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Editor: Jets History will now be known as “Jets Time Capsule.”
The Jets’ 1975 season had culminated with the team attaining a disappointing 3-11 record. Head Coach Charley Winner — New York’s general since the start of 1974 — was fired after a 2-7 start to 1975 and replaced by Offensive Coordinator Ken Shipp. The results under Shipp weren’t any better, though, and changes were in store.
On Feb. 10, 1976, Gang Green hired Lou Holtz as its new head coach.
Nowadays, Holtz is a college football legend. He led Notre Dame to the 1988 National Title and is currently a studio analyst on ESPN-TV. Holtz didn’t have nearly as much notoriety when the Jets hired him as he does today, but he had achieved success (33–12–3) over the previous four college seasons at North Carolina State University.
One of Holtz’s most important moves upon becoming coach was his asking of Walt Michaels, the defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles since 1973, to join his staff. Michaels had previously served as the Jets’ defensive coordinator from 1963 to 1972, when his tenure ended bitterly. Michaels resigned before the 1973 season because Head Coach Weeb Ewbank named Winner, Ewbank’s son-in-law, as his successor rather than Michaels.
1976 NFL Draft
In brief, New York did a respectable job in this draft.
With their first selection, sixth overall in the opening round, the Jets picked QB Richard Todd of the University of Alabama. This choice was made because the career of legendary QB Joe Namath was winding down.
Over eight seasons with New York, Todd played very inconsistently, but he had his share of good moments. His best season came in 1981, when he threw 25 TDs and only 13 INTs, as the Jets made the playoffs for the first time since 1969.
In the second round, Gang Green chose DB Shafer Suggs, who would play with the team for five seasons. Suggs tallied three interceptions in both 1978 and 1979.
LB Greg Buttle, one of the Jets’ biggest contributors for the next decade, was taken in the third round. Currently an analyst on ESPN Radio-New York’s Jets’ coverage, Buttle played with the team between 1976 and 1984.
Finally, the Jets found a solid player in undrafted free agent RB Clark Gaines. In his rookie season, Gaines rushed for 724 yards, and his average of 4.6 yards per carry was eighth-best in the NFL.
Week One: At Cleveland Browns
The new season got off to a disappointing start, as the Jets lost to the Browns by 38-17.
After Gang Green jumped out to a 10-0 first quarter lead, Cleveland tallied 31 consecutive points. Browns’ QB Mike Phipps, who was booed during pregame introductions due to his awful 1975 campaign (4 TDs; 19 INTs), fired three scores in the second quarter. Phipps was forced to exit the game with a separated shoulder, but backup QB Brian Sipe (7-10; 83 yards; 2 TDs) played well in relief.
Todd (4-5; 25 yards; INTs) mopped up the game for Namath (15-31; 137 yards; INT), and he scored on an eight-yard rush in the fourth quarter.
Week Two: At Denver Broncos
Denver handed the Jets their second consecutive road defeat, 46-3.
The game got away from the visitors in the second quarter when the Broncos scored 23 consecutive points for a 29-3 halftime lead. During this spurt, the Jets failed to pick up a single first down.
Week Three: At Miami Dolphins
Gang Green’s record fell to 0-3 as the Dolphins shut out New York, 16-0.
Namath (16-26; 171 yards; INT) struggled, as the Jets’ scoreless streak reached seven full quarters.
Week Four: At San Francisco 49ers
The Jets’ fourth consecutive road contest didn’t go well; the 49ers defeated Gang Green by 17-6.
Namath (8-17; 70 yards) endured another poor showing. With the Jets down only 3-0 in the final quarter, Namath lost a fumble while being sacked, and 49ers’ DT Cleveland Elam returned the ball 31 yards to pay dirt.
On a positive note, RB Ed Marinaro scored on a one-yard plunge in the fourth quarter; K Pat Leahy missed the extra point, though. Marinaro’s touchdown ended the Jets’ scoreless streak at 10 quarters dating back to the first period of the Denver game, and it was New York’s first touchdown since Todd’s score in the opener.
Week Five: Buffalo Bills
Home sweet home! The Jets earned their first victory of 1976, in their opener at Shea Stadium, 17-14.
Gang Green squandered a 14-0 halftime edge, but Leahy’s 38-yard field goal in the final minute of regulation saved the day. Namath (3-11; 21 yards; TD; INT) was ineffective again, though he threw his first touchdown pass of the season, a two-yard strike to TE Richard Osborne in the second quarter.
The good vibes surrounding Leahy’s winning kick didn’t last very long; the Jets lost their ensuing two contests by a combined score of 61-7. After the Patriots dominated the visiting Jets, 41-7, on Monday Night Football in week six, the Colts blanked Gang Green at Shea Stadium, 20-0, in week seven.
Week Eight: At Buffalo Bills
In Todd’s first career start, the Jets defeated the Bills for the second time in four weeks, 19-14.
