The 2022 New York Jets feature a rallying cry that compares to a squad of yesteryear.
“You play to win the game.”
It’s a football tale as classic as any in the modern era, perfect enough for football fathers to utilize as bedtime-story ammo, as football sons ultimately drift away into the warm arms of the football sandman.
That is, of course, until the next line of Herm Edwards‘s classic rant is relayed at the bedside in a similar tone and tenor as the original speaker …
Forget the sandman at that point and just hope your young one finds a way to allow Herm’s furrowed brows to escape the mind—until at least the morning.
Bedtime applicability aside, New York Jets fans know the story well.
It was Oct. 30, 2002, and the Edwards presser that day was backdropped by a brutal 24-21 home loss at the hands of the Cleveland Browns. (Tim Couch threw for 294 yards and two touchdowns in that game, by the way.)
The loss sunk the Jets’ record to a lowly 2-5—and for an obviously talented team, such a record was unacceptable.
New York then won four straight and seven of its last nine games. Edwards’s soft-ish yet stern football rant helped transform a struggling 2-5 football squad into AFC East division champs—the last divisional title the franchise captured.
No matter the play on the field, the emergence of young Chad Pennington, the gutsiness of Wayne Chrebet, or the savviness of Ted Cottrell’s defense, the 2002 New York Jets season narrative had clearly come into focus at some point during that 7-2 finish to the regular season …
The 2002 New York Jets “played to win the game.”
Twenty years and a fortnight later, the very same organization finds itself in the midst of another narrative-led season. (My sincerest apologies for the use of “fortnight,” as it simply represents an opportunity to use the word once in this lifetime.)
“We’re all taking receipts on all the people who continually mock and say that we aren’t going to do anything,” Saleh told the media on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. “I’m taking receipts, and I’m going to be more than happy to share them with all of you when it’s all said and done.”
Cue the usual madness. Cue the further mocking. Cue the Jets fan delusions that defended the man. At least that’s the way the general football-loving world viewed it. After all, it takes more than an emphatic quote to shake off the “Same Old Jets” stench. Right?
Well, yeah. But that’s sort of not the point.
The moment the Jets brought this head coach into the fold was the moment this organization cemented the script on the anti- “Same Old Jets” attitude. Joe Douglas‘s hiring flipped that script, but Saleh’s arrival cemented the new atmosphere led by the obviously correct football process.
Suddenly—in spite of the understandable struggle that is overcoming that nagging “Same Old Jets” feeling—this organization no longer allowed massive leaks to spill out of the building over on 1 Jets Drive. Ultimately, this organization did not miss on early-round talent in the NFL draft (see Sauce Gardner, Alijah Vera-Tucker and the myriad of Baby Jets in the building). And, most importantly, no longer would short-term results override the long-term vision that allows for NFL sustainability.
The Jets knocked off the Cleveland Browns in epic fashion in the game following the receipts proclamation. After a hiccup against the Cincinnati Bengals—one that featured a questionable defensive game plan against Joe Burrow and company—Saleh’s squad did it again when they overcame a 10-point deficit in Pittsburgh against the Steelers.
Four more victories to just one loss now has them at 6-3, just a half-game out of top AFC East billing. A victory against Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots in Foxborough this Sunday would place them as the divisional top dogs.
|3||New York Jets||7||4||0||.636||2-2||230||196||3-3||4-1||W1|
|4||New England Patriots||6||5||0||.545||2-1||239||202||3-2||3-3||L1|
When will the other shoe drop?
It won’t—not when speaking in a longer-term language, at the very least.
While it’s true that the personnel process leading to better on-field talent is the greatest piece of this puzzle, all of that culture talk Douglas could not help but publicly mention in his early days has now been polished by this head coach.
Sure, when asked about the receipts comment a few weeks later, Saleh wanted to get past it in sort of a bashful or “don’t worry about that too much” type of way. But don’t you dare believe he regrets it, because “taking receipts” is about much more than a moment’s frustration or a day’s annoyance after watching your team be the better team on film (in a 24-9 defeat).
“Taking receipts” was about the belief that things will work out in the end, as long as everybody’s on board and executing things the correct way.
That’s the key.
A positive attitude yielding the most fruitful results isn’t just limited to football, either. Of course, a positive attitude isn’t the only recipe for success. (A positive attitude without other crucial aspects becomes extremely tiresome extraordinarily quickly, for instance.)
A positive attitude is what’s required when needing leaders in situations that require rough circumstances. Douglas knew it, the Jets knew it, and that’s why Saleh was their immediate head-coaching choice two offseasons ago.
Saleh had his staff wear T-shirts reading, “Positive Vibes Only,” this past summer at training camp. He understands that belief in the process, no matter the challenge ahead, is essential in reaching the objective. He also realizes that his shoulders are strong enough to harmlessly deflect the mockery that “taking receipts” would generate.
Robert Saleh realized that his talented, young team needed to witness this unwavering belief in the public spotlight, entirely beyond the closed doors they witness on a day-to-day basis.
So did Herm Edwards on that day over two decades ago. And although the 2002 rallying cry presented itself in a much more rigid manner, his preacher-esque tone, combined with the underlying soul-of-competition message, resonated with his team.
Thus far, “taking receipts” has done the same.
As long as the 2022 New York Jets don’t completely fall on their faces, Robert Saleh’s words, and most importantly, his belief in the process and the people around him, is what will undoubtedly be highlighted in the history books when the story of this team is read to football fans of all ages.
The moment you take away human emotions from this game is the moment you join the ranks of the clueless.
Robert Saleh knows this all too well, just as Herm Edwards understood that very notion all those many years ago. And due to that exact idea, the 2022 New York Jets have a tremendous opportunity to capture their first AFC East crown in two decades.
At which point, if these Baby Jets can accomplish that divisional goal, the receipts gathered will easily put CVS to shame.