If you happened to catch HBO’s Hard Knocks, the reality show that follows an NFL team through the rigors of training camp, you would’ve seen that the NY Jets are a pretty cool team, perfect for the silver screen. Besides their head coach and star of the show, Rex Ryan, there’s the laid back general manager Mike Tannenbaum (who comes to work in flip-flops), the old-school, no nonsense special teams guy, and a whole locker room full of jesters.
Every episode, this zany group had something going on, like when that rookie DB was mouthing off and got tied to the goal post and hazed. But one guy was even sillier than all of them. This joker even started a war with the entire defense (which ended in his car being filled with packing peanuts), by using a novelty classic, the old stink bomb in the office gag.
He’s Mark Sanchez, the tall, handsome All-American quarterback, who went from being the most popular kid in high school to the coolest guy on a sunny California campus, where he played for the coolest coach on a dominating USC team that basically won by itself. He was always just a fun-loving guy, always smiling and having a good time, and of course, a definite prankster, the kind that would even get annoying if not for who he was. It wasn’t long before Sanchez was even too good for the USC elite, as fraternities at the next level were bidding for the “golden boy” to grace their locker room, and he became the fifth player chosen in the NFL draft last season, by the NY Jets, following in the footsteps of the coolest QB ever, Joe Namath.
The transition to the big league is one that proves tough for many college stars, but not for Sanchez. He walked right into a $60 million deal and was basically handed the team as soon as he signed the contract. The organization, as well as anyone who has ever known Sanchez, knew he would be great. He’s a winner, and there’s no reason to believe that this level won’t be more of the same for him. Plus, the conditions were ideal. The Jets are built as a defensive team that can run the ball and keep running. All he had to do was not screw up and stay cool, something he was born to do. As he has said in several interviews, he’s just “having fun.”
Lucky for Sanchez, as part of the design laid out for him by the gods, Eric Mangini and his authoritarian regime had just left town, and Tom Coughlin runs his police state on opposite weekends in New Jersey. Instead, Sanchez ended up with the guy that every quarterback would love to play for, Rex Ryan, a confident, fun-loving head coach who truthfully was only hired to domineer the defense. So, as long as he listens to journeyman quarterback Mark Brunell wax GM Mike Tannenbaum’s ego by telling him how much his #5 overall pick has grown in the, oh, three weeks he’s practiced with him, he’s satisfied. (They managed to catch that little discussion on the show.)
That leaves the discipline of Sanchez solely to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, another advantaged kid who has traveled a rather fortunate path to the NFL and who was clowning around at UF not too long ago. Nothing against Schottenheimer, who certainly has NFL pedigree, but they seem to be more like college roommates than a coach and player. It’s fine though, because they have fun together. For example, Sanchez was asked to call the plays in the second half of the last preseason game. The team scored a TD on the first drive, prompting the elated quarterback to yell, “This is easy. Schotty, you suck!” It’s was all in fun. It’s cool.
It’s like when the quarterbacks had a meeting headed by Schottenheimer and were instructed to bring their playbook binders, only apparently Sanchez missed the part about the binders. So, there you had the 23-year-old, $60 million, first-stringer strolling in like it’s sixth period Chemistry, unprepared. Schotty busted his chops a bit, but they all laughed it off. Sanchez played it cool and just sucked his teeth in jest. Then he made his way out of the room to get what he needed, while the others waited for the superstar to return.
In attendance, binder out and ready to go, was second-string QB Mark Brunell, the three-time Pro Bowler who led an expansion team (Jacksonville Jaguars) to an AFC Championship Game (1996) when Sanchez was shooting spitballs at his third grade teacher. Brunell could possibly be envious of the kid for making more money on one contract than he made in 17 years, especially since he can’t even flash his Super Bowl ring now that it’s being liquidated in a bankruptcy. Also, there was Kellen Clemens, the poor broken spirit whose NFL dreams were shattered the moment Sanchez was drafted. The guys were all class, though. They know Sanchez is a little nutty. No harm, no foul. It’s cool.
By the time the Jets took the field on Monday Night Football, they were celebrities. Everyone was curious if Jason Taylor could find his way to the stadium or if the rookie they call, “The Terminator,” would lay somebody out that evening. Everyone wanted Rex Ryan miked up, and it almost seemed like the biggest question for the team’s biggest question mark was whether or not he retaliated for the packing peanuts. It’s all fun when you’re winning or, rather, when you’re not playing yet.
In his second season debut, Mark Sanchez completed only 10 of 21 passes for 74 yards for the entire game against the Baltimore Ravens. He completed only 3 passes for 27 yards to his wide receivers and had no third down conversions. The anemic offense negated a very stingy showing by the Jets defense, and they lost the game 10-9. Now, the team that spent the preseason in front of the camera and predicted it would make the Super Bowl is 0-1. The reality TV stars may have gotten a reality check.
Sanchez probably won’t have as much fun this week. Nobody can be too cool after playing a game like that, and no team that was just embarrassed on MNF is in the mood to laugh much. He may not realize it, but NY fans expect quite a bit from a #5 overall pick, especially when the team’s preseason is shown on HBO. Their patience is thin, and they don’t joke about losing. It’s likely he will thaw out very fast if he continues to put up those numbers. This town has put many first round funsters out of business before.
There will be no HBO cameras at practice this week, but you could expect Mark Sanchez to be early for the meetings, studying his binder, and rest assured that there will be no stink bomb war with the defense. Not this week.