Despite a season of hardships for the 1989 New York Jets, wide receiver JoJo Townsell was able to break through and make a name for himself. Following seven seasons of relatively modest numbers in pro football, Townsell took his game to another level just one year before his eventual retirement.
Townsell, who excelled as a collegian at UCLA, was selected in the third round of the 1983 draft by the Jets after the club selected quarterback Ken O'Brien and running back Johnny Hector in the first two rounds. But Townsell opted to play for the Los Angeles Express of the United States Football League (USFL) because he felt he would receive more valuable playing time as a rookie.
The USFL, a professional league which existed from 1983 to 1986, featured a number of all-time football greats including Reggie White, Steve Young, and Jim Kelly. Townsell's impact on the Express in 1983 was both immediate and impressive as he caught a game-winning touchdown from fellow UCLA alum Tom Ramsey just two days after signing with the team. He finished his first season with 21 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns.
The following season, Young joined Townsell and the Express. Townsell took advantage of the talented young lefty passer that season and hauled in 58 passes for 889 yards and seven touchdowns. Townsell even set a USFL record in a game against Memphis when he totaled 249 receiving yards.
After such a dominant campaign, Townsell felt he was ready to contribute to the Jets in 1985. His inaugural season in Green and White was rather nondescript though as he combined to total 289 total yards as a receiver and a return man.
Townsell would have a career-season in 1989. He had been used primarily as a punt return artist up until that point, but emerged as the team's jack-of-all-trades, as he returned kickoffs (653 yards) and punts (299 yards) in addition to his receiving duties. Only Al Toon had more receptions than Townsell, but it was Townsell who paced all Jets receivers with 787 yards, 17.5 yards per catch, and five touchdowns.
Prior to 1989, Townsell accounted for zero touchdown catches and just 21 career receptions – 12 of which came in 1985. Compare that statistic to his 45 receptions and five scores in that '89 season, and he gave new meaning to the term "breakout season."