And so it ends. In a very familiar way for me.
The last time the New York Jets were this close to the Super Bowl, in Jan. 1999, they played an outstanding first half in the AFC Championship, and eventually led the Denver Broncos, 10-0.
I remember exactly how I felt at that moment, that finally, after all the pain and suffering of my Jets fan lifetime, the Jets were going to go to the Super Bowl.
And yep, that’s how I felt about 5:45 p.m. Sunday, pacing in a packed Houligan’s, high-fiving my Sunday buddies Sean the ex-firefighter and Bob the Dolphins fan and the two Jets fans, man and wife, who started coming around playoff time (and whose names I never learned). The Jets were going to the Big Game.
17-6 Jets. Two minutes to go until the half. The Jets were playing great. Mark Sanchez, playing like a 10-year veteran. The defense, all up in the great Peyton Manning’s face. It was really going to happen.
And then, well, you know the rest. Under a hailstorm of perfect Manning throws, Indy came all the way back. The Jets season, for the 41st straight year, ends before the Super Bowl.
So many things to digest and analyze after this one, as I sit here near midnight, disappointed, but damn proud of my team.
— First, I feel so good about Sanchez being the Jets’ QB in the future. The kid made huge improvements in the last month. He’s got the arm, he’s got the poise, he’s got the guts (did you see that hit he took before throwing the TD pass to Dustin Keller? Tremendous.)
— I still cannot believe Braylon Edwards, Mr. Butterfingers, caught that 80-yard touchdown pass. I figured after that happened, this had to be the Jets day.
— Peyton Manning. I mean, the guy is just the best I’ve ever seen. He makes every throw, puts it exactly where he wants it, where only his receiver can get it. I’m convinced he could take a couple of D-III wide receivers, and in a month have them catching six balls a game.
— Shonn Greene’s injury was a killer. An absolute killer. I’m not going to say the outcome would’ve been different, because I think the Colts still win. But when the Jets’ top back goes out early in the third quarter, it sucked the life out of the team.
— The Jets’ offensive line did an outstanding job in pass protection; neither Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis were big factors Sunday.
— Jay Feely, I’m not blaming you for missing the 52-yard field goal try. The first one from 44, yes, that one I blame you for. Gotta make that.
— The Jets’ future looks really, really bright. Young QB, young stud running back, outstanding defense, great head coach … but you can’t say they’ll definitely be back here. It’s too hard to win in the NFL. Who knows when they’ll be back in the AFC championship game? That’s why this loss really hurts.
— It was a great ride, for the Jets and the crazy fans like me. At 4-6, no way you could’ve made believe they get this far. I’m down tonight, but in a few days I know I’ll be so happy for the last few weeks’ worth of excitement.
**Oh yeah, the other game was pretty good, too. Drew Brees and the Saints set up what should be a sensational Super Bowl with a 31-28 win.
But all I want to say about that game is this: Let’s say you’re a Vikings fan. You rooted against Brett Favre for 15 years. He killed you in big games, he led the Packers to a Super Bowl win while your team continues to come up short. Then, finally, he retires. You’re done with Favre forever.
Only, in 2009, he comes out of retirement to play for you. Suddenly, black is white, up is down. You’ve got to root for No. 4. And you learn to love him, as he plays great and leads you to the NFC Championship game.
And then, with the game tied and the Vikings ready to kick a possible game-winning field goal to send you to the Super Bowl for the first time in more than three decades, ole’ Gunslinger Brett comes out and throws a ridiculous, across-his-body, off his back foot interception. And of course you lose the game.
I mean really, how much more can Brett Favre torture the good people of Minnesota, including my delightful cousins, the Haases? How much more can they take?
I’m just asking.
*And oh yeah, tennis fans, check out my Australian Open blog here.