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New York Jets moment of the day: The 1981 comeback season

Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons
(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

The Jet X moment of the day recounts the New York Jets comeback 1981 season that launched the New York Sack Exchange.

“The Talk of the Town” is exactly what the New York Jets were in 1981. The Giants finished 9-7 after eight-straight losing seasons but the Jets upped them by 1.5 with a 10-5-1 mark.

The catch is this: the Jets hadn’t experienced a winning season since 1969. Twelve long seasons separated the organization from its last playoff appearance. (Also, at the time, with the Jints in New Jersey, the Jets were the only true New York football team.)

Richard Todd, Wesley Walker and Freeman McNeil led the offense while the New York Sack Exchange cemented itself as the NFL’s upstarts. In fact, November 1981 is when the famed image was taken at the actual New York Stock Exchange in the city.

Jets’ fan Dan O’Connor coined the phrase by way of a preseason submission in the Jet Report, a team magazine. The name stuck after Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau, Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam combined for a league-high 66 sacks.

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Klecko finished with 20.5 and Gastineau had 20. Of course, those numbers are unofficial and never counted in the real books (the sack did not become an official NFL statistic until 1982).

The team would ultimately lose a home wild-card game against the Buffalo Bills this season but would go on to the AFC championship game the very next year. They also finished 10-5-1 after losing their first three games of the 1981 season.

Along with the 1998 season (some would argue the 9-7 campaign in 1997), the 1981 campaign is the franchise’s true comeback season. After such a brutal stretch, it was exactly what Shea Stadium and the New York Jets fans needed, as told by NFL Films:

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3 years ago

This is the first season I really remember being a fan, had my Walker & Gastineau shirsey’s!