With over four decades of players and history, the New York Jets have had plenty of fan-favorites wear their uniform.
When Jets’ fans fall in love with one of their own, they hold them in the highest esteem for their entire careers, and years after.
Of those players, Curtis Martin ranks towards the top. The fourth-leading rusher in NFL history and one of the classiest men to ever suit up in Jets’ green, Martin was a fan-favorite the second he came to New York.
After all, Bill Parcells fleeced the New England Patriots for the rights to Martin after his third season, and he was instantly embraced.
He was never a breakaway, home run type of runner. But he was consistent, efficient, and the very definition of what it mean to play with heart.
In 2004, Martin was 31-years-old as he became the oldest running back to win the NFL rushing title.
Martin played all but one game in his career until the 2005 season when he was sidelined after knee surgery. The injury would ultimately force Martin into retirement in 2006, but not without him making the best effort he could to return to the field.
And Jets’ fans missed him dearly.
When Curtis couldn’t play in 2006, the Jets tried the committee approach. They brought in Kevan Barlow from the San Francisco 49ers, along with rookie Leon Washington, career back-up Derrick Blaylock, and the little-known Cedric Houston.
All of them tried to carry the load in Martin’s absence, and only Washington was successful—leading the team with 650 yards.
After the 2006 season, Thomas Jones’ arrival came with plenty of fanfare. The Jets were praised in New York’s papers for robbing the Chicago Bears of the work horse that led them to the Super Bowl.
After the Jets’ surprising 10-6 campaign in 2006, Jones was expected to be the difference-maker. Bringing in a true running back that can play in this league was supposed to lead the team to even greener pastures in Eric Mangini’s second year.
But the 2007 campaign was a disappointment. Although Jones managed to scrape for over 1,100 yards behind one of the worst offensive lines in Jets’ history, fans were still disappointed.
A slow start in 2008 led fans to believe the Jets’ offseason spending spree on the offensive line was in vain—until Jones exploded.
At the age of 30, Thomas Jones is picking up where Curtis Martin left off.
A similar running back in terms of style, Jones is a clock-killing, drive-stretching back who has been making teams pay when given the opportunity.
Leading the AFC in rushing yards, Jones has brought stability to the ground game, helping the team establish long, deflating offensive drives on a weekly basis.
When given at least 20 touches, Jones has made it obvious that the carries won’t go to waste. He’s rushed for over 100 yards consistently. Jones isn’t the flashiest runner in the league, and it’s that style that resembles Martin the most.
It is effective, classic, and grind-out football that drains a defense for four quarters of play. Jones is patient behind the line of scrimmage, allowing a hole to open up before he hits it at full-speed. There are no flashy spins or hurdles in his repertoire.
He’s a two or three-cut back that will juke away from a tackle, stiff-arm someone, and lower his shoulder into the next player on his way down after gaining five or more yards.
It wasn’t only about Martin’s production on the field. He was a warrior that represented the team and the NFL with honor and respect. He was the heart and soul of the New York Jets for years.
And Thomas Jones has become exactly what Jets’ fans needed to cope with life after Curtis.
Jets’ fans will always miss seeing no. 28 in the backfield, but Jones’ play helps to reduce the pain of his absence.
The fact that Jones is on his way to one of the best seasons of his career while doing it on the wrong side of 30 proves he’s just ageless as the legend he follows.