Sam Darnold, Connor McGovern, Mekhi Becton
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

New York Jets center Connor McGovern‘s pregame challenge to the fan base turned out to matter greatly in the end.

Robby Sabo

There’s no crying in football.

It can easily be pictured: a Tom Hanks-cast film about the heartbreaking 2020 New York Jets season that led to missing out on three-time Super Bowl champion Trevor Lawrence. You know him, the Jacksonville Jaguars star quarterback whose face cannot be avoided in pop culture.

Hanks, after unapologetically scratching himself on the sideline, and looking up at Lawrence performing magic for the Jags on the MetLife Stadium video board, berates one of his players with one key line in tow: “There’s no crying in football.”

Sure, the movie would have to be released several years from now, well after the Jags cement their dynasty. Hanks would be too old to portray Adam Gase at this point, but considering what everybody saw from The Irishman’s de-aging feature, why not write a script now?

There’s no crying in football, something Connor McGovern understands. If Hanks is cast as Gase (with de-aging, of course), perhaps Bill Goldberg can play McGovern. (Yeah, Goldberg might be a little too ripped for the part, but hey, this is Hollywood; use your imagination.)

McGovern is where the story starts. Just two days prior to his team’s shocking 23-20 victory over the Los Angeles Rams—one that catapulted the Jaguars to the No. 1 spot in the race for Lawrence—the Jets center issued a serious challenge to the fans.

“I don’t put my body through this, (and) I don’t think anybody on the Jets puts their body through it, to lose,” McGovern told the media on a Friday Zoom call. “It might be easy for somebody sitting on the couch, eating pizza, chips and dip, to say they should keep losing. But if they’ve ever strapped the pads on, that sounds like an impossible thing for me to do. I’m going to do whatever I can to win.”

It’s long been taboo to take on the fans. Players, coaches, owners and front office execs wouldn’t dare usually take on the fan base, especially one in New York. Thrusting oneself into a no-win situation is something better avoided.

To hell with the taboo.

McGovern’s public challenge mattered greatly. It served as the missing ingredient in avoiding an 0-16 season. Frank Bush‘s defense came out flying, while the Jets offensive line performed tremendously. Never had we seen the 2020 Jets play such inspired football.

It wasn’t perfect football, obviously, but the team was unidentifiable in terms of its on-field passion. No talent was added, and the coaching staff remained intact after the Seattle beatdown, which means something else has to be at play.

The postgame player quotes also help us come to the logical conclusion that McGovern’s words meant the world to the squad. Lovable rookie Mekhi Becton doubled-down on the fan challenge.

“You ain’t really a fan if you didn’t want us to win, honestly,” Mekhi Becton told SNY.tv. “I mean that in the nicest way possible. I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way. But I mean if you wanted us to lose, you’re not a real fan, honestly.”

The most beloved football mom in Jet land was even forced to dig in a bit. Semone Becton, Mekhi’s mother, surely remembers Herm Edwards‘s most epic rant.

Quarterback Sam Darnold let out an obvious sigh of relief after the victory. His face and voice couldn’t hide the pure joy that hasn’t been seen since the 2019 season.

“It’s the greatest feeling in sports,” Darnold told the media after the shocking result.

As the players celebrate, the fans lament. Predictable events will follow, such as Rich Eisen discussing his obvious hurt later today. Mike Greenberg will surely chime in, as will every big-name Jets fan.

Therapists in the New York/New Jersey area should immediately create a sub-division called “Jet fan therapy.” It’s a business model just aching to become a reality.

And while the anger is understood and expected, the target audience for this anger is off-base. Why express anger at the team and players, alone? More culprits need to be identified.

The Jets can never do anything quietly, but unlike years past, this time it’s not totally their fault. Two weeks ago, the Henry Ruggs III miracle at MetLife prompted not only onlookers but fans to accuse Gregg Williams and the organization of intentionally tanking the team. Despite Williams’s penchant to bring pressure when things matter most, fans and media members still pointed the finger at an intentional tank.

What this does is create unneeded and unwanted noise—an incredible bang that repeats itself and eventually trickles into the locker room. It’s not enough to lose in such crushing fashion to the Raiders. It’s not enough to lose 13 of 13. McGovern and his teammates are forced to deal with an overwhelming narrative that the Jets are now losers if they do not lose.

It’s enough to make anybody lose their cool a bit and challenge the fan base, only to stiffen up in Week 15 against a tough opponent.

They dealt with it all season, and not until this past Friday did anybody really stand up in defiance. McGovern’s challenge to the fans matters. It shows his teammates that there are, indeed, character leaders on the team. It shows that some fight is still left in the locker room. It shows that the outside noise needs to be combatted.

Disappointed Jets fans should be most angered at the conspiracy tank theorists who help create the level of noise that requires earplugs.

What the pro-tank Jets fans should have pushed for was silence. Lose as quietly as possible and tip-toe through the rest of the season. Instead, contributions flew in from every angle under the “intentional tank” category without realizing it’s an impossibility in the game of football.

Jets X-Factor Membership

From a compartmentalized point of view, McGovern’s actions speak loudly for Joe Douglas. The Jets general manager has repeatedly preached culture. Seeking and acquiring high-character guys is what the man is about—this former offensive lineman who understands how critical that part of it is to program building.

In that vein, McGovern delivered. On the other side, fans have every right to be ticked off at the Jets center and the team’s victory. McGovern called them couch-potato idiots (in so many words), and his teammates rallied to help him knock off an excellent Rams squad.

Yes, that stuff matters. Just harken back to the boastful Rex Ryan days if you think it’s all nonsense. Football teams can play entirely below or above the actual level of talent in the room. A lot depends on structure, leadership, etc. The overall locker room feel impacts the results.

If only the noise wasn’t turned up to an 11, and if only Douglas didn’t care about character and leadership, maybe McGovern wouldn’t have issued such a bold challenge, or wouldn’t have been in the position to do so in the first place.

The negatives: Control over Trevor Lawrence now rests with the Jags.

The positives: Douglas’s principles and overall vision for this team are slowly but surely taking shape, and he would never believe there’s only one route to glory. Oh yeah, the Lawrence story isn’t over yet, either. Two games remain, and the very same noise that was directed at the Jets earlier in the season should now be reversed.

Which city and situation would young Lawrence prefer?

Obviously, the Jags need to be declared the favorites, but perhaps, in the end, Lawrence respects the Jets’ never-give-up attitude. Maybe the Jags are the ones who are eventually spurned in a way that nobody saw coming. (It should at least be a conversation.) While it’s tough to see, and especially tough to agree with on this particular day, the never-give-up, high-character attitude usually wins out by the time it’s all over.

I was wrong. There is crying in football. Jets fandom across the nation is drowning its sorrows in cereal bowls this morning. There’s no crying in baseball, but there’s also no tanking in football, and it took Connor McGovern‘s anger to help flip the narrative-driven script on the New York Jets 2020 season.

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