Usually, in football or any team sport with a fan-base that is apt to mix alcohol and the fashion statement of painting a shirt on your topless body in the winter, a win against a rival team feels like a championship in itself. The championship of “Suck It!”
It doesn’t matter if your team’s record is 9-6 or 6-9 (or 5-10. Sorry, Ravens fans.) A victory against a divisional rival is the Super Bowl when your team doesn’t have a shot at the real Super Bowl, or even the playoffs. Just ask Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan. He has two Super Bowl games in one season: the Bills games against the Jets. He won one. The next is right around the corner.
Fans of the New York Jets usually find themselves on this bittersweet end when it comes to rivalry games. Last year, they ended the season by making sure the Miami Dolphins had no playoff hope left with a 37-24 victory. The Dolphins wouldn’t have made the playoffs anyway, but Jets fans weren’t watching the Ravens or Steelers or Bills to see if the Dolphins were already mathematically eliminated. In 2008, the Dolphins were the spoilers in a 24-17 win headed by former Jet, Chad Pennington.
In Week 16, the New York Jets notched another win against their most recent, deep-seeded rival, the New England Patriots. It’s a rivalry that the Jets find themselves on the losing end more often than not. This time, the Jets won in a game that had Jets fans ecstatic as Tom Brady was beat down in the early quarters, then in anguish in the second half as the Patriots defense returned a defensive fumble for a touchdown followed by a Tom Brady drive that sent the game into overtime. It took a questionable call by the Patriots to kick off to start overtime to help the Jets put the game away with a game-winning drive, sending MetLife Stadium into a frenzy with the knowledge that one more win in week 17 would send their team to the playoffs.
And that’s when the conspiracy theorist in me rears its head.
I know it’s ridiculous to think that a professional football team would be willing to throw a game for any reason. There’s a tone of pride and money on the line for players, coaches, and owners in each and every game they play. Throwing a game for a football team is akin to a band covering Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” You just don’t do it. It’s so insane. It’s so reprehensible. It’s so… Belichick-y.
The history between Bill Belichick and the New York Jets is legendary to Jets fans on a scale comparable to Star Wars. In 1997, Belichick joined the coaching staff of the New York Jets as the interim head coach while the Jets and Patriots inked the deal to send Bill Parcells to Gang Green, supposedly to get the gears in motion. He then serves as assistant head coach and defensive backs coach for the next three years. When Parcells stepped down, Belichick became the de facto head coach. It lasted a whole day, ending when Belichick scratched the words, “I resign as HC of the NYJ” on a piece of looseleaf and sent it off to his employers. Belichick then signed with the New England Patriots for the 2000 season and began a Super Bowl dynasty the following year. The issues between the two teams continued both on and off the field, most publicly when Eric Mangini left Belichick to coach the Jets in 2006, which led to SpyGate, when Belichick was reprimanded for authorizing his staff to videotape the defensive signals of opponents. Then there were the dealings with Rex Ryan, which could make any coach take games so personally that embarrassment could trump victory.
Would Belichick all but give a game away to the Jets? That depends on what his team could gain. The loss keeps the Patriots from solidifying home field advantage throughout the playoffs, which right there should stifle any conspiracy theory, but the gains are logical. The Patriots play the Dolphins in Week 17, so home field advantage is still possible. The Jets win keeps them in the playoff hunt, which could be an easier game for the Patriots than the Pittsburgh Steelers if the playoff bracket comes to that.
And then there is the idea of that old hostility that breeds the need to embarrass a team. What could be more embarrassing than giving the Jets hope only to have it come crashing down on them in Week 17? Or the embarrassment of the Patriots giving the Jets the ball in overtime as a statement of, “Go ahead. Try” and having Ryan Fitzpatrick throw a pick-six to end the game in such a Jets fashion? It didn’t happen, but it could have.
This is what a rivalry does. It makes you dissect even the good moment. Damn you, Belichick. You did it to us again.