Then Brett Favre showed up.
"I wouldn't say I've been forgotten," Clemens told The Associated Press on Friday. "I still see myself as having a long-term future with this team and still plan on playing again and winning some games. This is what this year is and we've all tried to make the most of it."
Clemens, who started eight games last season, was immediately relegated to the bench when the Jets acquired the record-breaking quarterback in August. Gone were his chances to play regularly, as well as all the attention.
"It was a different transition to go from getting the interviews, getting the reps and doing all of the other stuff on a daily basis to none," Clemens said. "I'm not going to say it was an easy transition or a smooth transition, but eventually I said, 'Hey, this is the situation that has presented itself. I can sit and complain and worry about myself or I can take it as an opportunity to get better.'
"I think I've done the latter pretty successfully."
The 25-year-old Clemens was a second-round pick out of Oregon in 2006, was anointed the Jets' quarterback of the future and seized the starting job from Chad Pennington midway through last season. He struggled mightily, though, and entered training camp in a competition with Pennington.
Some thought maybe there was some divine intervention at play when Clemens' newborn daughter, Kate Elizabeth, was blessed and kissed by Pope Benedict XVI during a mass at Washington's Nationals Park in April.
"I heard that stuff, but I didn't read too much into it," he said with a laugh. "I hope it's a sign, but a sign for her and the life she's going to live. If he'd have kissed me, well, then maybe."
Pennington appeared to hold a slight edge a few weeks into camp, but that all changed with one late phone call from Eric Mangini the night before the Jets' preseason opener at Cleveland.
"It was like 12 or 1 in the morning," Clemens recalled, "and coach Mangini called me and said, 'Hey, I just want to let you know that we just traded for Favre."'
End of competition. Go grab a cap and a clipboard.
"When we got Brett Favre, you don't even ask, 'Are we still going to be competing?"' he said. "It's like, 'Hey, I'll be happy with whatever reps I can get and be ready because I'm going to be an absolute sponge."'
While Pennington was released the day after the trade and signed with Miami, Clemens became the latest on Favre's lengthy list of backups. He's actually gotten into two games in mop-up duty, going 3-of-5 for 26 yards and an interception.
"This is the best thing ever, to sit back, really evaluate things and see things for what they really are," he said. "God knows, maybe I've even matured a little bit."
Clemens said he's focused on his accuracy and footwork in the pocket, two of the biggest knocks on him last season, when he threw 10 interceptions against five touchdowns and was sacked 27 times.
"He's made some good strides," Mangini said. "It's hard to say definitively because he hasn't played in the games very much, but what you see in practice in terms of his reads, his control of the offense and decision making, he's done a lot of things that are encouraging in those areas."
Clemens has also tried to develop a thicker skin by watching Favre having fun, no matter the situation.
"I've been on the sidelines this year when we've gone three-and-out and the boobirds came out," Clemens said. "That's something maybe if I was out there last year, I would've gone, 'Oh, man,' and listened to it. But really, who cares? I've gotten a chance to see it and say, 'That's Brett Favre and he's getting treated like that? It doesn't really mean anything."'
Clemens also watched Favre handle the throng of reporters when he first joined the Jets and thought about how he approached similar situations on a much smaller scale last season. These days, he can breeze through the locker room virtually unnoticed.
"And that's not necessarily a bad thing for me," he said with a big grin. "I've kind of enjoyed that."
Make no mistake, though. Clemens still has a burning desire to be out on the field again for the Jets, whenever Favre decides to hang 'em up again -- for real.
"I just miss playing," Clemens said. "I mean, we weren't winning a lot of games last year, but I had so much fun and I miss that. The thing that keeps me going each week, knowing it's really a great thing if I don't play, is just saying, 'Hey, whenever my opportunity does come up, God forbid this year or next year, that I'm ready as possible."'
Copyright 20008 by The Associated Press