In football years, one decade might as well be a century. Ten years ago, the wildcat ripped the league in half, Aaron Rodgers made his first start for the Packers, Brett Favre played 16 games for the Jets, the Patriots missed the playoffs, and most shocking of all, Jeff Fisher coached a team that won—you’re really not gonna believe this—13 whole games. If you don’t know where you’ve come from, then you don’t know where you’re going. So, to better understand what’s ahead in 2018, we’re spending this week looking back on what happened 10 years before. Welcome to 2008 Week!
The day the Jets traded for Brett Favre, the team website crashed. When New York started selling his no. 4 jersey, it broke the NFL’s single-day sales record. Some 10,000 people showed up to see Favre’s first training camp practice, and Favre emerged onto the field to Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” blaring from the speakers.
“To a certain degree, I don’t know what I got myself into,” Favre said after the trade.
Favre’s mere arrival was the most exciting thing to happen to the Jets in years. The franchise hadn’t been to a conference championship game in nearly a decade and its fans had spent most of the early 2000s watching a team quarterbacked by Chad Pennington: a fine passer, but one with a game-manager reputation that was nearly the exact opposite of that of Favre, who was already the all-time league leader in nearly every major passing category.
But when Favre left the Jets the next offseason, it was as a disappointment. He’d thrown an equal number of interceptions and touchdowns, and at 9-7, New York failed to make the postseason. A decade later, Favre’s tenure in New York is remembered as much for him sending inappropriate unsolicited photos to a Jets sideline reporter than anything he did on the field.
History hasn’t been kind to Brett the Jet, but that’s because the stat sheet and the lack of a playoff berth overshadow the fact that Favre injured his biceps after Week 11, which tanked the rest of his season. For those first 11 games, Favre was magical—the most exciting quarterback the Jets have had this century.
In the season opener against Miami, New York kicker Mike Nugent injured his hamstring and was ruled out for the game, so the Jets were forced to go for it on fourth-and-13 from the Dolphins 22-yard line. Facing immediate pressure up the middle from a four-man rush, Favre sidestepped the defensive tackle, stepped up in the pocket, and launched a prayer off of his back foot, finding receiver Chansi Stuckey at the goal line for a touchdown to give the Jets a halftime lead.
It’s a jaw-dropping play for any quarterback, made even more incredible by the fact that Favre was a 38-year-old who had parachuted into the training camp of a directionless franchise just four weeks earlier. And the veteran had plenty more tricks up his sleeve. In Week 4 against the Cardinals, Favre orchestrated the highest-scoring quarter in franchise history. One Darrelle Revis pick-six, two Jay Feely field goals, and three touchdown passes to Laveranues Coles turned a 0-0 game entering the second quarter into a 34-0 halftime lead, the third-largest halftime lead in Jets history. New York won 56-35—the second-most points in franchise history and more than the team had scored in its final four games combined in 2007—and Favre’s six touchdown passes tied Joe Namath for the most in a single game in franchise history.
The magic continued through the Jets’ Week 5 bye, when Eric Mangini’s wife, Julie, gave birth to the couple’s third child on October 10: Favre’s 39th birthday. In honor of Favre, the couple named their son Zack Brett Mangini, and Mangini implied that the name was part of Mangini’s recruiting pitch to Favre in August.
The team was playing well, too. In Week 10, New York beat the lowly Rams 47-3, setting franchise records for largest halftime lead and margin of victory. The following week, the 6-3 Jets went into Foxborough to play the 6-3 Tom Brady–less Patriots with first place in the AFC East on the line. The Jets’ defense blew an 11-point halftime lead and the teams went into overtime tied at 31, which is when Favre put together a drive that ended with a game-winning Jay Feely field goal. It was exactly the type of late-game heroics that New York had been missing for so long. Mangini seemed to enjoy extending the postgame handshake with his former mentor Bill Belichick a beat too long.
One week later, the Jets whooped Jeff Fisher’s 10-0 Tennessee Titans in Nashville. Favre had led the Jets to 8-3 and created the most exciting team in recent franchise history. Then the tires fell off.
During the final stretch of the season, Favre tore a tendon in his biceps that turned his rocket arm into a noodle. With his legendary consecutive-starts streak still intact, Favre kept playing, but he underthrew receivers regularly and racked up nine interceptions and just two touchdowns to go with a 55.2 quarterback rating in his final five games. A 13-3 loss in a snowy Week 16 game against an underperforming Seattle team was the low point. After going 8-3 through 12 weeks, the Jets dropped three of their next four games and lost control of the AFC East as Favre’s play plummeted. Years later, at his Hall of Fame induction in 2016, Favre told the Newsday that he “was doing more harm than good” for the team and that he should have sat rather than continue his consecutive-starts streak.
“At one point, I wanted to remove myself from playing, because I would throw it over there and it would end up over there,” he said in 2016.
In the final week of the season, the Jets’ destiny was no longer in their grasp. To reach the playoffs, New York needed to win and have either the Pats or Ravens lose. Standing in their way was the Miami Dolphins, led by none other than Pennington. With the Dolphins’ wildcat offense leading a playbook revolution and Favre’s water-pistol arm, the Jets were in deep trouble. Favre threw an interception from a clean pocket in the first quarter, and Mangini could be seen on TV speaking for Jets fans everywhere: “Why would we do that?” Favre finished with three interceptions, while Pennington threw two touchdowns against his former team and the Dolphins won 24-17, becoming the first—and only—team to wrest the AFC East title away from the Patriots since 2002.
Favre had energized the Jets like a bolt of lightning, but the collapse of the team was slow and painful. Mangini was fired and replaced by Rex Ryan, and the Jets moved up in the draft from the 17th pick to fifth overall and drafted Mark Sanchez, cementing Favre’s legacy among Jets fans as a (particularly exhilarating) bridge between Pennington and Sanchez. The rental to end all rental quarterbacks “retired” and unretired before heading to Minnesota for the 2009 season, when his statistics and capacity for drama and heartbreak only improved with age. Favre proved in Minnesota that his Jets tenure was not an outlier. At 38 years old, Favre had already established himself as one of the best quarterbacks ever. His New York tenure is mostly forgotten by everyone else, but logging the best Jets quarterback season in living memory in his NFL afterlife should only enhance Favre’s legacy.