Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
They are the Sunshine Boys of the Jets, in more ways than one.
First, because they are on the wrong side of 30, old in NFL terms. Second, because they are having the time of their football lives, helping brighten the mood in what might just be among the most cheerful locker rooms in the league.
So there were no two bigger smiles in the visiting dressing room at AT&T Stadium on Saturday night than those of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall, two guys with a decade or more in the league and not a playoff berth between them.
This was after an unsightly 19-16 victory over the Cowboys that extended a four-game winning streak that has made the Jets one of the league’s feel-good stories.
The more Marshall talked, and talked, and talked, as usual filling notebooks and recorders and cameras with reams of quotable material, one of the reasons for the Jets’ success became evident.
For a team with a history of being regarded as a “circus” — the implication being that there are clowns on the marquee — it was important to start fresh with guys who mostly didn’t know and didn’t care about the past.
It starts with general manager Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles, but it includes two guys who arrived via trades in March, not sure what their roles would be. And about that “circus” thing . . . “Well, the New York media, you guys do a great job of talking about all kinds of stuff, I guess, but really, man it’s a first-class organization,” Marshall said.
So he had heard about that? “Everything, yeah, just like that,” he said. “There’s so much coverage, so you think that it would be a circus, but the Bears, first-class organization, I put them right up there with that, top to bottom.
“I mean everything from our janitors. [Juan] does a great job. I mean, I’m being honest. You go to the bathroom, then two seconds later, he’s right in there.
“It’s because it’s a trickle down,” he said. “Everyone knows everyone’s name in the building and you have no choice but to step in line. It’s that type of place. I’m being serious. I really think they do too much. It’s amazing.”
None of that would matter if the Jets were losing, but for now there is no more likable team in New York, starting with a quarterback who showed up for his postgame news conference in full uniform — as he always does — this time with a gash over his nose for added effect.
Soon Marshall was recalling his first impressions of Fitzpatrick in the spring.
“When I first saw him? Oh, man, he came out and he couldn’t complete a 5-yard hitch route, couldn’t complete an out-cut, because he had just come off his broken leg (last December as a Texan),” Marshall said. “So I was like, oh, my gosh, this guy is bad, just hang it up. I’m being honest, man, it didn’t look good.
“And then he got in shape. He was like 240. He got in shape and got healthier, our trainers got him right and he’s just been getting better every single week and it’s not really about how talented he is with his arm and mentally, it’s really bout chemistry.”
There was more where that came from before Marshall moved on to Bowles — “His hands stay steady” — and the training staff and pretty much everyone else who works at the Atlantic Health Training Center.
The circus gets a bad rap when it comes to sports reputations, but it is more the clown part that is the problem. These Jets have moved beyond that and are performing high-wire acts, taming Jaguars and juggling on-field responsibilities.
Young players — and young fans — might not fully appreciate how special that is around here. Fitzpatrick and Marshall do.
“I had some pre-perceptions when I first came in,” Marshall said, “but I have to tell you, this is a first-class organization and everyone does a great job and it’s just easy for us to just focus on football.”