There has never been a greater New York Jet than Nick Mangold (sacrilege!), a player who personified class in every way but also might well go down as one of the best to play the center position. If not simply the best center ever.
This weekend's news that Mangold has been released - the 11-year veteran and former first round pick of the Jets - was greeted with shock and dismay by an organization’s fan base that has had few reasons to hold their head high since…well, basically ever. Outside of a Super Bowl title in 1969 and a few playoff runs since then, being a Jets fan has been nothing short of utter misery. But since 2006 there was always Mangold, the steadiest of pros, who walked the talk on and off the field. That's because he was an extension of the fans, someone who loved and fought for this team just like a fanbase beaten down by four decades of misery so desperately wanted their players to do. So many times stars would come to the Jets and their careers would die, a Bermuda Triangle of football talent unlike any other locale in NFL history.
A franchise that has brought in so many mercenaries over the years had in Mangold someone drafted by them, developed by them and who personified the mantra of 'Play Like a Jet.' This was because a cut to a vein would reveal that Mangold bled green and white. He was every bit one of them, the fans, who dated back to Shea Stadium, who suffered through the years. Finally, the Jets had a player who got it and it is part of the reason why he is now the greatest Jet in history.
And now with all due respect to Joe Namath, a trailblazer in every meaning of the word, the Jets have now seen the greatest player in franchise history move on. It is met with sadness, yes, but also appreciation for having seen one of the best at his position play the game.
To know 11 years ago that the kid from Kettering, OH would develop this way is nothing short of remarkable. At the end of the day there has never been a better Jet, even if plenty have been flashier.
Mangold should go down as the best to have ever played for this team.
What Namath did to advance the game, that window of a few years when his body allowed him to play at an incredibly high-level, might mean more to the history of the game of football. Namath transformed things, a fur coat wearing, gun-slinging quarterback who captured imaginations just as he captured the franchise’s only championship. But in Mangold there was a quiet assurance, a man who did things away from the spotlight. His play helped the Jets to consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances in 2009 and 2010, an era when he was at his height as the game’s best center.
Seven Pro Bowl appearances and three times an All-Pro selection, it is hard to think of a better center over the best decade than Mangold. He’s undoubtedly the best of his generation. Perhaps one of the greatest centers of all time.
While Jeff Saturday and Jeff Bostic and certainly Mike Montler will all get discussed, Mangold was as steady as steady can be when looked across the history of this game. In an era of analytics, he was four times a Pro Football Focus All-Pro selection.
The model of consistency, he started 82 consecutive games from his rookie year and only missed four games up until this past season when injuries slowed him down. But it wasn’t just the way he played the game that stands out about this man.
In every way, Mangold was the essence of a professional. Win or lose, he stood before his locker and answered questions. He didn’t dodge the bullets that came his way as one of the leaders of the team and he never made excuses for his performance or his teammates. When the moment called for it, he’d bust loose with some humor, his quick whit and ability to make banter among the best for any athlete to play in this city. Mangold was funny, a smart cookie with the ability to give very often better than he got.
At the end of the day, he did it his way.
Several years ago he wore an NYPD hat into MetLife Stadium at a moment when he felt police were unfairly being targeted, a decision that made quite a stir nationally and then wore that same hat onto the field during pregame announcements. He never shied away from stances on issues that might be unpopular to the media or in the locker room, such as openly campaigning for Republican candidate Mitt Romney in 2012. He was his own man.
It was joy for not just Jets fans to see a player of this caliber but in fact the entirety of the NFL. It is a sad day for the career of this greatest of Jets, the best ever to don the green and white, as he now leaves the franchise. But what a tremendous privilege to have seen for 11 years the best center in NFL history give these beleaguered faithful of this franchise something worth cheering about.
What they cheered for and who they cheered for was one of them, a testament to the fans who faithfully showed up each Sunday, rain or shine. It is fitting really for Mangold was always there for them.
And even now, they remain cheering for him. Their hero. Their champion. Their greatest.