With the New York Jets training camp set to start in a few weeks, we take a look at some of the offseason news around the team.
Looking back at the history of the New York Jets it’s hard to imagine that Hollywood could produce a better scenario than the real life story of this franchise. Part of that is who their owners have been. We examine the history in this the first of a two part series.
In June, Jets owner Woody Johnson was nominated as ambassador to England by President Trump. This just adds to the feeling the Jets fans have that their owners never really had the Jets as their main interest. Let’s take a look at the history of Jets ownership to see if they have a point.
Starting out as the New York Titans – one of the flagship teams of the new American Football League that started in 1960 – the team was nothing special, going 19-22 in their first three seasons. They were barely kept above water financially by owner and founder Harry Wismer.
In 1963 media mogul and talent managing agent Sonny Werblin and his partners purchased the Titans from Wismer. He changed the name to the Jets and nothing much changed, even after moving the Shea Stadium in 1964. Werblin was intent on making a splash with his team however, and he always considered his role as owner as more of an “entertainer”.
Finally the rebirth of the franchise took place when they signed Joe Namath. Broadway Joe gave the Jets their first marquee name. Someone who the rest of the football world took notice of. He would go on to become the first player to pass for over 4,000 yards. However, the Jets did not make the postseason in his first three seasons at the helm. Despite the Jets lack of success, fans still were awed by both Namath and Werblin who were both very popular with the media.
Then it happened. Werblin’s partners, including Leon Hess, the chairman of the Amerada Hess Corporation, had become so miffed at all the attention paid to him that they bought him out before the start of the 1968 season, paying him $1.2 million for a share that had cost him $250,000.
The 1968 season saw the Jets win the AFL Eastern Division, defeat the Raiders in the AFL Championship and then as 19.5 point underdogs, defeat the Baltimore Colts to win Super Bowl III and forever change pro football.
Sadly for the Jets and their fans that one moment is what the franchise still clings to.
With Hess and his partners, Jets fans no longer had the media presence that Werblin gave them. While Hess was a nice man and built a financial masterpiece with the Amerada Hess Corporation, his football knowledge was suspect at best. In 1984 Hess bought out his last partner and became sole owner.
His hires were a disaster, both at head coach and general manager. Hess hired eight head coaches after Weeb Ewbank retired in 1973 and only three of them had a winning record or any previous head coaching experience before coming to the Jets (Charlie Winner, Rich Kotite and Bill Parcells).
Hess coup-de-grace was the hiring of Rich Kotite, who Hess said was hired because he was “tired of waiting for a winner”. Kotite was hired after losing his final seven games as head coach of the Eagles in 1994. He went 4-28 in his two seasons with the Jets, so in essence he lost 35 of his last 39 games as head coach.
Sadly, Hess died in May of 1999, just months after the New York Jets won their first division title since the AFL-NFL merger. After months of receiving bids that were handled by Goldman Sachs, the franchise was awarded to Robert Wood Johnson IV, the great-grandson of one of the three founders of Johnson & Johnson.
In part two we will examine the New York Jets under Johnson’s ownership. Please share your thoughts on what you think about owners’ involvement in the everyday running of a franchise.
Mark Kelly covers the New York Jets for ProFootballSpot.com. You can follow him on twitter @CkmagicSports. Looking for more Jets news and features? Like our Jets Facebook page and also follow @spot_jets on Twitter.