New York Jets: The Greatest Backup QB Performances

tom tupa throwing a pass in a recent game against the patriots
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With World Backup Day landing on March 31, ESM counts down the finest second-string performances in the history of the New York Jets.

March 31 has given rise to “World Backup Day”. The “holiday” was founded by Youngstown State University student Ismail Jadun and encourages backing up personal data and files on the day before April Fools’ Day.



Backup has a different meaning when it comes to NFL quarterbacks. Often looked upon as the guy in the baseball cap, the backup quarterback may one of the most underrated positions in the four major sports. You never know if and when your data could be erased in the blink of an eye. Quarterback issues are likewise unsympathetic to best-laid plans, necessitating backup and contingency in all walks of life.

The New York Jets are in desperate need of a backup quarterback to work with franchise man Sam Darnold. Their cornerstone has missed six games over the past two seasons, and the Jets have gone 0-6 in such contests. There have been other times, however, that the Jets have been better prepared….

12/1/68: The Babe

This is a story about a quarterback that won the Super Bowl with the Jets in 1968, an AFL legend that partook in Gang Green’s finest hour. Of course, the thrower in question is…Babe Parilli.

Parilli made a name for himself as the quarterback of the American Football League’s Boston Patriots. While Parilli’s 3,465 yards and 31 touchdowns during Boston’s 1964 campaign may seem almost commonplace in today’s NFL, those marks stood as Patriot records until Tom Brady broke them during his historic 2007 tour.

Since Joe Namath sometimes had trouble finishing games, Parilli was brought in as his understudy in 1968. He would come up particularly big during the final weeks of the AFL season. Parilli’s play allowed the Jets to enter the postseason with a full-wave of momentum. A Houston Oilers loss on Thanksgiving gave the Jets the East Division title, leading to Namath taking the second half off in the final three games of the regular season. In the first, Parilli led a fourth quarter come against the Miami Dolphins at Shea Stadium, throwing three touchdowns in the frame (two to Don Maynard) in a 35-17 win. He would go on to throw a pass in Super Bowl III against Baltimore while relieving an ailing Namath and wound up with a ring after the Jets won the game 16-7.

Parilli played one more year with the Jets, once again in relief of Namath. He never started a game in New York, but, notably, the Jets won each of the ten games in which he partook.

11/15/70: L.A. Woodall

Reality quickly came for the Jets after their Super Bowl title. They earned another division title in 1969 but the bottom fell out in 1970 to the tune of a 4-10 record. Namath’s injuries (as well as a threatened retirement) had reached a breaking point by then, forcing them to find insurance in the form of second-round pick Al Woodall.

The Duke alumn mostly struggled as a Jets quarterback and was out of football by 1974. He did, however, earn one shining New York moment during a November visit to Los Angeles to battle the Rams. The Jets entered with a 1-7 mark but wound up shocking the City of Angels to the tune of a 31-20 victory. Woodall’s 261 yards and three touchdown passes wound up being his career-best and his efforts just might’ve cost Los Angeles a playoff spot. The Rams finished their season 9-4-1, one game behind San Francisco for the NFC West crown and a half-game behind Detroit for the NFC’s wild card.

Woodall was able to extend his 15 minutes of NFL fame as the win over Los Angeles began a three-game win streak. The other bookend of that streak was a 20-10 win over defending NFC champion Minnesota two weeks later.

9/12/99: Give ’em the Tup

After a surprise appearance in the AFC title game, expectations were high for the century-ending New York Jets. However, hopes of a return trip were immediately dashed at the onset of the season, when Vinny Testaverde went down without contact, suffering a torn Achilles during a Week 1 visit from the New England Patriots. For the Week 1 divisional tilt, head coach Bill Parcells made the unusual move of naming punter Tom Tupa the primary backup. Tupa was a college quarterback at Maryland, but he hadn’t thrown on a full-time basis in seven years. The choice put Parcells in an awkward spot: if Tupa was lifted from the game for emergency quarterback Rick Mirer prior to the fourth quarter, he could not come back in. To the shock of many at Giants Stadium…including the New England defense…Tupa’s first play from scrimmage resulted in a 25-yard touchdown pass to Keyshawn Johnson, one that gave the Jets the lead back.

