Jetrospective – 1986 Week Three

New York Jets 51 Miami Dolphins 45 (OT)

The first Jets game I ever saw was also the best. This would be the game which would lead to me becoming the Jets fan I am today. And I’m not the only one. I have read countless comments over the years from fans who mention this game as the one that converted them to Jets die-hards. So I thought it would be a popular game for us to revisit.

As a ten-year old soccer fan, living in England, my exposure to – as we called it – American Football had been fairly non-existent up to that point. However, armed with a knowledge of the basics from my Dad (a former Toronto Argonauts season-ticket holder, no less) and little else, it was not surprising that this game would lead me to become hooked, as the teams lit up the scoreboard with a record-breaking combined offensive display.

The Jets thrilling win would be the start of a ten-game winning streak, which propelled the Jets into the division lead, so it was hardly surprising I stuck with the Jets. On the day, I had decided they were my team based on little more than preferring the colour (sic) of their helmets and wanting to root for the underdog (I had heard of the Miami Dolphins before (probably from “Miami Vice”) so I guess I assumed the Jets were the underdogs for this one).

It turned out that the first Superbowl my Dad had seen when he was in North America from 1968-1971 was Superbowl III, so he told me all about Joe Namath and his fur coats, countless women and the pantyhose game, so I felt justified that my selection was more than random. Well, I like to tell myself I did, but remember I was only ten, so I was probably actually just thinking “I like their hats!”

Before the Jets season cruelly ended with a rash of injuries, a five game losing streak, a false hope-inducing wild card win and the most Jet-like of late game collapses, the Jets offense was on fire. This was the game that got them going.

The first quarter was unremarkable, as the Dolphins held a 7-3 lead. It would be in the second quarter where the fireworks would begin.

The Jets got their first touchdown on a one yard Johnny Hector run after a ten-play drive. Hector, filling in for the injured Freeman McNeil, would set a Jets record with 40 carries in the game against the Patriots just weeks later. One Lester Lyles interception later and the Jets were in position for Hector to score again, this time from eight yards out for a 17-7 lead. Hector would finish with 82 yards on 22 carries.

Dan Marino would then move the ball, mainly using his wideout combo of Mark Clayton and Mark Duper. A touchdown pass to Dan Johnson was followed by an interception thrown by Jets QB Ken O’Brien and Marino’s 34 yard pass to Duper put the Dolphins back on top, 21-17.

The Jets would hit back again though with two more quick touchdowns of their own. O’Brien hooked up deep downfield with wide receiver Wesley Walker, who was clinically blind in one eye, for a 65 yard touchdown, largely thanks to a mix-up in the Dolphins secondary. Then, after reserve linebacker Matt Monger recovered a fumbled punt, O’Brien would hit Walker again, this time for a 50 yard touchdown, as the speedy deep threat streaked down the sideline between two defenders. The Jets went in at the half leading 31-21.

The third quarter would not be a good one for the Jets. They managed to hold onto their lead until Marino hit Duper again, this time for a 46 yard score with four minutes gone in the third. A quick three-and-out would follow and Fuad Reveiz tied the score with a 44 yard field goal and just over seven minutes remaining. Then, things went from bad to worse, as little used reserve Dennis Bligen would fumble on his own 26 yard line, setting the Dolphins up for another short Dan Marino touchdown pass – his fifth – and a 38-31 lead at the end of three.

Both offenses were unable to score on their next few possessions, but with time winding down, O’Brien would rally his troops with an impressive 80 yard drive that featured a 36 yard catch by Al Toon, who caught seven passes for 111 yards on the day and a fourth-and-one plunge by Tony Paige, who would later go on to play for the Dolphins. Bligen atoned for his earlier fumble with a seven yard score to tie the game again, this time at 38-38.

The Jets got the ball back, but with less than three minutes to go, Walker would fumble and three plays later, Marino’s sixth touchdown pass looked like it was going to give the Dolphins a 45-38 win.

The Jets got the ball back again, but were forced to punt with 1:57 remaining and all looked lost. However, some appalling clock management by the Dolphins would mean that the Jets got the ball back just 39 seconds later, but back on their own twenty yard line. The best bit was yet to come.

The drive got off to a slow start with a short pass to tight end Mickey Shuler and an eight yard scramble by the pedestrian O’Brien, but the next play was a perfectly executed hook and ladder: O’Brien over the middle to Shuler, who then pitched to Hector who would get all the way down to the Dolphins 39 with 35 seconds to go, as the Jets took their final timeout.

On first down, Shuler caught the pass again and would look to again pitch to a running back, this time Bligen, but when he saw it wasn’t going to work, he broke up field and managed to get out of bounds to stop the clock with 26 seconds to go. Again Shuler was open on the next play, as he was hauled down at the 21 with the clock running. O’Brien rushed the Jets to the line of scrimmage and threw the ball out of bounds (spikes were not legal in those days) which left just five seconds for the Jets to try and tie the score.

When I was ten and I had watched – and been gripped by – this game, this is exactly what I wrote in my journal that night: “5 seconds to go 7 points down 21yds out and a fourth down and O’Brien takes the snap he heaves it toward the middle of the pitch and Wesley Walker steps across and catches it and steps into the endzone. Leahys point equals it and its overtime”. The current incarnation of me couldn’t have written it any better (although it wasn’t a fourth down). It’s a shame I can’t re-produce the little diagram I drew too.

Even at that age, it was obvious what an amazing finish it had been. The place was going crazy. After a scare when Mike Harper appeared to have fumbled the ball away on the opening kickoff in overtime, the Jets would need just five plays to win the game on a 43 yard bomb from O’Brien to Walker on the right sideline. A fittingly spectacular end to a spectacular game.

Walker ended up with a Jets record 4 touchdown catches on 6-194 receiving and O’Brien and Marino would combine for 927 yards passing and ten touchdowns.

On this day, many Jets fans were created. I am proud to be one of them. One day, maybe we shall see something approaching this level of excitement once again.