The Jets, coming off a 6-10 season that was basically over before it began when Chad Pennington got injured in preseason and they started 0-4 with Vinny Testaverde back at the helm, had renewed optimism for the 2004 season. However, their preparation was complete and as the Eagles scored again midway through the fourth quarter to extend their lead to 27-7, it didn’t really matter.
For many of the rest of the guys out there, though, they were still scratching and clawing. In some case, their livelihood was at stake, whether they were trying to remain with the team or just put something positive on film to find work elsewhere. For others, their job might be safe, but they still had an opportunity to prove they might deserve a shot somewhere down the line. For one man in particular, he grasped that opportunity with both hands and in the process achieved the impossible by turning the most meaningless and mundane of games into something thrilling.
You may have heard us referring to the traditional preseason finale against the Eagles as “The Bollinger Bowl” and assumed that was a reference to the typical standard of player taking part. However, this isn’t a slight on former Jets quarterback Brooks Bollinger; far from it. This is a tribute. This year – September 3 to be specific – marks the 10th anniversary of the performance that earned him that tribute.
Bollinger led the Jets on drives of 65, 73 and 87 yards as they would score three touchdowns in the last 5:19 to complete a stunning comeback and end the preseason with a remarkable 28-27 win. Had this been a regular season game, it would have been the stuff of legends.
You’d do well to remember much about some of the guys who also contributed to the win. Ken-Yon Rambo, a former Dallas Cowboy who would go on to star in the CFL, had a 100-yard day, kickstarting the comeback with a 52-yard catch. Roderick Bryant, whose interception set up the second of the three touchdowns was a rookie who would earn himself a roster spot and play 13 games with the team that season.
Perhaps the best lesson in perseverance came from Matt Dominguez, who himself would return to the CFL and forge a pretty good career for himself. With less than a minute to go, Dominguez had been targeted six times, with all six being unsuccessful. One was even intercepted. Still, Bollinger went back to the well and hit him three times in the final minute, with the last one accounting for the game-winning score.
Sure, the win didn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but without that performance, perhaps Bollinger might never have got a shot at starting nine games the following season. He even had a couple of wins and a 300-yard game. Who knows…maybe the positive vibes from that win carried over into the regular season and helped contribute to the team’s 5-0 start? They would ultimately fall literally inches short of an AFC title game appearance. While Bollinger wouldn’t contribute much to that team – he saw action in one game, a 13-3 win over the Cardinals with Pennington out and Quincy Carter starting – perhaps his never-say-die attitude permeated the team on some level.
Over the years, this game has provided some memorable performances. It took him a while to climb to the top, but Danny Woodhead (158 yards rushing and two scores in 2009) is one of the best examples of someone who made the most of an opportunity for some extended playing time. Others, like Jesse Chatman and David Clowney, impressed but did less with the opportunities their Bollinger Bowl performance earned them in the NFL. In recent years, Eagles’ 7th round defensive back Kurt Coleman went from being on the bubble to becoming an integral part of their secondary (59 games, 29 starts in four years) almost overnight when he scored two defensive touchdowns in the 2010 game. Last year’s big winner was Matt Simms, who might not still be in the league now without his 286-yard passing performance in that game.
However, the biggest potential legacy from this game is perhaps Damon Harrison, who is being talked about as a potential pro bowler, but would probably have been cut back in 2012 if he hadn’t outperformed Martin Tevaseu in the Eagles game. Even then, he was still in jeopardy until – legend has it – he beasted out at practice the next day, causing a change of heart among the coaches.
So, looking ahead to tomorrow, as your attention starts to wane, don’t give up on the game, because you might miss out on someone making a splash or a turning point in someone's career.
10 years on, TJB will continue to recognize this game as the Bollinger Bowl in honor of what it stands for, a last opportunity for a lot of dedicated professionals to make their mark. Whether we’ll ever again see anything we’re still talking about 10 years later is debatable, but this game can make or break a career.