Guard Randy Rasmussen played for the Jets in three different decades and was the last of the Super Bowl champion 1968 Jets to hang up his cleats. For that whole time, he was a model of consistency, truly embodying the modern mantra of "Play Like a Jet" better than perhaps any player in team history.
Rasmussen was a Jet for 15 years and was a part of the team that won Super Bowl III and facilitated the AFL-NFL merger, but was also on the team that saw the advent of the Sack Exchange. He wore the classic uniforms, which the team returned to in 1998 and still wears to this day, but also wore the kelly green and white with the green helmet in the late seventies and early eighties. For many fans, he would be, simply, "Mr. Jet" and when he retired, there was talk that his number 66 jersey - currently worn by Willie Colon - should be retired.
He was a teammate of Snell, Grantham, Maynard and Mathis, but also a teammate of McNeil, Shuler, Gastineau and Klecko. He even has strong links to the current Jets regime as both Rex Ryan and John Idzik's fathers coached on teams he played for as a Jet.
As a rookie, back in 1967, Rasmussen would start every game at right guard as the Jets would finish 8-5-1 just one game out of first place behind the Houston Oilers in the AFL East. The Jets didn't start another rookie at right guard until 32 years later (Randy Thomas). It was a remarkable start to the career of an unheralded 12th round pick out of Nebraska-Kearney.
Ironically, his most triumphant moment came in the one season of his burgeoning career where he wasn't an ever-present constant. Despite Rasmussen starting all 14 games as a rookie, the Jets still took the opportunity to upgrade the position, signing three-time first team all-pro Bob Talamini, who had been an AFL all-star in each of the previous six seasons with the Oilers but was nearing the end of his career. This would relegate Rasmussen to the bench, limiting him to just seven starts during the regular season. However, when the Jets made an adjustment in the playoffs, shifting right guard Dave Herman out to tackle in place of rookie Sam Walton, this enabled Rasmussen to move back into the starting lineup.
Here's one for any trivia buffs out there: Rasmussen actually started the Super Bowl as an ineligible tight end, as the Jets made a pre-snap shift on the very first play, moving into an unbalanced line formation with Talamini shifting to right guard and Rasmussen moving to the outside of Winston Hill's right shoulder. The offensive line played a massive part in the Jets win, slowing down the formidable Colts' pass rush to protect Joe Namath and leading the way for Matt Snell to rush for 121 yards and a touchdown. Rasmussen certainly played his part in that, although he couldn't recall too much about it.
"That game was almost too much for me to comprehend, I think I woke up about a week later," he told the NY Times in 1982. "About all I remember was us running one play over and over, a play we called 19-Straight that had Matt Snell carrying to our left side. We kept running it because it kept working. But we thought it would. It's funny, we were such big underdogs yet we were so totally confident we were going to win."
Despite his confidence, he wasn't too enamored with Namath's famous decision to guarantee the Jets would win.
"I thought he was nuts when he said that," Rasmussen would tell the LA Times. "I thought he was crazy. We went down there (to Miami) the week before and one thing Weeb said was don't say anything in the paper to antagonize them. We know that we can beat them, but still let's not antagonize them. It all went well until Thursday."
Although he was against the guarantee, he would add, "You know, he didn't say anything we didn't really believe."
That belief helped spur the Jets to the biggest achievement in franchise history and was the crowning moment for many of the players on the team. However, for Rasmussen, his career was only just getting started.
Transitioning to left guard, he would go on to play in 207 games as a Jet, a number bettered only by placekicker Pat Leahy. His 198 starts are second in Jets history to Mo Lewis and his 144 consecutive games played are 5th best. For younger fans, it might put things in perspective to compare him to Brandon Moore, who could have bumped Rasmussen down to sixth on the consecutive games played list if he had stayed with the team for 2013. Moore has been a dependable mainstay with the Jets for a long time, but wasn't a regular starter until his third season and, to be honest, was often seen as a weak link during his first few years as a starter. Rasmussen not only was a dependable starter off the bat, but also lasted 15 years, 50% longer than Moore played with the Jets.
Although he was never elected to the Pro Bowl or won any major awards, this was partly due to the fact that he played at the same time as several Hall of Fame AFC guards (such as Jim Otto, Gene Upshaw and John Hannah). That didn't mean he wasn't highly respected. Ewbank called him "the most coachable player I've ever had" and, for years, all the way up to the end of his career, head coach Walt Michaels would refer to him as "the team's most consistent player". Paul (Dr. Z) Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated referred to him in 1979 as the "No. 1 guy in the NFL who has never been picked for anything" and the Hall of Famer Hannah told Sports Illustrated that Rasmussen was a guy he "tried to copy".
There were tough times for the organization in between the Super Bowl win and the team that finally emerged as a contender again in the early eighties. Namath struggled to stay healthy and often tried to do too much when he was able to play. The Jets' only postseason appearance in that interim period was a 13-6 loss to the Chiefs in the AFL divisional playoff the year after their Super Bowl success. Over a decade of disappointment would take its toll with Rasmussen describing the last game of 1975 as the "worst day of his career" because most of the rest of the team had basically given up on the season.
Rasmussen was not the type to quit though and it's a testament to his dedication that his performance and effort levels never wavered, even when the team was struggling. Rasmussen didn't make headlines very often, although he did score a touchdown on a fumble recovery in the end zone in a 1972 loss to Miami. That wouldn't happen again for a Jets offensive lineman until Matt Slauson did it in Denver over 39 years later.
They still had some successes, even in the post-Namath era. In 1978, the team was 3rd in the league in scoring with Matt Robinson starting 11 games. In 1979, despite the team's running back by committee philosophy, the line somehow managed to pave the way for the Jets to lead the league in rushing. The Jets achieved this over several teams with Hall of Fame running backs, while their best runners were Clark Gaines, Scott Dierking and Bruce Harper, none of whom were in the top ten in rushing.
Rasmussen showed his dedication after the 1980 season, where he suffered a serious knee injury and missed eight games. He undertook a lifting and conditioning regimen to restore his strength and quickness and improve the chances of extending his career. He would return to the starting lineup the following year and start 15 games.
In 1981, Rasmussen and the 10-5-1 Jets finally returned to the postseason, losing a heart-breaker to the Bills at Shea Stadium in the first round of the playoffs. This would, however, turn out to be his swan song.
Rasmussen, who turned 37 after the season, might have been able to play until he was 40, but opted to retire when the Jets told him Stan Waldemore would replace him in the starting lineup and they wanted him to be a backup. He was quick to point out that there was "no hard feelings" though and received a fitting tribute and a retirement ceremony from the Jets organization.
Although Rasmussen was someone who saw first-hand all the biggest moments in franchise history, that didn't stop after his career was over. In 1982 he was prepared to stick around just a phone call away in case the Jets needed reinforcements on the line. Waldemore would make it through the strike-shortened nine game season and the Jets would go on to reach the AFC conference title game without requiring Rasmussen's services. That wouldn't be the last time he closely oversaw what was going on with the Jets franchise as he moved onto a career as a radio broadcaster, working as a color commentator with Charley Steiner in 1987.
These days, Rasmussen's contributions to the Jets organization are often overlooked. We hope that selecting him for the TJB Hall of Fame goes some way towards addressing that injustice.