The fourth Thursday in November has been torture for New York Jets fans, but the holiday hasn’t been all bad for the franchise.
What’s your favorite Thanksgiving tradition? Turkey? Stuffing? Parades? Endless replays of Mark Sanchez unwittingly slamming his head into the backside of Brandon Moore?
Football on Thanksgiving inevitably means bringing up Sanchez’s timeless goof, part of a disastrous 49-19 New York Jets loss to the New England Patriots to cap off the holiday festivities in 2012. Sanchez’s epic gaffe has found new life in 2018, as one of the participants in Thursday’s games, the Washington Redskins, signed him to be their backup quarterback in the wake of starter Alex Smith’s season-ending injury. Sanchez will be the understudy to Colt McCoy, as the Redskins take on the Dallas Cowboys.
Overall, the Jets and Thanksgiving have been a scarier holiday combination than Steve Martin and John Candy. The team has gone 4-4 on Thanksgiving, but three of those wins came during their American Football League days as the New York Titans. Modern Thanksgiving times have been cruel to the Jets, as they’re 0-3 against traditional holiday opponents from Detroit and Dallas, losing in 1972 and 1985 to the Lions. 2007 brought a one-sided visit to Dallas, as the Jets were blown out 34-3.
However, beneath the cranberry sauce of cringe, there are some happy memories festering beneath the surface for the Jets:
1960: Everything's Bigger Against Texans
The idea of the Jets franchise scoring 41 points today seems preposterous, but it came to pass in their first helping of Turkey Day football.
In their inaugural season in the AFL, the Jets, operating under the Titans moniker, were reeling from a four-game losing streak when they welcomed in the Dallas Texans (the modern-day Kansas City Chiefs) to the Polo Grounds. The game turned into an exciting offensive shootout, with the teams earning 814 yards combined. Titans quarterback Al Dorow threw for a then-career-high 301 yards, helping Don Maynard and Art Powell break the century mark in terms of yardage, with 179 and 110 yards respectively.
The win over the Texans set the pace for a strong finish for the Titans’ AFL debut. It would be the first of three wins over their final four games, finishing with a 7-7 mark that was good for second place in the AFL’s Eastern Division.
It was deja vu all over again for the Titans in 1962.
The final win for the New York Titans came on Thanksgiving in 1962, in a wild thriller against the Denver Broncos. In a tense back-and-forth thriller at Mile High Stadium (then known as Bears Stadium), the Titans squeaked out a 46-45 win, paced by five touchdown passes from quarterback Johnny Green. Maynard and Powell against stole the show offensively for the Titans, earning 162 yards and three touchdowns between them.
Despite the offensive nature of the game, each team’s defense rose to the occasion, as each unit forced four turnovers. Larry Grantham was the defensive star for New York, earning two interceptions. Denver took 11 penalties in the game, giving up 130 yards in the process.
1972: Back For Triples
All-in-all, the Jets’ first Thanksgiving experience under their modern branding was one to forget, a 37-20 loss at the hands of the Detroit Lions at Tiger Stadium. Joe Namath completed just nine passes, while Greg Landry put in three scores for Detroit.
The Jets, however, did manage to put on a nice show in the backfield thanks to running backs Cliff McClain and John Riggins, each of whom earned triple figures in rushing. McClain wound up with 163 total yards on the day, including 121 on the ground, while future Super Bowl MVP Riggins added 101 yards and scored a second-quarter touchdown that gave the Jets a brief lead.
In a reversal of 1960’s good fortune, the defeat in Detroit was part of a sour end to the 1972 season, as it was the second loss of a 1-4 stretch to end the year, en route to a 7-7 tally.
2010: One-Shoe Wonder
The Jets shut down Giants Stadium with a win over the Cincinnati Bengals, one that clinched an AFC playoff spot. They followed that up by beating in the Bengals in the AFC wild-card round a week later. They picked up right where they left off when the Bengals came to visit for the holiday in MetLife Stadium’s inaugural season.
Capping off a 9-2 start to the 2010 season, the Jets took advantage of a reeling Bengals team, limiting them to 163 yards and forcing them into three turnovers. Cincinnati, however, was still hanging around in the fourth quarter, down just 17-10. However, Brad Smith put the Bengals to bed, serving up a deadly dessert in the second half. After scoring a 53-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter, Smith snuffed out Cincinnati hope with an 89-yard kick off return for a touchdown. During the return, Smith lost his shoe at around midfield, but nonetheless reached the end zone with little resistance. Smith wound up tallying 201 all-purpose yards on the night, 122 coming via the return game.
Elsewhere, Revis Island was at the height of its power, as Darrelle Revis helped keep Cincinnati’s dangerous receiving corps in check. Chad Johnson had four receptions for only 41 yards, while Terrell Owens picked up a mere 17 yards on three catches.