"I was a little bit, but I've seen crazier things," he said. "I've seen the starting quarterback get traded the day before the first preseason game, so nothing really surprises me."
Harris was referring to August 2008, when the Jets unceremoniously dumped the popular Chad Pennington -- he was actually released, not traded -- and replaced him with future Hall of Famer Brett Favre. The swap happened so fast that Favre's introductory news conference was staged in a cramped room in the bowels of Cleveland Browns Stadium, where they opened the preseason. Harris also could've mentioned last summer, when the presumptive starter got punched out by a teammate.
Quarterback drama is part of the franchise's DNA, from Joe Namath's diva days to Geno Smith's broken jaw. The current situation? It's hardly unique for the Jets. Yes, Ryan Fitzpatrick's prolonged contract standoff and the suddenly crowded quarterback room are making headlines across the country, but nobody is talking about mobsters or bar-room brawls -- two storylines from previous quarterback soap operas. Uncertainty at the game's most important position has clouded many an offseason and preseason.
In the summer of 1969, a few months after the Jets' one and only Super Bowl victory, Namath tearfully announced his retirement at a news conference inside a Manhattan nightclub called Bachelors III. He was a part owner of the popular Upper East Side hangout, which attracted organized-crime figures. That concerned the NFL, so commissioner Pete Rozelle told Namath he'd be banned from playing unless he sold his interest in the club.
Rather than submit to Rozelle's demand, Namath, only 26 and rebellious, quit football. He was the biggest name in the sport, so you could imagine the fallout. It would be akin to Stephen Curry saying goodbye to basketball after the playoffs.
After weeks of intense speculation, Namath returned to the Jets, agreeing to surrender his stake in Bachelors III. As it turned out, he threatened retirement in 1970 and 1971 as well, with many speculating he simply wanted to save his famously bad knees from the grind of training camp. Contract squabbles may have been a factor too, along with his fledgling career in Hollywood. Let's see: A love scene with Ann-Margret or two-a-day practices? Not a tough decision.
In 1984, Ken O'Brien was supposed to be the opening-day quarterback, one year after he was drafted in the first round, but he spent training camp in a Manhattan court room. He and teammate Mark Gastineau were on trial for their roles in a melee that occurred the previous year in Studio 54, the celebrated old disco. The trial lasted nearly a month, forcing the Jets to alter their quarterback plans. They started the season with erstwhile backup Pat Ryan as their signal-caller, delaying O'Brien's debut until late in the season. Football reporters were torn on whether to cover the trial or training camp.
O'Brien led the Jets to the playoffs in '85, '86 and '91, but he was replaced in a rigged quarterback competition in '92. The organization wanted second-year gunslinger Browning Nagle to win the job, and they cleared the path by keeping O'Brien away from training camp for a few weeks. They did it by lowballing him in contract negotiations. (Hmm, sound familiar?) By the time he signed, it was too late. The job belonged to Nagle, who had an atrocious season.
In 1998, coach Bill Parcells employed a controversial keep-away tactic, informing starter Neil O'Donnell via certified letter he wasn't welcome at the offseason program. Parcells, plotting to release O'Donnell after June 1, didn't want to risk a serious injury, which would've put the Jets on the hook for the player's huge salary. For weeks, the quarterback situation was in limbo. Parcells came under fire for having the audacity to tell a $5 million-a-year quarterback (a big number in those days) to stay home. In late June, Parcells emerged from his offseason bunker to settle family business. He sacked O'Donnell and signed Vinny Testaverde, who enjoyed a career year.
Ten years later, Favre arrived on the scene. The first two weeks of camp were dominated by trade rumors, as the "retired" Favre looked to start a post-Green Bay career. The Jets hung Pennington out to dry as they flirted with Favre, finally convincing him he'd love it in New Jersey. The trade was consummated at midnight. A few hours later, team officials took a private jet to Mississippi to pick up Favre, and Pennington was sent home from Cleveland, an ex-Jet.
So this Fitzpatrick drama? Tame, totally tame by comparison.