Sunday's Wild Card clash between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots will mark just the second time the division rivals have squared off in the playoffs. On December 28, 1985, the Pats built a 23-7 lead over the Jets at the Meadowlands and would hang on for a 26-14 win.
Tight end Mickey Shuler, a reliable receiver and adept blocker for the Green & White from 1978-'89, caught a fourth quarter touchdown pass as the Jets attempted a late rally during the Wild Card contest. Shuler and the Jets may have lost that day, but he was a versatile offensive cog for the Jets throughout his career.
"Mickey is totally immersed in the game," said former Jets offensive coordinator Rich Kotite of Shuler. "He makes football a 12 month job. He's one of those guys who fills notebook after notebook in our meetings, watches the game films, and then takes the films home with him to watch some more."
The Jets drafted Shuler in the third round out of Penn State in the spring of 1978 after he led the Nittany Lions in receptions in both 1976 and 1977. Besides being named a second team All-American as a senior, Shuler earned some serious recognition from one of the greatest football minds in the game's history, his collegiate coach Joe Paterno.
"We've had some fine tight ends at Penn State, but nobody has done as well consistently as Mickey, both blocking and catching," said Paterno.
In his rookie pro season, Shuler totaled 11 receptions but three went for touchdowns. Over Shuler's next two seasons, he would grab 38 catches and score five times.
Then, in 1981, Shuler played just six games after a shoulder separation in the preseason. However, the fourth-year veteran went on to record the Jets' first score in their Wild Card playoff game that postseason against the Bills at Shea Stadium. Although the Jets lost 31-27, it was Shuler's 30 yard-scoring reception that sparked the Jets offense to come back after trailing 24-0.
Finally, in 1984, Shuler got his opportunity to be the Jets' everyday starting tight end. During Joe Walton's tenure, Shuler truly became an offensive weapon.
"We ask him to do a lot and he quickly responds," Walton said. "Mickey is a fine athlete and should continue to excel if he keeps the same dedication."
The 1985 campaign proved to be Shuler's most productive season in a Jets' uniform as he recorded career highs in receptions (76), receiving yards (879), and touchdowns (seven). After getting the attention he deserved from the rest of the league, Shuler earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl a year later, in 1986, after recording 69 catches and four touchdowns.
"Mickey finally received the recognition that his clutch play deserved with a trip to the Pro Bowl," Walton said. "Mickey has established himself as one of the outstanding tight ends in the NFL."
Shuler made his second and final trip to Hawaii's all-star classic in 1988. Shuler finished that season fifth in the AFC in receptions and his 70 catches set the pace for all tight ends.
At the end of the '88 season, Shuler had caught at least one pass in 79 consecutive contests, a club record for tight ends and good for fourth in NFL history at the time. His streak stopped at 90 the following year, which is good for third place all-time for tight ends in NFL history.
To this day, Shuler ranks as the 15th leading scorer in Jets' history (222 points) and is tenth overall in touchdowns (37). He is tied with Wesley Walker for fourth place in receptions (438) while his 4,819 receiving yards rank the Pennsylvania native fifth in club annals.