From there on out, Parcells’ will to keep Tupa under center was tested by a relentless New England pass rush. Tupa was sacked three times and lost a fumble that was recovered by Willie McGinest in the end zone. But just as Mirer momentum was brewing, Tupa seemed to sway Parcells back his way every time. He would end up throwing another touchdown pass (this one from seven yards out to Fred Baxter) and had the Jets well in the ball game, which stood at a 27-22 New England lead entering the final quarter.

However, with the emergency caveats removed, Parcells fully entrusted the offense to Mirer. The Jets took the lead thanks to a pick-six from Brian Cox, but Mirer wound up throwing two interceptions, including one on the Jets’ final drive, that allowed the Patriots to escape East Rutherford with a 30-28 win. Tupa finished the game 6-of-10 for 165 yards and two scores.

EAST RUTHERFORD, UNITED STATES: New York Jets’ quarterback Ray Lucas (L) is chased out of the pocket by the Miami Dolphins’ Rich Owens (R) in the second quarter of their game at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey 12 December, 1999. AFP PHOTO/ Henny Ray ABRAMS (Photo credit should read HENNY RAY ABRAMS/AFP via Getty Images)

12/12/99: Feeling 22

There’s a reason you won’t see any antics from Mirer on this list. Parcells chose him to take over for Testaverde, but that faith was not rewarded. Mirer posted a mere 66.6 passer ratings over six starts, during which they went 2-4. With the team sitting at 2-6 and the playoffs an afterthought, Parcells turned the offensive reigns over to Ray Lucas.  The Harrison, NJ native was in the midst of building a respectable career as a backup after starring at Rutgers. Parcells gave him his first NFL chance, as the Tuna brought in the undrafted Lucas in as a backup quarterback during New England’s Super Bowl run in 1996. Lucas was one of several Parcells-related transfers to New York when the latter took the Jets’ job a year later.

Under Lucas, the Jets were able to gain back respectability, especially over an exhilarating December. The former Scarlet Knight led the Jets to three consecutive fourth quarter comebacks, starting with the erasure of a 13-6 deficit at The Meadowlands against the Dolphins. Lucas helped the Jets put up 22 unanswered points as they scored on each of their three full offensive possessions in the third. Two throws found their way to Johnson for scores, allowing the Jets to earn a 28-20 win over a Dolphins team contending for a playoff spot.

Lucas posted a 6-3 record as the Jets starter en route to an 8-8 campaign. He would earn another fourth quarter comeback win when the Jets visited Miami two weeks later, creating a sandwich yet another last-frame victory in Dallas.

12/2/12: Raising Arizona

This is the story about a Jets quarterback that came from the hallowed football ground of Tuscaloosa, Alabama and led Gang Green to a crucial victory.

The hero in this tale is, of course, Greg McElroy.

In December 2012, the Jets and Arizona Cardinals met in a game that set quarterbacking back decades. In NFL football, a quarterback could throw the ball an infinite number of times into the ground and still emerge with a comparatively sizable passer rating of 39.6. Somehow, starting quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Ryan Lindley both failed to beat 30. Neither eclipsed the century mark in yardage and combined to complete 20-of-52 passes. Arizona managed to earn just five first downs, but somehow nursed a slim 3-0 lead for a majority of the game.

With the Sanchez era in its dying acts, the Jets mercifully removed him for McElroy in the second half. The insertion of the former national champion and seventh-round pick drew cheers from a bored MetLife Stadium crowd. His statline was simple…a mere 5-of-7 for 29 yards…but he did what Sanchez could not: score. McElroy found tight end Jeff Cumberland for a one-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, which was somehow enough to earn the Jets a 7-6 win and keep their playoff hopes alive for another week.

When the Jets were eliminated a week later, McElroy earned his first, and what became his only, career start. He was sacked 11 times in a loss to the San Diego Chargers, suffering concussion symptoms. He never partook in another regular season down in the NFL.

11/9/14: Vick Over Pitt

The 2014 New York Jets hoped to showcase the No. 7 of the future in Geno Smith.

They did get to show off a certain man with the numeral…albeit one from the past.

Michael Vick’s penultimate season with the Jets, albeit in the unfamiliar number of one. Vick was called upon to replace a struggling Smith with the Jets reeling at 1-6. The third and final game of his starting tenure produced a rare victory, as the Jets upset the 6-3 Pittsburgh Steelers by a 20-13 final at MetLife Stadium. Two touchdown passes from Vick, including a 67-yard bomb to T.J. Graham, allowed the Jets to jump out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. Vick also made history during the game by becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to break the rushing plateau of 6,000 yards.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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