When I wrote for the New York Times' Fifth Down blog in 2008-2009, I enjoyed the interaction with the New York audience so much that I jumped at the chance to write for ESPNNewYork's Jets and Giants blogs this season.
Before getting into the game-tape and metric-based analyses that will be the cornerstone of my posts, I want to share something that happened recently that made me think this Jets team could be something special.
My wife (Mrs. Scientist) is not really much of a football fan. In fact, she almost never watches games and the only knowledge she has about the sport comes through the osmosis of living with a man who spends nearly every waking hour thinking, talking and writing about pro and college football.
Having said that, when we met back in the mid-1980s, she did have a favorite football team -- the famous Chicago Bears of that era. She liked Walter Payton (which certainly didn't hurt in my eyes, Sweetness being my favorite player of all time) and got a kick out of the commercial character Jim McMahon created. For the next 5-10 years, she still considered herself a Bears fan and really only stopped caring about them once the remnants of that great roster and coaching staff were finally purged from the team.
For most of its history from the 1960s and onward, the NFL was blessed with transcendent personalities much like those Bears clubs. The Jets had one in Joe Namath. My mother didn't care for football either (Grandma Joyner was the only female sports fan in the family) but she was a big Joe Willie backer. Vince Lombardi, Howard Cosell, Don Meredith, Roger Staubach, John Madden -- the league always had someone who could be counted on to draw the interest of those who might not otherwise pay much attention to pro football.
The trouble at the moment is the pro football world doesn't really have a personality like that. There are many reasons it doesn't (the corporate mindset of the Patriots and Peyton Manning being chief among them) but the fact is the league is bereft of one of these for the first time in nearly 50 years.
I wasn't sure any entity could fill that role until I saw my wife's reaction to the "Hard Knocks" series. I tuned to it one evening (using the excuse of having to watch it for work) and saw how intrigued she was with the characters on the Jets. She not only didn't complain about having to watch it -- she actually paid close attention and enjoyed it very much.
I don't pull for teams anymore but after seeing that kind of reaction from an admittedly non-football fan, I am convinced the Jets' success could be the best thing to happen to the NFL's overall popularity in 20 years. If they were to win the Super Bowl, they would be one of those once-in-a-generation transcendent teams that both football fans and non-football fans remember for the rest of their lives.
What do you think? Have any of you seen a similar reaction among non-football fans to either Hard Knocks or this team in general?
KC Joyner, aka The Football Scientist, uses game film to track, tabulate and analyze nearly every measurable statistic in an NFL game. He is a regular contributor to ESPN Insider and has a Web site at thefootballscientist.com.