Darnold Gives Jets Fans Like Me Hope.

By Jason Klein

Thursday night, I left the Meadowlands with a win.

I’ve walked out of there many times through the years.  This time felt different, though.

Inside, there were no passes thrown, no yards gained and no touchdowns scored.  My team gained no ground in the standings either.

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Sam Darnold – Drafted 3rd Overall By The Jets.

I still left with a win, and it was unlike any victory I’ve experienced in that stadium, or the old one.

I won because I left with hope.

Like, long-term hope. Like, hey, I might have several years of meaningful football ahead of me kind of hope.  Maybe even a decade of hope.  Maybe even more.

Thursday night, I left the Meadowlands after the New York Jets selected Sam Darnold with the 3rd overall pick in the NFL Draft.  I was there, watching along with other Jets fans, at the team’s 2018 Draft Party.  When Darnold put on that crisp Jets cap and held up that green jersey, he immediately became the most promising prospect to play Quarterback for the Jets since Joe Namath left forty years ago.

He was not expected to be available for the Jets to select.  Like so many of the games I’ve watched in that Stadium, I felt Darnold was just a little out of reach. Too good to be true.  Not meant-to-be.

I was wrong.

Somehow, as I watched inside MetLife Stadium, Darnold, arguably the top Quarterback in the draft, miraculously fell into the Jets lap.  This sort of thing doesn’t happen to the Jets. Ever.  This is a team that finds a way to lose, even when they win.  Not this time, though.

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Attending the Jets Draft Party at MetLife Stadium

Mark it down as a “W.”

I’ve waited a long time for this.

I had a Ken O’Brien jersey as a kid.  I traded that for a Boomer Esiason uniform.  Browning Nagle and Glenn Foley were teases.  I never bought into Neil O’Donnell, but I fell hard for Vinny Testaverde and Chad Pennington.  Mark Sanchez brought me closer to a Lombardi Trophy than anyone since Vinny…twice. Ultimately, he had the rug pulled out from under him.  Brett Favre was a gimmick.  Tim Tebow was a distraction.  Geno Smith was never the answer and Ryan Fitzpatrick was a bearded bridge to nowhere.

So many different Quarterbacks through the years.  Some showed the promise to rise above the ineptitude that has so often hampered this organization.  All of them ended up sinking, one way or another, deep into the swamps of Jersey.

Unfulfilled potential. Unfortunate injuries.  Undermined by management.  Unbelievable misfortune.

This is different. Landing Darnold is a franchise-changing victory.

Sure, he could be a bust. He could turn out to be just another name to add to the list of failed Jets Quarterbacks.  We won’t know that for several years.

But, what if he succeeds? What if he’s a true Franchise Quarterback?  What if he leads the Jets to the playoffs?  What if he gets one of those Lombardi Trophies?  What if he gets more?

What if he has a long, historic career for the Jets?  Like, a 10-12 year career?  My daughters are in 2nd grade and pre-school now.  What if Sam Darnold is still the Quarterback of the Jets when they’re in college?  What if?

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Darnold Introduced to New York.

That’s what makes this pick a win. A conquest so different than all the others I’ve seen through the years in East Rutherford, NJ.

It’s the hope.  It’s the optimism.  It’s the faith and belief in my team that I’ve lacked for far too long now.

Sports fans need hope. Without it, what’s the point?  Why spend the time or the money?  Without hope, rooting for a team becomes a robotic ritual. Passionless and pointless.

I want my Sundays in the Fall to matter.  I want to trust in a process and be confident in a plan.

The last few years, I’ve watched this team with indifference.  There seemed to be no strategy for the future. Drafting Sam Darnold changes that.

Drafting Sam Darnold gives me hope.

For me, that’s a win.

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Have The Yankees Found Their Next Captain? You Be The Judge.

By Jason Klein

All Rise?

Honestly, why would you ever sit down in the first place?

There’s no time to relax between each one of Aaron Judge’s majestic blasts.  They fly out of stadiums at a record pace, travel record distances and leave me sounding like, well, a broken record.

Aaron Judge

All Rise For Aaron Judge.

