There are a number of interesting ways to look at the history of a football team. Some ways give insight into why a team has been particularly successful or unsuccessful over the years and other ways are just entertaining or informative. Looking at a team’s history at the quarterback position can remind us of some of the players we may have forgotten about over time. Quarterbacks are an important part of a team’s make up though, so the history of who has played for the team at that position is usually tied somewhat directly to how that team performed on the field.
Here is a look at the quarterbacks of the New York Jets… through the years.
As a charter member of the American Football League, the New York Jets would play their first season in 1960. At the time, the team was known as the New York Titans and they were coached by one of the more famous ex-quarterbacks of the time, the great Sammy Baugh. The teams was not successful in its first few seasons and would rename itself the New York Jets in 1962. Al Dorow was the team’s first starting quarterback and in 1960 he did something few other quarterbacks ever have, he led his team in passing yards as well as rushing yards. Dorow went 6-7 in the 13 games he started that season, the Jets also won the one game he didn’t start when backup quarterback Dick Jamieson helmed the team. 1961 saw Dorow go 7-7 in his final year with the team. The revamped quarterback position in 1962 featured Johnny Green, who had quarterbacked the Buffalo Bills in 1960 and 1961, as the primary starter. His backups were Lee Grosscup and Butch Songin, and they both saw limited time as a starter as well. The Jets would show some consistency in 1963 and 1964 with Dick Wood as the main starter for the team. Interestingly, Wood’s backup in 1963 was future college football coach and pro football assistant coach, Galen Hall. Wood would quarterback in Oakland in 1965 and in Miami in 1966 before finding his way out of football after that. 1965 would see the Jets begin their first real run of consistency at the quarterback position following the drafting of future Pro Football Hall of Fame member Joe Namath. Namath’s backup during his first three years with the team was Mike Taliaferro, while his backup at the end of the decade, including the Super Bowl winning season of 1968 would be former Patriots quarterback Babe Parilli in his final two seasons in pro football. Namath wound up leading the entire AFL in passing attempts, pass completions, passing yards, and passing yards per game in both 1966 and 1967.
The 1970s saw the Jets stay with Joe Namath as their primary starting quarterback, although due to injuries he would only start all 14 games of the season one time between 1970 and 1976. Due to those injuries to Namath, Al Woodall would be the main starter for the Jets in 1970 and Bob Davis would handle half the team’s starts in 1971. Namath would start 13 of the 14 games during the 1972 season with Davis again as the main backup, but Woodall would return as the quarterback with the most starts in 1973 thanks again to Namath’s injuries. 1974 would be Namath’s last year starting every game of the year and he would remain somewhat healthy in 1975 and 1976. Rookie quarterback Richard Todd would start six games in 1976 and the next season would see him firmly entrenched as the starter and Joe Namath would be spending the final year of his NFL career on the entire opposite side of the country playing for the Los Angeles Rams. Todd would remain the primary starter to finish out the decade. The team would be exciting to watch during this run, but they would not be very successful. Backing up Richard Todd during the late 1970s were Matt Robinson Marty Domres, and Pat Ryan.
The 1980s started the way the 1970s ended for the Jets, with Richard Todd at quarterback. In fact, Todd would start every game for the Jets during the 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1983 seasons. Pat Ryan remained as his main backup during those years, but Todd was traded to the New Orleans Saints in 1984 and Ryan took over as the starting quarterback the next season, but would soon give way to newly drafted Ken O’Brien. O’Brien had some very successful seasons in New York including 1985 and 1986 when he helped the team achieve records of 11-5 and 10-6 respectively. Ken O’Brien’s favorite target during those seasons was Al Toon and together they teamed up to form a fairly successful duo. He would remain the starter through the end of the 1980s, though the team’s record would begin to go south starting in 1987. The main backup quarterback during this era was again Pat Ryan, though David Norrie did get a chance to start two games in 1987. In 1989, the Jets had a number of backups see action including Ryan, Tony Eason, Kyle Mackey, and Mark Malone.
Ken O’Brien was still the New York Jets starting quarterback when the 1990s came around, but the team’s record did not improve. In 1992, the Jets turned the starting quarterback position over to second year quarterback Browning Nagle. O’Brien would backup Nagle that season and then play one final season with the Philadelphia Eagles before calling it a career. Also on the Jets roster as a backup during those days was an unknown quarterback out of East Carolina who would go on to star for a few seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, Jeff Blake. The Nagle led Jets didn’t fare any better, posting a record of 4-12, and the following season the Jets brought in former Bengals quarterback and hometown boy Boomer Esiason. Esiason brought immediate credibility to the Jets passing game but still couldn’t get the team to put up an above .500 record, he would go 8-8 in 1993, 6-10 in 1994, and 3-13 in 1995. Esiason’s backups during these years included Nagle, Glenn Foley, Jack Trudeau, and Bubby Brister. 1996 would see the beginning of a long stretch of inconsistent leadership from the quarterback position in New York. That year Frank Reich would start seven games, Neil O’Donnell six games, and Glenn Foley three games. O’Donnell would emerge as the main starter for the 1997 season, but in 1998 the team would be turned over to Vinny Testaverde with Foley and Ray Lucas serving as backups. Testaverde would help the team to a 12-4 record that year, their first winning season in quite some time. He would get injured in the first game of the 1999 season though and the remaining games would be split between Ray Lucas and Rick Mirer at the starting quarterback position.
Vinny Testaverde would remain the starter in 2000 and 2001 and the Jets would finish above .500 and be a team that other teams had to worry about. Chad Pennington had come to the Jets via the draft in 2000, and after watching on the sidelines for two seasons, ended up splitting the quarterback duties with Testaverde in 2002 and 2003. Testaverde moved on to the Dallas Cowboys in 2004 and would return for one final season with the Jets in 2005. Other than the 2005 season when injuries would relegate Pennington to spectator for much of the season as the starting quarterback position was turned over to Brooks Bollinger and Testaverde, Pennington would remain the primary starter at quarterback for the team through the 2007 season. His backups during this time included Bollinger, Testaverde, Quincy Carter, Kellen Clemens, and Patrick Ramsey. Pennington moved on to the Miami Dolphins in 2008 and was replaced at quarterback by the legendary Brett Favre. Favre’s one season in New York was successful, though not as successful as many people had hoped it would be. The team went 9-7 in a year where Favre was banged up and hurting by the end, although he did manage to start all 16 games. The New York Jets would pull off a draft day trade in 2009 that saw them move up to the fifth overall pick where they chose University of Southern California standout quarterback Mark Sanchez. Sanchez was the starter all year long and though he struggled some, he was aided by the number one rushing game in the league and the league’s number one defense, and at 9-7 the team made the playoffs. The backup quarterback during Favre’s one season in New York and the first season for Sanchez was Kellen Clemens.
The New York Jets have had good times and bad times over the years. Their best seasons seem to have come though during times when they get consistent play or some sense of consistency from the quarterback position. From Al Dorrow to Mark Sanchez, and everyone in between, the quarterbacks of the New York Jets have played a large role in how the team has done and the identity the team claimed for itself.