Overall, Todd struggled. He completed just six of his 20 pass attempts for 87 yards, and his last seven throws were incomplete. Still, his 20-yard touchdown pass to WR David Knight in the second quarter afforded New York a 7-0 lead, which it wouldn’t relinquish.
The game got a bit sweaty for the Jets after halftime, though. WR Keith Denson fumbled the second half kickoff, and the Bills scored consecutive touchdowns to get back into the contest.
Week Nine: Miami Dolphins
The Jets were doomed by self-inflicted errors in their 27-7 setback to the Dolphins.
With New York down 10-0 in the final minute of the first half, Knight dropped a pass from Todd that would’ve resulted in a touchdown. The Dolphins then got the ball back and quickly scored to take a 17-0 edge into intermission.
Things got worse for Gang Green in the third quarter. Denson fumbled the second half kickoff for the second straight game, and the Dolphins tacked on a field goal for a 20-0 lead.
Week 10: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Against the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Jets earned their final triumph of the season, in impressive fashion, 34-0.
The Jets’ running backs performed well in the win. Gaines rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown, and RB Steve Davis galloped for 76 yards and a score.
In the third quarter, WR Lou Piccone returned a punt 60 yards to the house.
It was the Jets’ first punt-return touchdown since DB Chris Farasopoulos achieved the feat in a 41-24 win at Buffalo on Sept. 17, 1972.
Week 11: New England Patriots
This contest commenced well for the Jets—Buttle returned a fumble 23 yards for a 10-0 first quarter advantage—but the roof soon caved in, and the Jets lost by 38-24.
Namath suffered through a terrible afternoon (16-36; 176 yards; TD; 5 INTs), and Todd (2-6; 38 yards; TD; 2 INTs) wasn’t much better.
Week 13: Washington Redskins
In a 37-16 Washington rout, Gaines (109 yards; TD) was solid for the Jets, but that was about it. Todd (4-14; 61 yards; 2 Int) struggled again.
After the Washington loss, Holtz admitted to reporters that he was considering leaving the Jets such as to become the head coach at the University of Arkansas. He would do just that, resigning as Jets’ head coach on Dec. 9, 1976.
Holtz could never fully adjust to the pros.
Many of his ideas, including making the players line up by height during the national anthem and implementing a song to be performed by the team after victories, didn’t catch on as he would have liked.
The pressures of coaching in New York may have also hindered Holtz.
In his 1998 book Gang Green: An Irreverent Look Behind the Scenes at Thirty-Eight (Well, Thirty-Seven) Seasons of New York Jets Football Futility, Gerald Eskenazi, who was Gang Green’s beat writer for The New York Times in 1976, recalled Holtz, after a preseason loss, telling him,“If I knew that coaching in the pros was going to be like this, I never would have taken the job (Eskenazi, 1998, p. 131).” According to Eskenazi (1998), Holtz became frustrated by the negative reaction he was receiving from the New York media and fans.
Jets’ Scouting Director Mike Holovak was named the interim coach for the season finale.
Holovak had previously attained a respectable 52-46-9 record as head coach of the Boston Patriots between 1961 and 1968.
Week 14: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals humiliated Gang Green, 42-3, in the 1976 season finale.
The NFL schedule wouldn’t expand to 16 games until 1978.
Namath received the start, but he was intercepted four times on just 15 pass attempts. Todd fared no better in relief, completing only three of his 13 pass attempts for 23 yards and two picks.
Gang Green attained a dismal 72 yards of offense for the entire game; the Bengals had 344 yards of total offense. To put New York’s offensive woes in perspective, the Bengals gained more yards—85—on WR Isaac Curtis’s second quarter touchdown reception than the Jets did over the course of the full game.
End of the Namath Era
Namath, the Jets’ signal caller since 1965, was waived on April 1, 1977, a move that officially closed an era in Jets’ history.
Namath’s place in the Hall of Fame, to which he was inducted in 1985, can be debated from a statistics standpoint (173 TD; 220 INT), but the quarterback’s significance to NFL history cannot be mitigated because of Gang Green’s triumph in Super Bowl III.
Namath would play with the Los Angeles Rams in 1977 before retiring.
The 1976 season had been a disaster for the Jets. Bad enough on paper, the club’s 3-11 record was made worse when one considers that the three triumphs came against a pair of teams — Buffalo and Tampa Bay —that combined for two total wins on the year; the Bills finished 2-12, and the expansion Buccaneers culminated their first season at 0-14.
The Jets were an all-around mess. Their offense and their defense each ranked second-worst in the 28-team NFL, and they had a major question mark at quarterback going forward. Was Todd the answer? His numbers in his rookie year (3 TDs; 12 INTs) were far from impressive.
Indeed, the team’s new coach, Michaels, would have his hands full going forward.