“He hit another one last night,” is the first thing I say to my wife every single morning.

Forget Groundhog Day.  We’re all living Judgement Day over and over again.

Through 60 games, Judge is hitting .341 with 22 HR and 49 RBI.  It’s a small sample, but he’s showing no signs of laying down his gavel.  His at-bats are can’t-miss events, he comes up with a game-defining hit almost every night and he hears “MVP” chants…on the road!

Oh, and let the record show, Your Honor is a 6 foot, 7 inch, 25 year-old rookie!

It’s Judge’s courtroom.  We’re all witnesses.

Yup, Number 99 is everywhere: the front of Sports Illustrated, the middle of the Yankees’ line up, the back of fans’ jerseys and the top of prominent AL statistical categories, including HR, batting average and runs scored.

He is impressive on the field and poised off of it.  He handles the bright lights of New York with ease and deflects all adulation on to his teammates.

He tells you that he doesn’t pay attention to his individual accomplishments.  Instead, he only focusses on winning games.  For twenty years, Derek Jeter said the same thing.  I always believed him.  Now, I believe Judge.

Like Jeter, Judge has a good head, and a great bat, resting firmly on his shoulders.  His teammates respect him and fans adore him.  Is it possible the Yankees found their future Captain?  Do my two young daughters have their own Jeter to look up to…and grow up with?

There’s plenty of time to figure it out.

No time to sit down, though.

Judge is walking to the plate.

All Rise.

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Jeter’s Latest Title Might Be His Greatest

By Jason Klein

You couldn’t pick just one.

We sat together, inside Yankee Stadium, and I asked you to decide which of your Titles meant the most to you.  You couldn’t do it.

“‘96, ‘98, ‘99, 2000, 2009…All five of them,” you said.  “We won all of those years.”

Well, Derek, the debate ends with your newest title:

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Jeter’s Going To Have a Baby Girl in 2017.

Dad.

There is nothing more special or rewarding than being a father – especially to a little girl. I’ve got two of them. They changed my life, and your little bambina will change yours too.

For twenty years, you played shortstop.  Now, you’ll stop short of nothing to make your daughter smile.  You once carried the weight of New York on your shoulders, but there is no greater responsibility than fatherhood.  Dressed in Jumpman, you’ll jump, man, every time she needs your help. For her, Mr. November will be Mr. Everyday.

You’ll flip for her!  You’ll want to dive into everything that interests her.  You’ll be her champion and her captain.  Number 2 will be her Number 1.

No doubt, being a Dad is hard work.  She’ll wear you out, like a doubleheader in mid-August.  You’ll get less sleep than a west coast trip.  She’ll throw you more curve balls than Pedro Martinez and ask more questions than the New York media.  She’ll demand your very best each and every day.

You’re battle-tested, though.  I saw you rise to the occasion for two decades in Pinstripes.  You were a role model for a generation of fans.  Now you’ll serve in the same capacity for your daughter.

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Her First Yankees Game!  Watching Derek Jeter’s Final Career HR with my Daughter in 2014.

The world needs more strong, successful young women.  Be sure to pass on your work ethic and leadership abilities to her.  Teach her to be classy, accountable, carry herself with dignity, be professional and respectful…just as you were.  Empower her to be confident, do what makes her happy and be who she wants to be.

These are all messages I try to convey to my two young daughters each day.

After your final game at Yankee Stadium, when reflecting back on your career, you said, “I’ve never taken it for granted, but it goes a lot quicker than you could imagine.”  Remember this while you’re rolling around on the floor playing with your new baby girl.  Enjoy it all.  Like your twenty years in the Bronx, it will go faster than you think.

Unlike your previous Championships, your latest title won’t have all the fanfare.  There will be no cheering, no press, no parades or rings.  Your fans won’t celebrate this title, but you should.  It’s your most important one to date.

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Jets Waste Opportunity. “Nick & Brick” Window Now Shut.

By Jason Klein

Today, the Jets look towards the future without a very important piece from their past.

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills

Mangold’s Jets Career Could Be Over.

