On a franchise with an existence that has been defined by failure so much more than success, 1996 has remained the low-point benchmark in the Jets’ 61 years of existence.
It’s a benchmark no player associated with it wants to be reminded of.
As evidenced by a series of interviews The Post did this week with players from that ’96 Jets team that finished 1-15, scar tissue remains for many and the mere mention of that season is cringe-worthy for them.
“I still feel it in the pit of my stomach,’’ former receiver and No. 1-overall pick Keyshawn Johnson said.
“It was awful,’’ former linebacker Marvin Jones recalled. “It’s always going to be the year people allude to when [bleep] ain’t right with the Jets.’’
Well, in case you haven’t noticed, bleep ain’t right with the Jets this season as they approach a decade without a single playoff appearance.
Twenty-four seasons removed from that dubious 1996 Rich Kotite Jets team, the 2020 Jets are 0-5 and spiraling entering Sunday’s game against the Dolphins in South Florida.
When you look at how noncompetitive they’ve been and assess the remaining teams on their schedule, it’s not out of the realm of possibility this team finishes 0-16 and actually eclipses the ineptitude of that 1996 team.
“Maybe,’’ Jones said with a hint of hope in his voice, “they’ll bail us out of that ’96 season.’’
“I don’t wish them to go 0-16,’’ Johnson said, sounding sincere for a milli-second before adding, “ … but I wish them to go 0-16.’’
Former linebacker Chad Cascadden expressed more compassion toward the current team than Jones and Johnson.
“I don’t want this team to go 0-16 and do worse than us,’’ Cascadden, who serves as a Jets analyst on SNY, said. “The fans don’t deserve that. I remember there were weeks back then when I would give up a paycheck just for a win because we were so close. With this team, it isn’t just getting beat, it’s getting out-everythinged.’’
The distinct theme from the players on that ’96 team: That group, the worst in Jets history record-wise, was far better than the 2020 team.
The results from the two seasons after Bill Parcells took over for Kotite while playing with a core of holdover players from the ’96 team back up those assertions. The Jets went 9-7 in ’97 and 12-4 in ’98 team, advancing to the AFC Championship game.
“When I look back on that year, even though our record was 1-15, we weren’t that bad of a football team,’’ former safety Victor Green said. “We didn’t have the coaching. Kotite quit on us halfway through the season. Personnel-wise, we could play with anybody. I just look at it as a bad year.
“But looking at the Jets now, they’re much worse. If our [’96] team played this team 16 times, we’d beat them every single time.’’
The core of Parcells’ teams was the same core of the Kotite teams, with players like Johnson and Wayne Chrebet at receiver, Adrian Murrell at running back (in ’97), Jumbo Elliott at left tackle, Jones and Mo Lewis at linebacker, Aaron Glenn and Ray Mickens at cornerback and Green at safety.
“We had some guys that could actually play football,’’ Johnson said.
“In ’96, we had talent,’’ Green said. “I go back to coaching. You look at the Jets now and it’s coaching. They need to fire [Adam] Gase now. If they lay an egg this week, he needs to be gone. This is the time when the Johnsons [owners Woody and Christopher] have got to step up and say, ‘Hey, enough is enough. We’ve seen enough of this. You’re not our guy.’
“If they lay an egg on Sunday like they have the first five weeks, Gase has got to go.’’
All of the Jets players from that ’96 team have stories about the madness that took place with Kotite in charge.
“It was like I was back in high school again,’’ Johnson said.
Mickens recalled Kotite, “smoking a cigar at practice and some of his friends came to watch and he just left the field, went over there and was sitting on the hood of a car with his buddies blowing his whistle to change periods.’’
“I was like, ‘Oh man, has he given up?’ ’’ Mickens went on. “He seemed very nonchalant about whether he cared about winning or not. We had guys coming to work drunk and sleeping in meetings. There were guys sleeping in their cars in the parking lot coming from the nightclub straight to work. I ain’t going to say who it was, but … ’’
“Absolutely, I was one of them,’’ Johnson fessed up when Mickens’ story was relayed to him. “There was zero accountability. Kotite had totally lost the team and we were like, ‘If Richie Kotite didn’t care, why should we?’ ’’
This is how Jones recalled the years under Kotite: “It felt like it was two years of free money.’’
Mickens, a rookie then, recalled being told by Green: “Hey man, what you put on film now is going to depend on whether you’re going to be on this team next year. You’re playing for the next coach. Don’t go into the tank like some of these guys. Some of these guys are on their way out.’’
Mickens recounted the first meeting Parcells called in March 1997. After he was hired, Parcells flew every player to New York, telling them what it was going to be like with him in charge.
“There were about five or 10 guys that didn’t show back up when offseason workouts started,’’ Mickens said.
Sixth-year safety Gary Jones, who like Mickens and Glenn was a Texas A&M product, was one of them.
“We were all on the same flight home to Dallas, myself Aaron and Gary, and Gary asked the stewardess, ‘Can I get a Crown and Coke,’ ’’ Mickens recalled. “We were like, ‘G, what you doing?’ And he was like, ‘Man, I’m done. I can’t do none of that.’ And he never came back. He shut it down.’’
Those who survived the Kotite calamity and made it through the Parcells boot camp, have a different, less bitter, perspective about the ’96 ordeal.
“When people bring it up, I’m like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I was on that team,’ and I laugh, because it’s funny,’’ Cascadden said. “I do pridefully say I feel like I was part of the solution, not the problem, because I ended staying on and was able to be a part of that ’98 season.’’
Mickens said he “doesn’t like it’’ when the ’96 season is brought up in conversation, “but I also know that I was on one of the best [Jets] teams just two years later.’’
“When people go to ’96, I think about ’98,’’ Mickens said. “We won 12 games with the core of the same guys, so I experienced both sides of the fence. I laugh about ’96 now.’’