My Lousy, Dull, Terrible, Favorite Football Team

What Aaron Rodgers could mean for the Jets

A photo illustration of quarterback, a football fan, and a referee
Illustration by Paul Spella / The Atlantic

Shortly after his 18th season with the Green Bay Packers ended with an uncharacteristic thud, Aaron Rodgers, the Super Bowl winner and future Hall of Fame quarterback, announced that he would be spending four days and four nights isolating himself at an Oregon “darkness retreat”—a cave, basically—during which he would contemplate his future. The Packers wanted to move on, start over, and Rodgers, now 39, needed to decide if he did too, or if it was time to retire. After nearly 100 hours with zero natural light, Rodgers emerged back into society with an answer: He would play for at least one more season, and he would do it for the New York Jets.

What the hell happened to him down there?

As a long-suffering Jets fan, trust me when I say that rooting for the Jets is like rooting for the Mets, but even sadder and less rewarding. The Jets haven’t won a Super Bowl—haven’t been to the Super Bowl—since 1969, and haven’t even reached the playoffs since 2010. Since then, the franchise’s highest-profile moments have been the time ex-Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez fumbled the ball after slipping and colliding into his own lineman’s rear end (the fabled “Butt Fumble”) and the time another ex-Jets quarterback, Geno Smith, got sucker-punched in the locker room by a teammate, who broke his jaw. Not since Joe Namath in the late 1960s have the Jets had a player whom anyone would describe as “electrifying.” The joke around football is that our team name is really an acronym, that “JETS” stands for “Just End The Season,” and that the only real mystery in a Jets season is how early we start deploying that motto. We’re not just lousy. We’re dull.

We even tried this strategy before—embracing a legendary Packers QB after the Packers no longer wanted him—in 2008, with Brett Favre, who wound up throwing as many interceptions (22) as touchdowns and humiliated the team by sending lewd photos and text messages to a female NFL reporter, prompting a league investigation that, of course, this being the NFL, resulted in no suspension and a $50,000 fine. He tore his bicep 11 games into his only season in New York, and that was the end of the Jets’ Brett Favre era. In hindsight, we were a perfect match.

Surely Aaron Rodgers has heard about us. Surely he understands what he’s attaching his name to. The Jets front office surrendered significant draft capital to get him—the Jets’ first- and second-round picks in this past week’s draft, and their second-round pick in 2024, which becomes their first-round pick if Rodgers plays 65 percent of the Jets’ offensive snaps this season, or roughly 12 out of 17 games. That’s a lot for a guy who might play only one more season. And yet, in spite of the fact that he will turn 40 in December, and had the worst season of his career last year, and may have lost his passion for the game, and might only be playing because he’s owed $50 million this season and almost $60 million the next as long as he plays for someone, he will nevertheless be the most gifted football player ever to put on a Jets uniform, and far and away our best quarterback, even now, even at his advanced age. Which is why you won’t find a single halfway reasonable Jets fan who is anything less than ecstatic about Rodgers’s arrival, even though we know, with decades of evidence to back us up, that this is bound to end very badly.

I don’t care! Rodgers is bringing a measure of credibility to a franchise known for butt-fumbling it away. At a press conference announcing the decision, Rodgers said all the right things. He wore No. 12 with Green Bay, but he’ll wear No. 8 with the Jets—his number in college at Cal—because 12 is the one number you can’t wear on the Jets. “Twelve,” Rodgers acknowledged, “is Broadway Joe.” In another nod to Namath, he said the Jets’ sole Lombardi trophy, from Super Bowl III, “looks a little lonely.”

Rodgers is funny, smart, and charismatic on camera—three things the Jets haven’t had since Rex Ryan was head coach and his foot fetish got bigger tabloid headlines than his football team. Rodgers guest-hosted Jeopardy for a stretch in 2021 and very much wanted the full-time job. He dates movie stars and goes on ayahuasca journeys. Forget about wins and losses. Rodgers makes the Jets infinitely more interesting just by walking in the door.