Bryce Petty gets his second start at quarterback just days after the team placed center Nick Mangold on season-ending injured reserve. The move could signal the end of Mangold’s 11-year run with the Jets. Even if he returns, this season’s injury woes proved that his best days are behind him.

One of the most dependable and talented centers in NFL history, Mangold has only one season left on his contract. He’ll turn 33 next month, and will carry a large salary cap charge of $9.1 million into 2017 – both reasons why the Jets could decide to move on.

If they do, it would be a wasted opportunity for a franchise that wastes a lot of them.

In 2006, the Jets drafted Mangold, and left tackle, D’Brickashaw Ferguson in the first round. Over the next decade, they would anchor a dominant offensive line and stabilize the team’s core. In all that time, the Jets failed to find a true franchise quarterback for them to protect.

Inexplicable.

It’s been almost 50 years since Joe Namath wagged his finger atop football’s highest peak. The Jets haven’t been able to replace him since. Perhaps most frustrating of all – the star-crossed franchise wasn’t able to do so within the 10-year “Nick & Brick” window.

Imagine a baseball team boasting an elite pitching staff, all healthy and in their prime, but unable to secure any top hitters to score any runs.

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Ferguson Retired in 2015.

A waste.

Aside from quarterback, a center and left tackle are arguably the most important positions on a football team. The Jets haven’t had to worry about filling those holes for a decade now.

Before this season’s ankle issues, Mangold had been a rock at center, going to 7 Pro Bowls and missing only 4 games over his first 10 years. Ferguson retired in 2015 after a 10-year career with the Jets. He went to 3 Pro Bowls and played in all 160 regular season games, only missing one play. One play!

The only thing more reliable than these two has been the team’s lackluster play at quarterback.

The Jets thought they found their man in 2009 when Mark Sanchez took them to the first of back-to-back AFC Title Games. That was as close as they would come, though. Sanchez fizzled and the search continued.

Today, Petty gets his shot.

It’s too early to tell if he’ll be the answer.

It’s too late for him to do it behind “Nick & Brick.”

Wasted opportunity.

 

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Same Old Jets? Not This Time…I think.

By Jason Klein

Same Old Jets?

This time was different.

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Jets Head Coach, Todd Bowles

Blaming Sunday’s excruciating loss on a “well, that’s just the way it is” mantra is silly. I’ll be honest, I’ve been guilty of it in the past. I’ve been consuming the same old nonsense for over thirty years. It never gets any easier.

Growing up as a Jets fan, the terms “would have,” “could have,” and “should have” were a part of my daily vernacular. I would pepper grade school friends with them trying to defend my team’s yearly failures. Now I plead my case to my wife and children.

But “Same Old Jets?” Not this time.

Like the previous 46 Jets seasons, this one ended without a trophy. Not since Joe Willie waggled that finger back in January of 1969 has this team finished on top. Sunday’s season-ender was disappointing, frustrating, mind-boggling, and typical, but something did feel different about it.

The Jets now have a competent General Manager, a level-headed Coach, a dynamic Wide Receiver tandem, a top defensive unit, and a ton of confidence. By re-signing Ryan Fitzpatrick, they’ll also have an intelligent and physically capable Quarterback who commands the respect of his locker room.

I’m not naïve. None of that guarantees a shot at Super Bowl run. In the NFL, luck is sometimes more important than talent and preparation. One minute you’re primed for a title run, and the next minute your scraping Vinny Testaverde off the turf with a torn Achilles.

It’s very possible, the Jets as presently constituted will never get another opportunity like the one they just lost. They took advantage of a soft schedule, and could have had a very realistic path to Super Bowl 50 in an anemic AFC. Next year could be completely different. Things fall apart quickly in the NFL – just ask Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez.

But I do know one thing. Heading into next season, I trust the people making decisions, and I believe in the process. Something I couldn’t always say about previous regimes.

So, no, I don’t think this is a case of the “Same Old Jets.” I may feel differently one day, looking back on it the same spiteful way I view Leon Johnson’s option pass in Detroit, Doug Brien’s missed field goals in Pittsburgh, or any other of the wacky and seemingly unfathomable ways I’ve seen Jets seasons mercilessly end.

