On Sunday, the New York Jets travel to Oakland in what will be their final visit to the place Raiders fans call “the Black Hole.”
The New York Jets and Oakland Raiders have a long history of memorable matchups. The “Heidi Bowl”, the 1968 AFC Title Game, the 1982 AFC Divisional Playoff Game and consecutive playoff meetings in 2001 and 2002. However, one matchup that isn’t so easily remembered was supposed to take place in Week 2 of the 2001 regular season.
The Jets opened the season with a 45-24 home loss to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. First-year head coach Herm Edwards was preparing his team to face the dangerous Raiders on the road, hoping to avoid the team’s third 0-2 start in the last four seasons.
The Raiders were coming off an exciting 27-24 Week 1 road win against the Kansas City Chiefs. They were considered a favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl after finishing 12-4 in 2000. QB Rich Gannon led an offense that set a franchise record for points scored but fell to the suffocating defense of Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens in the 2000 AFC Championship Game.
However, on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, the world as we know it forever changed. Terrorists flew planes into both Twin Towers. Another plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. Yet another nearly took out the Pentagon. We all watched in horror as both towers came tumbling down. Thousands of innocent Americans were murdered, and the nation wondered how we were going to move on.
The Jets players dealt firsthand with the wreckage. This was their home. They rushed to the aid of those suffering and the last thing that was on their minds was playing a football game against the Oakland Raiders.
As the team met that fateful day, QB and Brooklyn-born Vinny Testaverde said regardless of what the NFL decided, he wasn’t making the trip to Oakland. The rest of the team agreed. Kevin Mawae, the Jets All-Pro center from 1998-2005, spoke about what happened at that meeting back in 2011.
“Every man had a ballot. We took a vote and it was unanimous,” Mawae told Hank Gola of the New York Daily News less than a week after the tragic events. “We told Herm (Edwards) that he could call the commissioner, and regardless of what his decision was, the New York Jets weren’t going to play football that week. We’d be more willing to give up a forfeit.”
New York Giants WR Amani Toomer said the rest of the league followed the Jets’ lead.
“The Jets were the team that actually refused to play,” Toomer recounted for Gola. “That kind of spurred the whole thing on. They refused to play and then everybody else kind of came in line. But we were going to play. (The NFL was) trying to say that if we don’t play and we let the terrorists affect us then we’re letting them win. But Vinny Testaverde and all those guys on the Jets really put the kibosh on the whole thing.”
Former commissioner Pete Rozelle faced incredible scrutiny when he chose to play a full schedule the weekend of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. The NFL wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. The country needed to heal.
So the NFL decided to move its Week 2 games to the week after the regular season was originally supposed to end. The week off before the Super Bowl was eliminated to help accommodate the change.
For the Jets and Raiders, their Week 18 matchup joined the list of memorable games between the two teams. Needing a win to get into the postseason, Jets place kicker John Hall connected on a 53-yard field goal with 59 seconds remaining to give the Jets a 24-22 victory.
The celebration was short lived, however. The Jets’ reward for making the postseason was a rematch with the Raiders in the same beloved “Black Hole.” This time the results weren’t as favorable as the Raiders ended the Jets season with a 38-24 victory.
The Jets don’t have a history of delivering too many prideful moments for their fans. But on that day, their decision to refuse to play a game—listening to their hearts and showing love and compassion for their city and the people they represent—made us all proud back then.
Mark Kelly covers all New York Sports and the New York Jets for ProFootballSpot.com. You can follow him on twitter @CkmagicSports. A two-time Emmy Award Winner and former ESPN Researcher, Mark’s story of surviving cancer has touched many lives. Read more about Mark here or go to CKMagicSports.com and click on KNOCKOUTCANCER.