Mark Sanchez called it "a monster." He was referring to the magnitude of next Monday night's AFC East showdown, New York Jets at New England Patriots.
This bitter rivalry has produced many monsters in the "Border War" era, which started in 1997 -- when Bill Parcells left the Patriots to coach the Jets. Since then, the Jets and Patriots have played season-altering, reputation-changing and dynasty-hatching games.
I've covered every one of the games, and here's my list of the most memorable. By the time we get to kickoff in nine days, the upcoming game might be the most hyped of them all, but I'll use "most memorable" as a qualifier because the impact of a few games wasn't felt until afterward. Not included: The 2006 AFC Wild-Card Game, won by the Patriots, 37-18. We'll keep it to regular-season contests.
1. Sept. 23, 2001: Jets 10, Patriots 3. There was nothing memorable about the game, except for one play -- Mo Lewis hit Patriots QB Drew Bledsoe so hard that it sheared a blood vessel in his chest. After the game, I remember seeing Bledsoe wheeled out of the locker room on the stretcher to an ambulance. Some kid named Tom Brady replaced Bledsoe, and no one could've known it at the time, but Lewis' hit change the course of Patriots history. The Patriots won their first Super Bowl and a dynasty was born.
2. Sept. 9, 2007: Patriots 38, Jets 14. Once again, the game was non-descript, but unbeknownst to the public, a Patriots cameraman was caught illegally videotaping the Jets' sideline during the game. This sparked one of the most infamous scandals in modern sports history -- SpyGate. I remember chatting with Patriots coach Bill Belichick after the game, outside the team bus. His former protege-turned-enemy, Eric Mangini, was standing maybe 20 feet away, talking to friends.
The two men, once the closest of friends, didn't acknowledge each other. It was as if they were complete strangers. That really struck me. What I didn't know at the time -- and surely they did -- was that the Patriots already were in hot water because the Jets blew the whistle on their video guy. One can only imagine what they were thinking, and wanted to say to each other.
3. Sept. 12, 1999: Patriots 30, Jets 28. It was opening day, and the Jets' season ended shortly after it began. Vinny Testaverde ruptured an Achilles' tendon and the Jets, who began the year with Super Bowl dreams, were toast. That, more than any game I've ever covered, showed the fickle nature of sports.
4. Sept. 14, 1997: Patriots, 27, Jets 24 OT. The New York Daily News back page said it all: "World War Tuna." Parcells, deemed the ultimate traitor, returned to Foxborough for the first time. it came only nine months after he led the Patriots to the Super Bowl. Never have I seen such venom directed at one man. Driving in to the game, I remember seeing countless anti-Parcells banners in the parking lot. Suffice it to say, there were a lot of "Grill the Tuna" slogans. Ultimately, Parcells was defeated by one of his favorite players, Curtis Martin, who rushed 40 times for 199 yards. After the season, Parcells stole Martin from his old team.
5. Oct. 19, 1998: Jets 24, Patriots 14. The Jets entered the game 2-3, desperate for a win. In Martin's return to Foxborough, the Jets stunned the home team, with Testaverde sealing the game with a late 43-yard touchdown pass to Dedric Ward. It started a four-game winning streak for the Jets, essentially beginning their run to the AFC Championship Game.
6. Dec. 22, 2002: Jets 30, Patriots 17. In a virtual must-win, the Jets improved to 8-7 as Chad Pennington threw three touchdown passes in one of his finest games as a Jet. This was a prime-time beatdown against the defending Super Bowl champions. A week later, the Jets won the AFC East and the Patriots failed to make the playoffs.
7. Oct. 24, 2004: Patriots 13, Jets 7. There was plenty of hype for this game because both teams were 5-0. The score was a lot closer than the game, as the Jets struggled offensively.
8. Nov. 13, 2008: Jets 34, Patriots 31, OT. This may have been Brett Favre's signature moment as a Jet. He was brilliant in the fourth quarter and overtime, displaying the old Favre magic. Afterward, Favre hugged GM Mike Tannenbaum so hard that I thought they'd never be separated. It was that kind of night, a lot of raw emotion. His counterpart was Matt Cassel, who played the '08 season because Brady was out for the season.