He’s also—let’s be blunt—a super weird fit. Jets fans are not exactly a Jeopardy crowd. We do not appreciate being told to rephrase things as a question. We’ve always been the down-market team in New York relative to the Giants, the Mets to their Yankees, the Islanders to their Rangers, with a salty blue-collar fan base that takes pride in being uncouth and that Timothée Chalamet, of all people, somehow managed to nail on Saturday Night Live. The exit rotundas at the old Meadowlands Stadium were a drunken hellscape. Some of our more imaginative ogres used to drop quarters from the top of the spiral footpath down onto the grassy center, then wait for a kid to come grab it and dump beer on him from above. J! E! T! S! Jets! Jets! Jets! Don’t even get me started on Fireman Ed.

At the press conference, reporters took turns gently probing Rodgers on whether he understood what he was getting himself into, and many of his answers could be paraphrased as yes, I’m aware. He insisted that his fling with the Jets wasn’t “a one-and-done in my mind. This is a commitment.” We’ll see about that.

And yet if we remove those Gang Green–tinted glasses, the ones that give everything a vague hue of vomit, it’s not hard to see why Rodgers believes, or at least says he believes, that the Jets can win a Super Bowl. The team went 7–10 last season, but it was a frisky 7–10, lots of close games, and the roster was young, well coached, and loaded with talent, especially at wide receiver. In a rare sweep, a pair of Jets—wide receiver Garrett Wilson and cornerback Sauce Gardner—wound up winning the NFL’s offensive and defensive rookie of the year awards. The team’s winning percentage hovered around .500 all season, despite the worst quarterbacking in the league, and it played semi-meaningful games into December. “Just End The Season” didn’t get deployed until the season ended. Jets fans actually enjoyed watching this team, not because they were good, per se, but because they were promising—and when you’re a Jets fan, promising is as good as it gets.

The Rodgers trade had been gestating for weeks, and I was beginning to wonder if this would wind up as another Jetsy chapter in our franchise history—that time we actually thought we were going to get Aaron Rodgers. Instead, shortly after news of the trade broke, the Jets’ Vegas odds of winning the Super Bowl shot up to sixth-highest in the league. Suddenly, four words that have never been associated with the Jets started getting thrown around on sports-talk shows: fashionable Super Bowl pick. The Jets! Do you know how long we’ve waited just to be a fashionable Super Bowl pick? This is already our best season in years, and it hasn’t begun yet.

In 2021, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one of the few NFL franchises as bungling as ours, won the Super Bowl after Tom Brady ditched Bill Belichick and the Patriots to play for them, so there is some recent precedent here. Brady has also obliterated notions of how long a quarterback can perform at an elite level. He led the NFL in passing yardage at 43. He makes Rodgers look like a puppy. During a game last season against the Bills, on October 30—outdoors, in Buffalo—I watched with astonishment as Rodgers flicked a pass 70 yards downfield, right on target, like it was nothing, before one of his lousy receivers dropped it. His arm, at least, is as golden as ever.

Rodgers isn’t Brady, but he’s awfully close, and he’s always been the more physically gifted of the two. Few quarterbacks have ever played at a higher level. So if Brady can win a ring with the Bucs, why can’t A-Rodg do it with the Jets?

Even if Rodgers is washed up, relative to peak Rodgers, every Jets fan in creation would still choose him over what we rolled out last season: a three-man rotation consisting of a genuinely washed-up former Super Bowl winner (Joe Flacco), an undrafted career backup who pulled off a few plucky wins (Mike White), and the worst starting quarterback in the NFL last season by nearly every statistical metric, Zach Wilson. Going from Zach Wilson to Aaron Rodgers is like going from a potato to Aaron Rodgers. We just need a seasoned pilot. Merely good would be a quantum leap.

Rodgers is a student of history (Jeopardy), so he’s perhaps already calculated that even if things do go off the rails with the Jets, the world will forget that this peculiar union ever happened, just like people have probably already forgotten that Favre once played for the Jets, or that Michael Jordan played a few years for the Washington Wizards. And those who do remember will blame us, not him. We have no idea how this will go. We know exactly how this will go. Just start the season.

*Source Images: David Eulitt / Getty; Elsa / Getty; Grant Halverson / Getty; Stacy Revere / Getty