Happy Baseball Equinox! We are now closer to the start of the 2010 Mets season than we are to the end of the 2009 Mets season, and I think we can all agree we’d rather have next season than last season any day. May Jason Bay’s impending physical move us that much closer to Spring.
In the meantime, the Jets saw their own shadow, didn’t trip on it, and are giving us one more week of winter in the best sense possible.
Can they give us one more besides? Well, consider that the New York-Cincinnati sporting dynamic has worked surprisingly well when it’s counted most.
Like last night when the Jets augmented the Bengals’ generously striped uniforms with a set of 37-0 tire tracks.
Like October 4, 1999 when Al Leiter, Edgardo Alfonzo and the rest of the suddenly surging Mets ran over the Reds en route to a similarly unlikely Wild Card.
Like January 9, 1983 when Freeman McNeil piled up 202 yards on his own and the Jets dropped 44 points on a stunned Riverfront Stadium to open the 1982 playoffs.
Like a well-remembered and even better-regarded National League Championship Series from October of 1973.
Like the night in November 1969 when the Knicks trailed the ancient Cincinnati Royals by five points with 16 seconds to go, yet came away with the 106-105 victory to establish an NBA-record 18-game winning streak.
Like October ’76, when the Big Red Machine operated in accordance with our wishes and produced a four-game sweep of a team claiming to represent New York.
History’s a wildly unreliable indicator of contests still to come, but with the Jets earning the right to play Cincy all over again on Saturday, we’ll take all the good omens we can gather.
Only someone who’s paid attention over the past two decades would note on this brilliant green and white morning how many different regimes have come in and definitively/permanently changed the Jets’ culture, attitude and fortunes for the better. In their first or second seasons, Bruce Coslet, Bill Parcells, Herm Edwards, Eric Mangini and now Rex Ryan each led the Jets to the playoffs amid declarations that their triumph marked the end of the Same Old Jets. These — in 1991, 1998, 2001, 2006 and 2009 — were the New Jets, as evidenced by the much-needed facelift the clear-eyed coach and the revamped organization that was fully behind him had given the heretofore hopelessly wrinkled franchise. You could throw in, under this banner, Pete Carroll (1994) and Al Groh (2000), who didn’t make the playoffs in their sole seasons at the helm but were credited as breaths of fresh air during their evanescent strong starts.
The Jets turn over more new leaves than recidivist junkies. But it beats turning over the ball. Just ask the Bengals.
Congratulations, then, to this latest crew of Whole New Jets for soaring into the postseason on the wings of circumstances weird enough to faze even Sully Sullenberger.
• They lost games by 4, 3, 5, 2 and 3 points.
• They lost games with less than 2 minutes to go, less than 10 seconds to go, with no seconds to go and in overtime.
• Their coach, with two weeks remaining, announced they were eliminated from contention even though they technically weren’t. (I can’t believe Jerry Manuel never thought of that.)
• Their multiple rivals for a potential playoff spot all had to lose with one week remaining…and they all lost.
• Their final two opponents were each division champions. Yet the Colts graciously decided to quit playing in the middle of their game and the Bengals politely stepped aside in the first quarter.
And that, plus a punishing rushing game and steadfast defense, is how you somehow go from a hopeless 4-6 to a jubilant 9-7 and wake up the 5-seed in the AFC.
The long-term implications don’t matter right now. It won’t matter whether Ryan’s overhaul truly transforms the Jets for seasons to come or if a few Week 17s from now some other coach in a green sweater vest is celebrating how his special system and awesome outlook have finally pushed the Jets from perennial disappointments to consistent contenders. The Jets are winners now is what matters. The Jets were winners Sunday night. They took one of the odder paths any team in any sport has ever taken to the playoffs, but they’re there. They’re at Cincinnati in five days, six days after Cincinnati only nominally made a trip to the Arctic Meadowlands.
The Bengals have been installed as slight favorites. As Pete Rose himself might say, take the Jets and the points.