But for now, I choose to view it differently. I choose to be hopeful instead of hopeless.

That kind of positive thinking will help get me through the next nine months.

That’s when I’ll pull out my green and white jersey again, take a deep breath, and put myself through the Same Old Thing all over again.

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Wild Card Yanks Can Be Anything They Want

By Jason Klein

The Yankees drew a Wild Card.

They can turn their mediocre hand into something special.

Tanaka Time in the Bronx Tonight vs. the Astros.

Tanaka Time in the Bronx Tonight vs. the Astros.

The Postseason offers a clean slate for all. Just like in poker, the Yankees can be anything they want to be as a Wild Card.

2’s can be Jacks. 7’s can be Queens.

Ordinary baseball teams can be Kings.

Just ask the 2014 San Francisco Giants.

Sure, the Yanks looked lifeless as they stumbled towards Tuesday night’s one-game playoff at Yankee Stadium. Losers of six of their last seven games, the Yanks weren’t hitting, looked tired, and appeared destined for a quicker hook than Joe Philbin got in Miami.

None of that matters now, though. That’s old news.

They made it to October as a Wild Card. They’ve got a seat at the table – just like those 2000 Yankees, who also sputtered through September and won 87 games. Those guys turned a Wild Card berth into a Championship.

Today’s team shows their hand tonight. It starts with an ace, Masahiro Tanaka. He’ll take the ball in this sudden-death matchup with the Houston Astros – the exact type of game the Yankees envisioned him pitching when they invested $175 million in him prior to the 2014 season.

It’s his biggest moment as a Yankee. It’s the most important game the franchise has had in two years. It’s the type of event that could propel them towards a 28th title.

October is different. The Yankees organization knows that better than anyone.

Ante up, Yanks! Push those chips to the center of the table.

Tonight, as a Wild Card, they can be anything they want to be.

Perhaps even winners.

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Yanks Need A-Rod To Speak Softly, Carry Big Stick

By Jason Klein

His words are hollow, just like his milestone records.

That’s ok though. I don’t need to believe his new humble “good guy” routine. I don’t care where his personal triumphs will ultimately rest within baseball lore either. As a Yankees fan, in 2015, I only need Alex Rodriguez to do one thing.

A-Rod Has Returned.  So Has His Power!

A-Rod Has Returned. So Has His Power!

Keep hitting.

Defying Yankees brass is his business.   Defying Father Time is mine.

Thirteen games into 2015, he’s doing a great job of both. Yankees management had hoped the 39 year-old, admitted PED cheat would disappear faster than his own credibility. Instead, he’s strong-armed his way back into the heart of the Yankees line up, batting .286 with 4 HR and 11 RBI. Coming off two hip surgeries, and a yearlong steroid suspension, he’s once again the team’s most potent offensive force.

Fans around the league are disgusted by his return to baseball. Big deal. They never liked him to begin with. Yankees fans should embrace this! To make the Postseason in 2015, the Bombers need his bat to stay hot.

Just a few months ago, the remaining $61 million left on Rodriguez’s contract was an albatross. For the time being, it seems like money well invested. This will hold true as long as he speaks softly and carries that big stick.

To date, he’s done everything right. Despite all the scrutiny, haters and doubters, he came back and refused to be insubordinate or average. Instead, he’s batted all over the line up, willingly learned how to play first base, and kept his focus on helping the team win games. He’s also determined to be A-Rod again – one of the premier sluggers in the game.

So far, so good.

In 2015, Yankees fans shouldn’t concern themselves so much with A-Rod’s past. When he ties Willie Mays with home run #660 – he’s only 2 HR shy – don’t worry about whether the team publically celebrates or privately pays him a bonus for it.

That’s his concern.

For the team to find success this year, there’s only one thing Yankees fans need Alex Rodriguez to do.

Keep hitting.

