The NFL’s Final Four is set, and the New England Patriots are there for the ninth time in 14 seasons.
Just imagine for a moment what that time would have been like had Patriots head coach Bill Belichick stayed with the Jets?
It’s the ultimate what-if.
But it’s something to think about as this Gang Green-related game of musical chairs plays out in the AFC East, with Rex Ryan set to become the head coach in Buffalo, Mike Tannenbaum now the vice president of football operations in Miami and the Jets reportedly in a holding pattern waiting for Morristown-native Dan Quinn, the Seattle defensive coordinator in line to replace Ryan.
I can picture it now. The spectacular stadium with the retractable roof on Manhattan’s West Side, a project pushed forward by the Jets’ three world championships, hosting next Sunday’s AFC Championship game in primetime.
I’ll take it a step further, with the stadium having served as the centerpiece for the New York Olympics of 2012, while regularly considered as a host site for the Final Four and Super Bowl.
Not that you need a reason to hate the Patriots, but the note Belichick passed to Bill Parcells that read “I resign as HC of the NYJ” just before he was to be announced as the Jets’ head coach on Jan. 3, 2000 should do it.
Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft changed the course of football history by stealing Belichick away for a first-round pick in 2000, which enabled the Jets to draft Shaun Ellis. And while Ellis was a two-time Pro Bowl selection with 73.5 career sacks, it turned out to be the greatest deal since the Dutch bought Manhattan.
It could have been the Jets selecting an unheralded quarterback out of Michigan named Tom Brady in the sixth round in 2000. Imagine Belichick and Brady working their magic for owner Woody Johnson, with Tom and Gisele as the paparazzi favorites.
Take all the accolades they’re received on Rt. 1 in Foxboro, Mass., and amplify it ten-fold.
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Instead, the Jets are about to hire their fifth head coach since then, and have had ten starting quarterbacks, including Vinny Testaverde, Chad Pennington, Quincy Carter, Brooks Bollinger, Kellen Clemens, Brett Favre, Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy, Geno Smith and Michael Vick.
And that’s actually not bad. Buffalo has had 13 different starters and will hire their eighth head coach, while the Dolphins had had 18 starting quarterbacks and seven head coaches.
All the while, the Patriots have won 12 division titles over the last 14 seasons, going 170-54 during the regular season.
Maybe it wouldn’t have worked out this way for the Jets. Parcells was still part of the team hierarchy, although he vowed to stay out of the way and Belichick’s contract gave him authority over all football decisions with the Jets.
Still, as the Patriots advance towards what could be their fourth world championship and sixth Super Bowl appearance under Belichick, it’s hard not to dream about what might have been.
Staff writer Stephen Edelson is an Asbury Park Press columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @SteveEdelsonAPP