The Green-and-White army came looking for an oasis in the desert of long-suffering despair Saturday night at Rutgers’ HighPoint Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, N.J.
They found him.
Young Sam Darnold, No. 14 in green.
Because this is what they witnessed:
Good mobility. Throws well on the run.
“It’s good to have good feet in this league as well as an arm,” Todd Bowles said.
Darnold is no statue.
“He’s an athletic guy. … He’s just as accurate on the run as he is in the pocket,” Jermaine Kearse said. “It’ll help to extend plays in situations where he has to get forced out of the pocket. It allows us to find areas to get open. He keeps his eyes down the field, so we just gotta find the open areas for him to deliver the ball.”
Good body language. Can make all the throws, the best one a 30-yarder across the field right to tight end Neal Sterling. Looks like he belongs.
“He’s grasping the offense pretty well,” Bowles said.
The Jets did not make Darnold — or Josh McCown or Teddy Bridgewater — available.
They came from thisaway and thataway because when your team is creeping up on 50 years without a Super Bowl championship, you will come from far away to 1 Scarlet Knight Way for the chance that young Sam Darnold will quench your eternal thirst for a franchise quarterback.
Tom Brady just celebrated his 41st birthday, and the Green-and-White army has grown exasperated — and some of them have grown old — waiting for Father Time to sack and intercept him. The young Broadway Joe could have gone arm to arm with Brady, but he left Broadway for Hollywood in 1977, for crying out loud.
So it didn’t matter to the Green-and-White army that this was little more than a practice. It didn’t matter that young Sam Darnold entered as the third-string quarterback, behind 39-year-old McCown and comebacking Bridgewater.
Everyone loves McCown, who laughed in the face of age 38 and is universally respected in the locker room, and everyone is rooting for Bridgewater, who lost a year and his Vikings team because of that gruesome knee injury he suffered before the 2016 season.
But when you draft a quarterback with the third pick of the NFL draft, you draft a symbol of hope for your fans and for your franchise, a shining light at the end of a tunnel that isn’t an oncoming train, finally.
There have been too many cruel teases over the decades:
Richard Todd wasn’t Namath. Nor was Matt Robinson. Ken O’Brien wasn’t Dan Marino. Browning Nagle wasn’t Brett Favre. Boomer Esiason wasn’t Boomer Esiason, and Neil O’Donnell wasn’t Neil O’Donnell. Blink and you missed the Glenn Foley Era. Vinny Testaverde was The Hometown Hero until his Achilles betrayed him on the opening day of what could have been a Super 1999 season.
The excitement over Mark Sanchez was fleeting and ended unceremoniously with a Buttfumble. Geno Smith got his jaw broken in the locker room by a teammate. Ryan Fitzpatrick had a career year then he remembered he was The Journeyman. Bryce Petty was nothing more than a backup. The less said about Christian Hackenberg the better.
A good-sized 17-year-old with wavy red hair was wearing his Darnold 14 jersey. He was asked why.
“Man, ’cause he’s the future,” Kevin Serpico said. “He does good, then hopefully we’ll win a Super Bowl.”
Jets fans are torn over whether Darnold should start right away or not.
“I want him to sit a little bit, learn from Josh McCown, and then put him in by Week 5 if we’re not doing too well,” Serpico said.
Asked what it is about Darnold that makes him think he can be the future, Serpico said: “I don’t know. Just the way he acts. He reminds me a lot of Eli Manning and Derek Jeter. … They look like cornerstone pieces.”
Brian Skiff, 29, was wearing his 14 Darnold jersey.
“He’s the future. He’s what we need,” Skiff said.
He was thrilled when the Giants passed on Darnold for Saquon Barkley.
“I was much happier than most draft picks that the Jets make in the first round, I can definitely say that,” Skiff said and laughed. “As a quarterback, I think his potential is above and beyond. You’re looking at a potential draft class that looks like the Eli [Manning], Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers draft class. I think we took the right one.”
He laughed again when he was asked what it has been like watching Jets quarterbacks over the years.
“Depressing,” his friend, Matt Wichelns volunteered.
“Yeah, depressing would be a good word,” Skiff said.
Wichelns was wearing a 24 Darrelle Revis jersey. He had searched futilely for a 14 jersey at a Modell’s on Route 22 in Union.
“Now we drafted a young quarterback hopefully to be The Franchise for our team and send us in a good direction, start taking down the Patriots for the division.”
Their friend, Brandon Givens, was more interested in Jamal Adams, and you noticed more than a few 33 jerseys. But Darnold was the star attraction.
Steve Czifra was wearing a 12 jersey. He loves Darnold.
“He should start,” Czifra said.
His friend, Barry Senesoupha, had a 14 jersey over his right shoulder.
“He can carry this team to the light. … We’ve been waiting for a long time,” he said.
Young Sam Darnold to the rescue, perhaps.
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