The Giants play the hard, nasty defense. The Jets stop your heart. New York has a pair of 2-1 winners, but what makes this battle for supremacy in the Big Apple so interesting is that after three weeks two distinct personalities have emerged, two separate identities under the same roof. Gotham has been blessed.
Do you love defense? Fine, go watch the Giants. They made their point the hard way Sunday, beating the L.A. Raiders 14-9 on the Coast. That makes it six straight quarters that their goal line has remained clean. The week before the Raiders game, San Diego's great scoring machine got the ball six times against the Giants in the second half. Result—six turnovers. You can't play much better defense than that.
The Jets march to a different tune, and maybe this new identity is what they finally need to break the hold on New York fans that the Giants have always enjoyed. Shootout football has gotten the Jets their tie for the AFC East lead. They've rolled the clock back to the early Namath years. We might not stop you, but we'll outscore you. And we'll do it in ways you'll never forget.
Just ask Don Shula. His Dolphins had the Jets beaten in the Meadowlands Sunday. Finished. Dead. The fans were streaming into the parking lot to beat the traffic home. What they heard on their car radios was the finale of a wild 51-45 overtime victory for the Jets, a game that had 10 touchdown passes and gave the NFL a record for passing yardage—884. The contest was tied on Ken O'Brien's 21-yard touchdown pass as time ran out, and then O'Brien won it with a 43-yarder in OT. If you like this kind of football, then the Jets are for you.
The Jets came into the Miami game with a roster loaded with defensive backs—10 of them—but six had some kind of injury. Dan Marino surveyed this hospital ward of a secondary and went to work. He threw for 448 yards and six TDs. His All-Pro wideouts, Mark Clayton and Mark Duper, caught 15 passes for 328 yards. The only sour note was that the Dolphins' secondary was as bad as the Jets'. They had blown coverages, left receivers uncovered, missed tackles and bumped into each other.
Down 45-38, all O'Brien wanted was one more shot and, after Miami punted, he got it on his own 20 with 1:04 left. He completed four of five passes, down to the Miami 21. Five seconds were left. Joe Walton sent in a bit of devilment called "Z-short motion, 78 fullback hide," which overloaded three receivers on the right side and had running back Johnny Hector clearing out underneath, split end Al Toon breaking sharply over the middle and flanker Wesley Walker, the middle man, running a post pattern behind Toon. "When I called the play," O'Brien said, "I added one thing: 'Gimme time.' "
The Dolphins, who had enough trouble with the standard stuff, couldn't handle this orgy of strategy, and Walker had his third TD of the game. He picked up his fourth, and last, on the fifth play in overtime, a first-down, play-action pass that surprised the Dolphins and everyone else. "What were you thinking when you threw that last touchdown in regulation time?" someone asked O'Brien.
"I was thinking, 'Just let us win the coin toss,' " he said.
It's the motto of the lopsided teams, the unstoppable and the unstopping, the San Diegos and Miamis. For god's sake give us the ball, not them. And until their wounded get healthy, this is the Jets' identity. Lance Mehl, their best linebacker, limps out of every game with a bad ankle. Their premier sack artist, Mark Gastineau, has a recurrent groin pull that has taken away his agility and turned him into a one-way, highly blockable pass rusher. "They know exactly what's coming from me," Gastineau says, "so they just sit and wait."
But for all their problems the Jets are exciting. Nevertheless, in spite of all that excitement, New York remains a Giant town. It's a status that was earned through eight glorious years, 1956 through 1963, when the Giants won one championship and played in five more title games, dazzling the town with a superstar cast. Vince Lombardi ran the offense, Tom Landry the defense. The post-game locker room looked like Madison Avenue. Frank Gifford, Y.A. Tittle and Sam Huff all seemed to have a little crowd of personal-endorsement agents around them. In Times Square the huge face of Jim Patton blew smoke rings out of the Camel billboard. A ticket to a Giants game, once a throwaway item, became a sign of status.