(Long Island, NY) The last year that Joe Namath wore a New York Jets uniform our country was celebrating the bicentennial. For you youngsters out there, that was 1976, the year before a beleaguered and gimpy-kneed “Broadway” Joe took his game to Los Angeles. Before then, he cemented himself into Gotham lore by becoming a Super Bowl hero.
The man who became the face of the franchise has always been revered as such and since then, a parade of quarterbacks have come and gone with nary an appearance in the big game. Richard Todd, Matt Robinson, Ken O’Brien, Browning Nagle, Boomer Esiason, Neil O’Donnell, Vinny Testaverde, Chad Pennington and Brett Favre. Young and old; expensive and cheap; drafted; traded for and signed as free agents…they have brought with them hope and left with disappointment. Every single one of them.
Now comes the latest savior, Mark Sanchez. The Jets made a bold move by trading up to pick the USC junior fifth overall in the 2009 NFL Draft and he brings with him the weight of the world on his broad shoulders.
“There’s going to be a ton of challenges,” he said. “One is just the locker room setting. There’s guys here, even in the huddle, who have been in this league for a while, maybe five plus years, and I have tremendous respect for those veterans, but at the same time it’s about coming into my own, maturing as an NFL quarterback and speaking their language along with the offense.”
Brian Schottenheimer sees many strengths in his new rookie field general. “He’s got terrific accuracy,” the offensive coordinator said. “When we talk in terms of accuracy and ball placement, accuracy would just be the ability to throw the ball where a guy can catch it. But ball placement is when it’s thrown to a specific spot, where if a defender is sitting on the shoulder you throw it to the opposite shoulder. That was very good; we felt it was top notch.”
Being a star quarterback – albeit it for only 16 games as a starter – at USC may have prepared Sanchez for some of the media frenzy that he should expect on a weekly basis. Chairman and CEO Woody Johnson recognized a special trait in the young man, agreeing with his front office and scouting department that Sanchez was a “pretty good fit for the New York Jets.”
According to Sanchez, he was prepared somewhat playing in the second largest media market but also realizes that things will only magnify for him now. “At USC, they put a lot of emphasis on the quarterback with Heisman trophy winners, All-Americans and national championships and they want results, just like the fans here, just like the press here,” he said. “That’s what they want. That’s what I’m prepared to work for, obviously, and with such a great team around me now it’s going to be a blast.”
For Sanchez and the Jet faithful, everyone certainly hopes so. He has the size (6’2”, 227 pounds) and was dominant last season, which culminated in the Trojans’ 38-24 over Penn State in the 2009 Rose Bowl. Sanchez threw for 413 yards (second most in Rose Bowl history) and four touchdowns, leading his team to their 12th win of the season against only one loss.
Sanchez became the sixth quarterback to be taken by the Jets in the first round. Sandy Stephens was also the fifth overall pick in 1962. In between, Namath (first overall – 1965), Todd (6th – 1976), O’Brien (24th – 1983) and Pennington (18th – 2000) fill the rest of that list.
Where Sanchez will be remembered remains to be seen, but at least from the early hype he should do quite well for himself in the big city.