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Five Four a Perfect Fit For Emerging Athletes

By Jason Klein 

As Seen in In New York Magazine  – 4/26/12

When 22 year-old Michael Floyd marches across the Radio City Music Hall stage during tonight’s NFL Draft, he will officially shed his amateur status and transition towards life as a professional athlete.  The wide receiver out of Notre Dame – expected to go early in the first round – will hold up his new jersey, flash a smile and pose for pictures with NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell.  He’ll do all of this while sporting a designer suit, custom made for the big event.

After all the pomp and circumstance, he’ll slip into something a little more comfortable – something tailor-made for his personal lifestyle rather than tonight’s gaudy Broadway spectacle.  Like many of today’s athletes, Floyd will throw on some clothing from Five Four.

NY Jets QB, Mark Sanchez, Wearing Five Four

It’s the hottest line of apparel you’ve likely never heard of.  Its reach covers a wide variety of entertainers, celebrities and athletes.  Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, Zac Efron and Larry King have all been spotted rocking Five Four.  Top players like Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, Troy Polomalu and Mark Sanchez wear it too.

Their garb is everywhere, especially in the sports world.  I wanted to know why?  Why Five Four?  Why not Nike, Adidas, or some designer label?  When I asked Five Four Co-CEO/Founder Andres Izquieta, his response was simple.

“Our stuff is just cool,” says Izquieta.  “Athletes love our brand because it fits comfortably, no matter what size you are, its stylish, and it perfectly represents an athlete’s lifestyle.”

Izquieta and Dee Murthy started Five Four as 21 year-old students at the University of Southern California in 2002.  Since its inception, the modern, yet classic-looking “Lifestyle Brand” has been all about setting goals, dreaming big, passion, winning and success – all core values shared by up-and-coming athletes looking to make it on a professional stage.

“Athletes transitioning to the NFL are great ambassadors of the brand,” says Izquieta.  “They work so hard their entire life to get rewarded and take the next step.  That’s the kind of passion and drive we have at Five Four.”

It’s the reason Izquieta and Murthy teamed up with California-based football agency, Athletes First to create The Graduating Class.  It’s a 108-page book profiling twelve NFL prospects entering the 2011 Draft, and their transition from college to the NFL.  According to Izquieta, the book gives a stunningly personal look into each athlete, “chronicling their journey through fashion, art, and photography, while they are in the pursuit of achieving their lifelong dream.”

The book is filled with motivational phrases, philosophies, and great photography.  There are even hand-written bios from each player, revealing their fears, inspirations, and career goals.  Of course, I also noticed each athlete is draped in Five Four.  According to Izquieta, they wear the clothes “not because they have to, but because they truly want to.”

Often portrayed as superheroes in the media, The Graduating Classdelicately humanizes each player, peeking in on their insecurities and anxiety leading up to the biggest day of their lives – draft day.  Casually decorated in Five Four, each player comes off as a “regular guy” – a concept that helps readers relate to these larger-than-life figures.

The Graduating Class.

Notable members of The Graduating Class 2011 include Von Miller (Broncos), Jake Locker (Titans), and Scotty McKnight (Jets).  Five Four will feature twelve players from tonight’s draft, including Floyd, as part of the project’s second run – this time, packaged as part of an online campaign.  Other highlighted players include: Keenan Robinson (Texas), Melvin Ingram (South Carolina), Kellen Moore and Doug Martin (Boise State), Ryan Broyles (Oklahoma), Keleche Osemele (Iowa State), Alfonzo Dennard and Jared Crick (Nebraska), Harrison Smith (Notre Dame), Cyrus Gray and Jeff Fuller (Texas A&M)

Though Five Four is primarily a West Coast brand – their one retail location is in Los Angeles – their product is carried in over 400 stores nation-wide and is worn by athletes and celebrities everywhere.  This May, they will introduce Five Four Club, a men’s subscription service that will serve as a personal stylist for men.  They also plan to introduce a line of footwear this June.

Like many of the young players drafted tonight, you may have never heard of Five Four Clothing.  Projects like The Graduating Class are helping to spread the word, and expose it as a brand of choice among many athletes.

Especially players like Michael Floyd, a man who will realize his dream tonight.

When he does, his life will change forever.

His Five Four wardrobe won’t.

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