“Broadway” Joe Namath, the only quarterback to win a Super Bowl for the New York Jets, believes that patience is needed for rookie Sam Darnold to adjust to the speed of the NFL.
“The players, the coaches have to be convinced he gives them the best chance to win,” Namath said while attending the United Way of New York City gala on May 8. “Twenty years old and not having seen the animals — the nature of the defenses he’s going to be confronted with — it’s going to take time.”
Even with Darnold being behind veterans Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater on the depth chart, Namath wonders if the third pick in the 2018 NFL Draft will ever be able to fully manage the unique distractions that come with playing in America’s biggest city.
“I don’t know that anyone can completely handle New York,” remarked Namath. “It’s a one-of-a-kind city with a one-of-a-kind population.”
It’s a rare position to be in. So rare, in fact, that since 1984 only two other quarterbacks have been first-round picks by the Jets: Chad Pennington and Mark Sanchez.
Let’s take a look back at their stints in New York and see what Darnold can learn from his predecessors’ triumphs and tribulations.
With the 18th pick in the 2000 NFL draft, Jets GM Bill Parcells was looking to close the franchise’s revolving door at the quarterback position.
Marshall QB Chad Pennington was his selection.
Both a Heisman Trophy and Rhodes Scholar finalist while at Marshall, Pennington had impressed scouts with the accuracy he displayed in the short and intermediate passing game during the Thundering Herd’s undefeated season his senior year.
As Pennington adjusted from the collegiate game to the NFL, he would receive the valuable opportunity to sit on the bench and learn behind the proven Vinny Testaverde.
Once inserted into the starting lineup in 2002, Pennington immediately displayed his pinpoint accuracy. By recording a 68.9 completion percentage, which would go down as his career high, the former FCS QB made it clear that he was finally ready for the NFL.
Later that season, Pennington would lead the Jets to an AFC East title and a Wild Card showdown with the Indianapolis Colts — a game that would be remembered as his signature win from his tenure with New York.
Pennington went 19/25 for 222 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-0 thrashing of the Colts. The signal caller’s performance inspired headlines like “Passing the Torch: Joe’s Super Legacy in Good Hands” from the New York Post and “Jets’ Victory Is Not Only a Shutout, It’s a Perfect Game” from The New York Times.
The optimistic press coverage from New York’s media heavyweights came to an end the following week after the Jets suffered a 30-10 loss to the Oakland Raiders. The Jets’ unlikely run was over, but Pennington proved that he was New York’s QB of the future.
And, had he stayed healthy, he would have been.
Throughout his next five seasons, Pennington suffered four separate injuries and only managed to guide the Jets to two postseason appearances (2004 and 2006).
During those two playoff seasons, Pennington went a combined 18-11 in the regular season and was even voted NFL AP Comeback Player of the Year after throwing for 3,352 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2006.
Those seasons showed that the veteran could still produce when he was healthy enough to line up behind center. Unfortunately for Pennington, Jets head coach Eric Mangini decided that it was time to go in a different direction at the start of the 2008 season. New York would trade for Green Bay Packers QB Brett Favre, signaling the end of the Pennington era.
After being released on August 7, 2008, Pennington signed with the rival Miami Dolphins the next day.
Behind Pennington’s 3,653 yards and 19 touchdowns, the Dolphins would win the AFC East — a title that was secured during the last week of the 2008 season against, that’s right, the New York Jets.
Pennington would only play a total of four games over the next two seasons before retiring from the NFL. It was an unfortunate end to a career that was full of potential, but ultimately derailed by injuries.
What Can Darnold Learn From Pennington?
It’s obvious, isn’t it? Darnold’s first objective is to stay healthy. If you can’t get on the field, you can’t contribute. If you can’t contribute, you become irrelevant. If you become irrelevant, you’ll soon be looking for a new team. Just ask Pennington.
Being so young, the QB is guaranteed to struggle as he learns the game, but it’s imperative that Darnold (and the Jets’ front office) has patience while the youngster learns the ropes in the NFL.
“He is 20 years old. For any organization that thinks they are going to dump a football team on a 20-year-old and it is going to work immediately, they are fooling themselves,” Pennington observed during an interview with the New York Post. “In three or four years this could be the guy.”
Ultimately, if Darnold adjusts to the speed of the NFL and displays the durability that Pennington lacked, the Jets might finally have their savior at QB.
Upon being drafted with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Sanchez instantly embraced the playboy lifestyle that came with playing quarterback in the Big Apple.
From being the GQ cover model to appearing on “Saturday Night Live,” Sanchez managed to balance living in the limelight with winning football games, becoming the first rookie QB to ever win his first three starts.
As unlikely as it sounds, it only got better from there. Sanchez’s rookie year culminated with a historic run to the AFC Championship Game, a feat that he would repeat the next season.
While the young QB recorded a 19-12 record in his first two regular seasons, the legend of “The Sanchize” was largely built during those impressive postseason runs. When a second-year player outduels both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in back-to-back playoff games, fans can’t help but start dreaming of multiple championship parades down Broadway.
Sadly for Sanchez, it went downhill from there.
Those unexpected playoff performances — which were anchored by elite play from the Jets’ defense — helped shield Sanchez’s flaws and imperfections from fans and pundits. Once the wins stopped coming, it became evident that the former Trojan didn’t have the accuracy or awareness (*cough* butt fumble *cough*) needed to play QB in the NFL.
Following three seasons of underwhelming play, the Jets released Sanchez on March 21, 2014, a date that marked the start of the former first-round pick’s new career as an NFL journeyman.
During stints with the Philadelphia Eagles, Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears, Sanchez failed to recapture the magic he had during his first two seasons in the league. He’s currently a free agent and facing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s PED policy.
What Can Darnold Learn From Sanchez?
Playing in New York means that Darnold will have every opportunity to build his “brand.” But as Sanchez will tell you, it’s important that his fellow Trojan stays focused on what truly matters.
“You’ve got to have the mentality that football is your number one priority,’’ Sanchez told the New York Post. “There’s nothing wrong with getting involved in the city and getting involved in the community and embracing New York and having fun and using all those resources to get your teammates together. But they’ve got to know that football’s your number one (priority) and you’re working your butt off.”
The “SNL” cameos for Darnold will come when he’s winning games, but what happens when the Jets are in the middle of a rough losing streak? Who can Darnold lean on when the media bashes him?
“I told [Darnold’s] parents, ‘You guys have got to be his rock. After his big games and after the crappy ones, you guys have got to be there and strong for him, because New York is going to demand a lot from him — emotionally, physically, all that,’” said Sanchez.
If Darnold and his family take Sanchez’s sage advice to heart, then the 20-year-old QB will be prepared to handle New York.