Retired New York Jet Ken O’Brien is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to wear a NY Jets uniform. He is, however, not one of the 15 members of the Jets Ring of Honor. I was able to reach out to fans and alumni, and it seems after looking into the matter, I am not the only one who feels like he should be inducted into the New York Jets Ring of Honor.
O’Brien was born in Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, NY. Growing up he was a fan of the New York Mets and the New York Jets. He he shares the same child hood hero as many fans, Joe Namath. “It was a small world, and it came back at me,” O’Brien told me about the NY Jets drafting in 1983. Imagine what it was like to wake up the day after the draft (that is another story) and find out that the team you loved selected you to quarterback them. He grew up pretending he was Joe Namath in his backyard football game and would get to live that dream. In my backyard as a kid, I was Ken O’Brien.
The NY Jets selected Ken O’Brien with the 24th pick in the 1983 NFL, which quite possibly is the greatest quarterback draft in NFL history. He statistically hung in with the other three famous quarterbacks from that draft (Hall of Famers Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, and John Elway), and had a higher career QB Rating then the first pick in that draft, John Elway. Joe Walton (1983-1989, Head Coach) emailed me on the subject: “He proved that he was definitely one of the top quarterbacks of that great draft class. He led the league in quarterback rating for us, which is obviously an impressive feat. Being inducted into the Ring of Honor is an honor I think he certainly deserves.” I also received this message from Jim Kelly of the Buffalo Bills, “Not everyone can have stats the players do nowadays, but Ken O’Brien was solid throughout his career. I am truly impressed with the intensity and control he always played with.”
In 1985, O’Brien put together the best season of his career, leading the NFL in QB rating, boasting a 96.2 passing rating. O’Brien would not take credit when I pointed these numbers out to him; instead, he pointed out that it matters what everyone on the team is doing, and it is a team game “It’s really more about the team than any one player … Any quarterback is as good as the parts around them. They are all talented or they would not be there…”
The argument against O’Brien is that he was not able to maintain the same success throughout his career that he achieved early on. Injuries to skilled position players, like Wesley Walker and Al Toon, and problems protecting him in the pocket, made it an uphill battle. The team would never reach the same success they did in 1985.
During that time when the franchise was going downhill, he would still have his moments of greatness. He had two perfect QB ratings during games (in 1986 & 1990), completing 91% of his passes vs. the Patriots in 1990, and throwing over 400 yards twice.
O’Brien is at the top of the Jets career stat sheets for Quarterbacks. He is 2nd in Yards (24,386), Touchdowns (124), and Wins (50), behind only Joe Namath. He ranks 3rd in QB Rating (81), and he is 5th in Completion Percentage (58.8). Minimum 100 passing attempts.
Statistics from the 80’s were not like the modern era. Today, QB’s cannot be hit as they could back then, and receivers run free in the modern game. O’Brien described player protection from his era during our conversation, “Are you ready to go? What day is it? Get back in there.” People will never realize how much tougher a sport it was in the past versus the modern game. There was no protection vs. hits to the head, or below the knees. QB’s were fair game. The “concussion protocol” did not exist. He most likely would have had a longer career playing under modern rules. Lucky for him, he still has his health today, a luxury many do not have from the era he played in.
If there was ever another quarterback, besides Joe Namath, to induct into the Ring of Honor, O’Brien should be the one the Jets select. Both WR’s during O’Brien’s tenure are members of the Ring of Honor (Al Toon / Wesley Walker). How can they be in when the man who ran the offense during that time and got them the ball is not? I know Toon and Walker agree with me. Walker texted me, “He (O’Brien) should already be in there,” when I reached out to him and asked his opinion on the subject. “Most fans think I’m crazy when I tell people I will take him over Dan Marino and John Elway… …I would take Ken (O’brien) over anyone..” Also, Al Toon (1985-1992, ROH Member) talked about the subject during a recent interview with me: “My hat goes off to him; he was a general for our offense for five years of my career as a starter… I couldn’t have done as well as I did… the three Pro Bowls I went to were because of him. He was throwing me the ball. I would say he would be one of the guys I would definitely vote for.”
Joe Klecko (1977-1987, RoH Member), the greatest New York Jet not in the Hall of Fame, had this to say via text to me about the subject: “Never did I play with a more athletic quarterback than Kenny. He had an ability to take a beating. Kenny would go through a nightmare game being hurried all day and always find a way to get the ball into the hands of his receivers. But, always at the end of the day, the only thing that matters to him was winning. Kenny always did it in the most professional way. The greatest attribute of his was his ability to lead; everyone looked up to him. Even our defense. The NY Jets should elevate Kenny to the level he deserves in the organization and put him in the Ring of Honor.”
2016 is the perfect time to induct O’Brien into the Ring of Honor. Under Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles, the New York Jets have done an about face on treatment of alumni. Alumni I have talked to tell me the NY Jets really did not go out of their way to interact or honor former players in the past. This year, on the other hand, they have reached out to former players and brought them into the fold. Fans of the team have applauded the decision. It has been one of the many steps in the maturing of this franchise’s image.
Jet Fans Please, RT.. Jets fans we need your input: Should Ken O’Brien be in the Ring of Honor. Thank you.
— NYJetsNews_com (@NYJetsNews_com) December 16, 2015
New York Jets fans believe he should be in the Ring of Honor as well. In a poll ran on NYJetsNews.com’s Twitter feed, 67% of football fans believed that Ken O’Brien should be in inducted. The numbers on various Facebook groups were about 80% (Facebook groups have a higher concentration of NY Jet fans responding). The man was the face of the franchise for ten years, and deserves to be praised. While the Jets are at it, maybe they could sign him to a one-day contract, so he can re-retire as a New York Jet, since they never did the first time around. The NY Jets were notorious for poor treatment of past alumni (until Bowles and Maccagnan became in charge) and here is another olive branch the Jets need to extend. Time to bring the franchises best quarterback, not named Joe Namath, home.
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Interview with Ken O’Brien can be heard below.
Bruce Harper (NY Jet: 1988-1984): “I have never seen a more accurate passer in all my playing days.”
Anthony Becht (NY Jets: 2000-2004) “I mean you look at Namath’s numbers compared to O’Brien’s and it is almost laughable.. Except Joe has a ring.. Put him in Jets”