The New York Jets -- or “Gang Green” as they are known to their dedicated yet weary fans -- open their 2016-2017 football season on Sunday, September 13, at 1 p.m. at home against another team with weary fans, the Cleveland Browns.
But then again, maybe the game won’t come off. Who knows? A meteor may right now be bearing down on Met Life Stadium, before blasting a giant hole into the swamps of the Meadowlands, and mercifully putting at least a temporary hold on another woeful Jets season.
Yes, that’s the kind of luck the New York Jets have. (Actually, with their luck, the meteor would strike just before kickoff on Sunday, with a full stadium, but we don’t want to be too grim here.)
And -- provided the stadium remains standing -- who gets to start at quarterback for Gang Green? None other than Irish American Ryan Fitzpatrick, who played at Harvard under legendary coach (and fellow Irish American) Tim Murphy.
Talk about the luck of the Irish.
Fitzpatrick is going to need all of that Harvard smarts and all the grit Murphy nurtured, because Fitzpatrick -- who is an amazing Irish underdog story if there ever was one -- is in the unenviable position of leading a franchise that is clearly jinxed. Snakebitten. Cursed. Call it what you will.
Fitzpatrick should consider himself lucky every time he gets out of bed and doesn’t twist an ankle. Or two.
In case you haven’t been reading the back pages of the New York tabloids, Fitzpatrick was not originally slated to be the Jets starting quarterback. That job initially belonged to Geno Smith, a wildly-talented but young and error-prone QB with just two years of NFL experience.
Was this going to be the year Smith and the Jets turned things around? Uh, no.
Because a few weeks back, Smith got into a locker room altercation with teammate Ikemefuna Enemkpali. Punches were thrown and Smith was left with a broken jaw. We probably won’t see him on a football field until October or November.
Enter Ryan Joseph Fitzpatrick, aged 32. The Arizona native was always very smart and very competitive. He got into Harvard after all. He even earned a spot on the football team, but coach Murphy -- a Massachusetts native who is Harvard’s winningest football coach ever -- didn’t initially see much in Fitzpatrick.
During the QB’s sophomore year, Harvard was way up in a game against Holy Cross and their starting quarterback got hurt. Murphy saw an opportunity to give Fitzpatrick some playing time. So long as the kid didn’t mess things up.
On one of his first plays, Fitzpatrick couldn’t find anyone to throw to, so he ran with the ball.
“A Holy Cross cornerback raced up toward the line of scrimmage, poised to make the stop,” the New York Daily News recently recounted.
“(Fitzpatrick) didn’t just run over him. He ran as if he were a fullback on the one-yard line with the national championship hanging in the balance.”
Coach Murphy added, “Fitzy hit him so hard they had to stop the game for 10 minutes. I turned to an assistant and said, ‘What the hell do we have here?’”
The News added that Fitzpatrick “went on to set a slew of school records and captain an undefeated team in 2004, when he won the Bushnell Cup as the Ivy League Player of the year, his performance helping him get enough attention that Fitzpatrick became the first Ivy quarterback to be drafted in more than two decades.”
Fitzy is an amazing fighting Irish story, but he wasn’t exactly selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Or the second. He was actually the 250th overall pick. All the more reason he deserves high praise for sticking around so long, and earning several staring QB jobs, not to mention a $59 million contract at one point.
“I’ve been a Division I coach for 29 years, and he’s one of the five toughest players I’ve ever coached,” Murphy told the News.
Well, Fitzpatrick is certainly going to need all that toughness if he’s going to lead the Jets to a few wins early on. Several scouts have already praised him as a better fit for the Jets than the young, broken-jawed Smith.
But if I were Fitzpatrick, I’d keep my eye out for meteors.
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