The football euphoria Daniel Jones, Sam Darnold can deliver
Right now, of course, it is difficult to envision what life could be like for Daniel Jones and Sam Darnold, because — “WHADDATA LOOKIN’ AT?!! JEEEEZ!!!” — we spend most of our time — “DON’T MAKE THAT THROW! NO!!!!!!” — hoping they don’t deliver the football — “PUT SOME STICK-UM ON THOSE FINGERS! CRYING OUT LOUD!!!” — to the other team.
But these are a couple of kids, born nine days apart, both of them still 22 years old, who play quarterback for the hometown teams in Fun City. There is no telling what that could mean — separate, apart, on Broadway, on Madison Avenue, in nightclubs, and at MetLife Stadium.
Seriously. Look at the Hope-and-Crosby thing that Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason have going. They do commercials together. They work on TV-studio Sundays together. They are a perfect matched set: blond, youthful, engaging, full of personality and energy, loaded with story after story. Remember all the years they shared New York back in the day?
Well, no. You don’t. Because they shared exactly one year in New York, 1993. It was a terrific year for Simms, who threw for 3,038 yards and completed a career-high 61.8 percent of his passes, led the Giants to an 11-5 record and playoff win over the Vikings … and was then unceremoniously cut by Dan Reeves. And that was that.
Esiason actually had a fine year that year too — 16 TDs, 11 interceptions, an 8-8 record marred by a 24-0 loss in Houston on the last day of the year that knocked the Jets out of the playoff hunt. He stuck around New York for two more years (he played for three coaches in three years), finished up with a year in Phoenix and another back in Cincinnati.
But that one year, 1993, was the only one they had together. They played one game against each other as New York football citizens — a 10-6 eyesore of a Jets win on Halloween. You might say they’ve maximized that year they spent playing together, and apart.
For more on the Jets, listen to the latest episode of the “Gang’s All Here” podcast:
Think about what Darnold and Jones could be, if their teams ever figure it out.
What it would be, if the truth be told, is what the golden age between 1967 and 1971 was, when Joe Namath played for the Jets and Fran Tarkenton played for the Giants. What a time that was, indeed. From 1967 through 1970, Tarkenton played in four NFL Pro Bowls, throwing for 92 touchdowns against only 51 picks, completing 54.6 percent of his passes, throwing for 11,338 yards. He led the Giants to a 9-5 record in 1970, which stood as the lone beacon of light in an 18-year playoff drought between 1963 and 1981.
Namath? Well, you may have heard about a certain game on Jan. 12, 1969, when he led the Jets to a staggering upset of the Colts in Super Bowl III. He also made three straight AFL Pro Bowls from 1967 through 1969 (he was hurt most of 1970 and 1971), and in 1967 he became the first-ever quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards.
But it was more than that, of course. Namath lit up the city, had his own kitschy TV show, acted in movies, dated everyone, opened up Bachelors III, briefly retired from football, threw spirals to Bobby Brady in his Astroturfed back yard. Tarkenton — married, a father, content to spend his nights at his Westchester home — made business contacts that have lasted 50 years, made piles of money, more off the field than on it.
They were a matched set and an odd couple. There was a wildly popular but short-lived New York-centric magazine of the time called Jock. In its November 1969 issue, it featured Tarkenton on the cover — wearing Namath’s famous Fu Manchu. On the back was a pensive Namath, all business, like Tarkenton.
“Should Fran be more like Joe?” ran the caption on the front.
And on the back: “Should Joe be more like Fran?”
Today, their football legacies are frozen for all time at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. In the late 1960s, they were the yin-and-yang soul of the football city, one ruling from his perch at Yankee Stadium, the other in Queens, at Shea Stadium. Every week, New York City was graced by their talent and their personality.
“The teams were huge rivals,” Namath said in 2013. “But I always admired Fran. He was a good man and a great quarterback.”
Said Tarkenton, in 2003: “What a time to be young and playing quarterback in New York City. I think Joe and I both made the most of it.”
That is what beckons for Jones, and for Darnold, if. They ply their wares in the same stadium out in the New Jersey suburbs, but that could surely translate ever so easily to Fun City, which is what Dick Schaap called New York in the 1960s, inspired in large part by the two kids who played quarterback there. That’s still there. That’s still waiting for them.
For more on the Giants, listen to the latest episode of the “Blue Rush” podcast:
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