The New York Jets announced on Sunday that two of the franchise's greatest offensive linemen, Jim Sweeney and Marvin Powell, have died. Sweeney was 60 and Powell was 67. No cause of death was announced for either.
Powell was talented, beloved
Powell, a right tackle, is one of the most decorated offensive linemen in Jets history. Drafted by the Jets in the first round of 1977, he became the starter immediately. He would continue as the right tackle starter throughout his career with the Jets, which would be nine seasons. (Powell would play in the NFL through 1987, spending his final two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.) He was elected to five straight Pro Bowls and named an All-Pro three times. He was beloved by his teammates for his talent (he was named team MVP in 1979) and his personality.
"Marvin was one of the best linemen I've ever seen," former Jets WR Wesley Walker told the team website upon hearing of Powell's passing. "He was just a physical specimen. He was just good. I just loved him."
Powell, who loved listening to classical music and reading about history, served as the Jets team rep to the NFL Players Association, and he also served as NFLPA vice president and then president for two years. He earned his law degree in 1987 after spending six offseasons going to school.
One of Powell's main inspirations in his life was his father, Marvin Sr. The Powell family grew up in Fort Bragg, NC, and Marvin Sr. was a military man who fought in three wars, starting with the invasion of Normandy in World War II.
"I did what he said because he was my idol. He served with the 82nd Airborne, a tall paratrooper in a knockout uniform," Powell said of his father via Jets.com. "I looked up to him like no other man. I actually had the best of both worlds as a child in reading material. My mother was religious, and she'd read the Bible every day. So I was exposed to the secular and the sacred."
Sweeney had 158-game ironman streak
Sweeney's versatility and toughness is why he's considered one of the greatest offensive linemen in Jets history. Beginning on Dec. 9, 1984 through Dec. 24, 1994, Sweeney started 158 straight games for the Jets.
Drafted out of Pitt as a second-rounder in 1984, Sweeney was versatile, playing left guard, left tackle, and finally center, which is where he started for six straight seasons. His ability to shift to different positions dates back to grade school, when his father told him flexibility could help him last longer.
"That was my natural position," he said of center, via the Jets website. "All through grade school, high school and most of college, I was a center. I was just able to play other positions. I have to give a lot of credit to my father who said, 'The more you can do, the longer you'll stick around. When I was at Pitt, I played different positions. I had a pretty good coach, Joe Moore, who wanted players to play more than one position. He would rotate me in at guard, so that's where I first got my playing experience.
"We really didn't have a set position. It was always, what can you do? What could you do for the team? I learned that early, about team concept, that you're not just a positional player. You're an offensive lineman."
You don't start 158 games without being tough. While many of his teammates remember him for that, they also remember him for being fun, kind, and caring.
"Jim was a typical Pittsburgh guy. He was tough," said Marty Lyons, the Jets' radio analyst who was Sweeney's teammate from 1984-89, via the team website. "He was tough to practice against every day. You could count on him every single Sunday. He had a different personality as soon as he crossed over the lines, though. Hard-nosed, tough-football player, a loving caring friend off the field."
Sweeney's time with the Jets ended after the 1994 season. He spent one season with the Seattle Seahawks, then played his final four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. At the end of his playing career, Sweeney moved into coaching, both at the high school and collegiate level. He knew how important his coaches had been to him, and wanted to be that kind of coach for his players.
"I had a lot of great coaches and each one had a little different personality on how they wanted you to understand what they were talking about. And humor was a big part of that," Sweeney said via the team website. "I loved them all, they all taught me lessons. I don't necessarily coach like they did. I take little bits and pieces of what they did, put them together and then put my own spin on it. I mean, you're not going to reinvent the game, but there are ways to get your point across differently.
"I want (my players) to love the game because it's a hard enough sport when you love it to do it because it is a tough sport. The physicality is a big factor and there are no dumb guys playing football. I coach them like they're in the NFL. I make sure they know more than one position. They know mentally and physically how to do different positions, and that's a lot for young men."
Sweeney reflected on his time with the Jets and his ironman streak in 2018, and what he said has a whole new meaning in light of his death.
"I wanted to play in as many games as possible and I understood that there aren't a whole bunch of opportunities," he told Jim Gehman in a story that appeared on newyorkjets.com in 2018. "I just loved to play the game. It was what I was meant to do. So, if it was what I was meant to do, I didn't want to waste a little bit of God's talent because I don't want to show up at the pearly gates and have him say to me, 'Hey, you wasted my talents.' I wanted to make sure I utilized every gift he gave me. I figured play as long as you can, play as hard as you can, and play as often as you can."
Sweeney is survived by his wife, Julie, and their five children: Shannon, Liam, Aislinn, Kilian and Teagan.