FLORHAM PARK, NJ - MAY 24: Tim Tebow #15 and Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets work out at an organized team activity at the Atlantic Health Training Center on May 24, 2012 in Florham Park, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
In no way am I comparing the 1976 New York Jets with this year's edition. Let's get that out of the way. The '76 Jets went 3-11, and they were one of the worst teams in franchise history. The only victories they could muster up that season were two against the 2-12 Buffalo Bills and one over the 0-14 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So they really don't have much in common with Rex Ryan's Jets. 1976 also happened to be the year that Lou Holtz tried his hand at coaching in the NFL. He didn't last the whole season, resigning before the final game of the year. But what these two squads do have in common is having two quarterbacks with differing skill sets, ones whose playing time need to be juggled.
This season, it's Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, with Ryan and Tony Sparano trying to figure what to do with those two, while back in '76, it was Joe Namath and Richard Todd. Sanchez is playing the role of Namath, the traditional drop-back, pocket passer, and Tebow is Todd, the fresh-legged scrambler (though Tebow may really be playing the role of Brad Smith). Ok, Namath could barely walk in his last season with the Jets, let alone play an effective quarterback, so Sanchez is much more mobile than Broadway Joe was. And Todd was a rookie thrown into the fire in his debut season -- he was a lightning rod in his own right, though, sort of like Tebow, with fans and the press debating his worthiness on a daily basis.
Holtz decided he wanted to rotate his quarterbacks during games, using Namath whenever a basic, in-the-pocket pass was needed, or a handoff, while Todd would be inserted for any option-type or roll-out plays. There was no Wildcat back then, of course. The plan didn't work, but Namath was over the hill and Todd wasn't quite ready for the NFL, so it was doomed from the start.
The '76 Jets lost their first four games, with Namath and Todd both playing in three of them and Namath alone in the Game 3 loss to the Miami Dolphins. But they finally won in Week 5, against the Bills. Neither quarterback was particularly good (Namath went 3-for-11 for 21 yards with one touchdown pass, while Todd was 4-for-11 for 58 yards). The star was Ed Marinaro, who gained 119 rushing yards with a touchdown. They both played in the next two losses, but Todd beat the Bills all by himself, but with a mediocre 6-for-20, 87-yard, one-touchdown, two-interception performance. This time it was running back Clark Gaines who carried the load, with 119 yards. Todd lost the next game to Miami, but both quarterbacks chipped in to beat Tampa Bay. The rookie-veteran duo both played in three of the final four games, with Todd going solo in the second-to-last game of the year.
In all, Namath started eight games (playing in 11 total), and Todd six (playing in 13 total). And both were absolutely awful. Namath completed 49.6% of his passes, only threw for 1,090 yards, with four touchdowns and 16 interceptions. His quarterback rating was 39.9. He gained five yards rushing on two attempts -- both were no doubt accidental. Todd was just as bad, completing only 40.1% of his passes, threw for 870 yards, with three touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His QB rating was 33.2. He did rush for 107 yards on 28 carries, with one touchdown, though.
Whatever happens to Sanchez and Tebow they will no doubt be much better than Namath and Todd were in 1976. And the rotation system that Holtz attempted most likely won't work with Sanchez and Tebow. But Ryan will try to do what Holtz did 36 years ago, which is utilize the unique talents that both his quarterbacks have to offer. Let's just hope that this year's Jets perform better than the '76 Jets, and that Ryan figures out the secret formula to employing two quarterbacks, the way Holtz couldn't. Sanchez has two healthy knees and Tebow isn't a green rookie, having led the Denver Broncos to the playoffs last season, though, so they already have a head-start.