trying. In 1998, and 2002, they at least became divisional champions as a team representing the American Football Conference. At the moment, Joe Douglas serves as the team’s general manager. He’s had this role in 2019, as hired by the team’s president, Hymie Elhai. Currently, Robert Saleh serves as the head coach, a role he’s had since 2021.
Will the Jets soar as a team that will earn another Super Bowl championship? Hopefully, the answer to that question will be a yes, preferably sooner than later.
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