EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 18, 2010

Underdog Jets pose a dilemma

They're a team Patriots love to hate

Bill Burt

America loves an underdog. Find me a game on TV and I'll find you nine fans out of 10 rooting for the underdog.

Except when it comes to the New York Jets.

In ESPN's Sports Nation poll of the day yesterday, drawing over 200,000 voters, the underdog Jets got few fans and no respect.

Mind you, these ESPN polls border on being a joke. If they asked who was going to win the NBA championship this June, 80 percent of Californians would pick the Lakers and 90 percent of New Englanders — we are much more provincial — would pick the Celtics.

But we could always count on rooting, as implausible as it might be, for the underdog.

Yesterday's poll simply asked: Who will win the Super Bowl? a) Colts; b) Jets; c) Vikings; d) Saints.

A measly eight percent of the country said "J-E-T-S, Jets! Jets! Jets!"

The interesting part is that even in their two home states, New York and New Jersey, they couldn't crack a majority (50 percent). New Yorkers gave the Jets the most votes (31 percent vs. 29 percent for the Colts), and in Jersey, the Colts won 31 to 27 percent.

We could say that the voters are simply calling them like they see them. But we know better.

What makes this even more interesting around here is the fact that the Jets are facing the Colts. Which team do you despise more?

The Colts are a threat to the throne. The record shows they have been every bit as good as the Patriots from September through December over the Belichick Decade. One more Vince Lombardi Trophy — that would be two — and the Colts would be sniffing for property on the Patriots Dynasty.

The Jets are a different animal altogether. They and their trash-talking and taunting ways, spawned by their new coach Rex Ryan, are a threat to humanity.

Your Patriots have a history with the Jets.

Here's what two Patriots, from two generations, told me recently about their feelings about Gang Green.

"I hate the Jets," said ex-Pats center Pete Brock, who played here from 1976 through 1987. "It was always that way. It was always nasty out there."

"It's the one team I always want to beat," said ex-Pats offensive tackle Max Lane, who played here from 1994 through 2000. "I can't stand the Jets. When Bill Parcells went there (in 1997), it got worse."

The 2009 Jets have no right playing in the postseason. If the Colts had tried to beat them in Week 16, while leading 15-10 before pulling their starters in the third quarter, the Jets would have been eliminated. The same is true a week later when they played the Bengals. But the Bengals basically only showed up wearing their uniforms, refusing to play the game.

But now that they are still playing in late January, everything has changed.

They really are a threat, particularly this Sunday in Indianapolis.

They have one of the best offensive lines in NFL.

They have the best cornerback in the league in Derrelle Revis, and, on defense, they go after the quarterback.

The Colts might be the best team, but the Jets remind me of the 1985 Patriots, who ended up being the toughest team in the AFC.

Quite frankly, I believe the Jets, 8-point underdogs on Sunday, are going to beat the Colts, even with Mark Sanchez at quarterback.

I can't tell you how, I just feel it.

Normally, that kind of upset would be a glorious thing here in New England. Rooting for the Jets, though, wouldn't be normal.

If you asked Patriots coach Bill Belichick who he's pulling for in Sunday's AFC Championship game, I'd guess, believe it or not, he'd side with the Colts.

Enough said. Enjoy the week and the game. If you can.

E-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.