Although they finished the 1991 regular season with an 8-8 record, the New York Jets earned un unlikely playoff berth due to dedication and sacrifice. That was precisely the case for Jeff Lageman, a long-haired linebacker/defensive end who put his locks on the line for the playoff birth.
"I told the guys that if we got to the playoffs, then they could have my hair, which was pretty long at the time," says Lageman. "We needed a boost and that was how I showed that I was dedicated to that team."
The '91 campaign proved to be Lageman's personal best as well, as he finished with a career-high 10.0 sacks in what was just his third season. Prior to Lageman's breakout, the undersized defensive end-turned outside linebacker combined to total 8.5 sacks in his first two professional seasons with the Jets.
Lageman entered the league in 1989 after the Jets selected him 14th overall out of the University of Virginia. As a Cavalier, he earned much success as a defensive lineman, yet his size was a bit of a concern for NFL scouts. Despite his stature, Lageman proved the critics wrong in 1987 and his 89 tackles led the "Wahoos." Virginia capped off a successful campaign with a 22-16 victory over Brigham Young University at the All-American Bowl.
"That win was very sweet because at that point in the program we knew we weren't going to get many opportunities to go to a bowl game," Lageman recalled.
The Fairfax, Virginia native followed a successful junior campaign with a team-leading 117 tackles as a senior captain in 1988. Lageman received All-ACC honors and also earned a trip to the 1988 Blue-Grey Classic along with a degree in economics.
Lageman's colorful career with the Jets lasted six seasons. During his tenure with the Green and White, Lageman compiled 34.5 sacks and was best remembered for his wild personality which was complimented by his Harley-Davidson, ripped jeans, bandana and ponytail. Teammates referred to the avid outdoorsman as "Spook" for his stealth-like ability to disappear from rooms unnoticed.
In 1992, Lageman was set to build another promising season, but tragedy struck early. Upon sacking Pittsburgh quarterback Neil O'Donnell in week two, Lageman sustained a torn ACL in his right knee, sidelining the defensive co-captain for the remainder of the year. The gritty vet bounced back from surgery successfully however, and added 8.5 sacks the following season and 6.5 more the next
Lageman's time in the Big Apple came to a close in 1994 as he latched on to the expansion Jaguars after a brief dip in the free agent waters. The Jags countered a Jets contract offer and Lageman soon found himself in Jacksonville for the franchise's inaugural season.