The mysterious part of Zach Wilson’s career ends just past 1 o’clock Sunday. Wilson will be the 13th New York rookie quarterback since Joe Namath in 1965 to get a start, a wildly divergent and eclectic group. Here are the previous dandy dozen, ranked by performance.
1. Daniel Jones, Sept. 22, 2019: Jones’ debut is what keeps many Giants fans hopeful of what might be. In a 32-31 win at Tampa Bay, Jones was 23-for-36 for 336 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 28 more yards and two other TDs. He had a splendid rating of 112.7. You could argue he still hasn’t equaled what he was that day, but it’s clearly in there.
2. Sam Darnold, Sept. 10, 2018: Darnold’s very first pass was intercepted and returned for a pick-six touchdown (talk about harbingers). But the rest of the night at Ford Field was a dream come true — and the high-water mark of Darnold’s time as a Jet. He was 16-for-21 for 198 yards, added two TDs to that early pick, and built a 116.8 rating in a 48-17 Jets win over the Lions.
3. Joe Namath, Sept. 26, 1965: Joe Willie’s numbers were somewhat pedestrian (19-40, 287 yards, two TDs, two INTs) but he had a presence as soon as he stepped on Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium, moving grizzled Bills coach Lou Saban to say after his team lost 33-21: “This young man has poise. Nothing seems to bother him. He has a fine football head and you don’t often see that in a rookie.”
4. Mark Sanchez, Sept. 13, 2009: It’s easy to dwell on how things ended for Sanchez, and forget just how precocious he was across those first two years — and right from the start, a terrific 18-for-31, 272-yard performance against the Texans in Houston. He threw one touchdown and one interception and moved Namath to say, “I could see that young man in green and white for a loooong time.”
5. Geno Smith, Sept. 8, 2013: And if you forgot how well Sanchez got out of the gate, it’s almost for certain you forget that Geno was 24-for-38 for 256 yards and a QBR of 80.6 in his debut, opening week against Darrelle Revis and the Bucs, an 18-17 win in which Smith showed real-deal flashes, tossing a TD and an interception and showing (what we thought was) legit poise.
6. Eli Manning, Nov. 21, 2004: The Giants, remember, had built a 5-4 record with Kurt Warner, but recognized that as a mirage and went with the No. 1-overall pick. Eli was underwhelming (17-37, 162 yards, one TD, two INTs) in a 14-10 loss to the Falcons and knew it: “I got to step it up. When your defense holds Atlanta to 14 points, you’ve got to win that game.”
7. Scott Brunner, Dec. 7, 1980: Brunner began to haunt Phil Simms’ dreams in Seattle’s Kingdome by playing just good enough (8-18, 161 yards, two TDs, one INT) to help the Giants beat the favored Seahawks and make people wonder if he wasn’t the Giants’ QB of the future. The Giants’ flight home to Newark was harrowing, and landed with all 145 passengers in crash position.
8. Joe Pisarcik, Oct. 9, 1977: The Giants were a mess and Pisarcik a 25-year-old rookie who’d done time in the CFL. He struggled against the Eagles in a 28-10 loss — 12-for-38, one TD, four INTs — and wasn’t afraid to say so afterward: “I [bleeped] up some passes, but a couple of times I hit the guy and he bobbled it.”
9. Phil Simms, Oct. 7, 1979: Simms wasn’t eye-popping (6-for-12, 37 yards) but the Giants had been 0-5 and the Bucs had been 5-0, and yet Simms did his part to engineer a 17-14 win that certainly earned his first stripe as a leader/winner, moving running back Billy Taylor to gush afterward: “Phil Simms is on his way to being a superstar in this league.”
10. Richard Todd, Oct. 31, 1976: In blustery Buffalo, Todd struggled against the wind, completing just 6 of 20 passes for 87 yards, one TD and two picks, but the Jets beat the Bills, 19-14, and even Namath, whose job Todd was going to take sooner or later, conceded, “We won, and that’s all you can ask a quarterback to do, so he should keep playing.”
11. Greg McElroy, Dec. 23, 2012: You might’ve thought McElroy’s first start had been the 7-6 win over Arizona a few weeks earlier, maybe the ugliest game in Jets history. Instead, that eyesore in which he’d thrown a TD earned him his only career start, a 27-17 loss at San Diego, where he was a forgettable 14-for-24.
12. Bill Demory, Oct. 14, 1973: Wilson should be able to clear this lowest bar. The Jets won the game in New England, 9-7, even though Demory completed just one of seven passes for 11 yards.
WE’VE had some compelling athletes around here the past 50 years. Not one of them — not LT, not Clyde, not Messier, not Reggie — was ever better at their jobs than George Kalinsky was — and is — at his, behind his camera lens, shooting them and so many hundreds of other notables. George received the Basketball Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Award on Friday, and there has never been a more worthy recipient of any Hall of Fame nod.
Honestly, kids: There really was a time when Gary Sanchez was the most popular Yankee on the team.
I definitely think if the NBA changes its rules and goes to a bigger court and 10-on-10, then the Nets are shoo-ins next year.
A few weeks ago I mentioned watching the pilot of “The White Lotus” and seeing a scene I’d never be able to un-see … and a friend told me “just wait.” And, man, was he ever right. A very weird and very cool show, with Connie Britton prominently featured. Sign me up for more.
Whack Back at Vac
Steve Sachs: Every once in a while, you stumble into real sports again! The U.S. Open tennis has been such a pleasure. Great new fresh faces, great playing, understated announcing and commentary. The women’s final should be great, and ESPN can’t lose with these two charismatic young unknowns, whoever wins they’ve got a great story.
Vac: All of that plus Novak Djokovic takes a solid run at Rod Laver Sunday, too. Not a bad fortnight in Flushing. Not bad at all.
Bruce Desatnick: HELP! Please bring Billy Beane to the Yankees!!
Gerald Porter: There is only one man to save the Mets, and that is Theo Epstein.
Kevin Bryant: This weekend should be renamed the Substandard Series.
Vac: Baseball fans of
New York … unite!
@KarlSemkow: For sure, as you wrote, around the Yankees Mystique & Aura have been replaced by Predictably Lethargic, Boring & Disinterested.
@MikeVacc: And, OMG, that’s the first three batters in starting lineup for the worst gentleman’s club ever. Yikes.
Mark Dantonio: Vaccinated NFL players are subject to looser restrictions. Is it also fair to say unvaccinated players are subject to “loser” restrictions then?
Vac: And with that … ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?!?!?!