In 1984, then-owner of the New York Jets Leon Hess decided that his franchise needed a new field. So he made an announcement that saddened my father, who was a relatively new holder of Jets season tickets: the team’s games would no longer be played in their quirky but cozy Shea Stadium home. The announcement of the Jets’ new home was as bad as it could be: far from its fan base (in another state, no less) and already occupied by—and named for—another team. The commute from my childhood home on Long Island to Shea Stadium was a mere fifteen minutes, and parking at Shea was a breeze if you knew the stadium’s neighborhood well, which my father did. Even before his first disastrous encounter with the New Jersey Meadowlands’ Byzantine concentric highway parking entanglement, he knew that the average Jets Sundays would become a major hassle.
My dad—who was among the legion of those feeling betrayed by Hess—had a decision to make: dump the tickets or soldier on. In the end, he chose to commit: to his team but mostly to his son. I was only 11 then but already in the throws of a relationship with the Jets that the word fanaticism doesn’t do justice. The Jets games were the unquestioned focal point of my existence. I begged for and received the renewal of our season ticket plan for the 1984 season.
We quickly discovered that Giants Stadium was nothing special; a big ugly concrete oval sporting four ugly spiral concrete ramps. It was just as windy as Shea, had a hard, ugly Astroturf playing surface, and was outfitted in the Giants’ colors of blue and red. For the Jets’ home games, exactly two extravagant measures were taken by Mr. Hess: the blue walls surrounding the playing field were draped in a green fabric, and the turf in the end zones featured the Jets’ logo. Getting to and from the stadium proved worse than ever imagined. Our old commute was 40 minutes combined. Now we suffered through interminable traffic that turned Jets’ Sundays into total washouts.
The good news was that our seats were slightly better than they were at Shea. Thanks to some season ticket deserters, our mezzanine level seats were moved up one row, to the very front. Our blue seats in Section 220 were in the front row, seats 15 (Dad’s) and 16 (mine). Because my father was then involved in a side business co-owning a photocopy store, I determined that we would imitate the guys at Shea who threw confetti out of the front of the mezzanine whenever the Jets did something good. On game weeks, Dad and I would visit the copy store and use its giant paper cutters to shred up a week’s worth of New York Daily Newses, the tiny pieces of which were then stuffed into two giant shopping bags. Before 9/11/01, no one looked at you twice if you carried two large shopping bags full of shredded newspaper into a stadium, and we did so religiously. I took great pride in covering the entire windswept North end of Giants Stadium in confetti whenever the moment was right, which unfortunately was not very frequently. Many times our two bags of confetti sat untouched for the duration of the game. On these occasions Dad and I would unceremoniously dump the full contents of our bags onto the heads of the poor people below us in section 120 after the Jets’ opponent had delivered the game’s coup de grace. I like to think that on these occasions the confetti dumps served as an announcement that it was time for everyone to head for the exit ramps, get in their cars, and join the traffic delay.
The confetti bags are no longer part of our routine, but my father and I have been to most of the Jets home games at Giants Stadium. I was a pre-pubescent child when the Jets played their first game there; I am now a middle aged man. The games remain a crucial part of my life, and while I have learned to temper my emotions in the wakes of wins and losses (mostly losses), a Jets Super Bowl is still my singular fungible lifelong dream; the holy grail of my existence.
Tomorrow night Dad and I will sit in section 220, seats 15 and 16 for the final time. Giants Stadium is being razed and the Jets are moving into a building that has been built, fittingly, in the Giants Stadium parking lot. The Jets’ lease of Giants Stadium lasted 25 years, which is a long time.
In the modern world it’s hard to find places that achieve real permanence. Most of us live transient lives, we move from place to place. If you remove obligatory gravesite visits from the equation, a quarter of a century is a long time to regularly and repeatedly return to the same exact place. I’ve heard stories about men who have met to play chess on the same table in the same park every Sunday for 75 years, and of old widows who lived on the same hilltop their entire lives, but I personally don’t know any people like that. My father and I nearly replicate the feat, always reporting to our two Giants Stadium seats like migrating birds who return to their hatching site. We’ve sat there in searing heat and bitter cold, through rain and snow (and always) wind. We’ve seen lots of wins but many more losses. We’ve seen jubilation and heartbreak (often in the same day, and usually in that order). Our lives have changed and so has the world around us, but we’ve always returned to our two seats. A time lapse study (let’s erase the two Giants fans who occupied the same space on the other Sundays from the frame) of the seats would be an interesting watch. In 1984, I was barely old enough get into my seat without holding Dad’s hand. Today I can feel a twinge in my back when I ease into #16’s luxurious ass-shaped plastic. I’ve progressed through adolescence, my college years, post-graduate years, yuppie years, pro gambler years—hell, all of my years— while making my eight yearly visits to my blue Giants Stadium seat. My father has progressed himself, from a relatively spry fellow only a few years older than I am now to the grey-haired grandfather who sits beside me at the games today. We are pilgrims. Tomorrow night is our final visit.
For the record, the Jets closed out Shea Stadium with a loss. We were there then too. Jets fans said goodbye to Shea the classy way, by taking mementos. Seats were ripped from their concrete moorings and thrown, the field was stormed, goalposts were torn down, most of the sod was removed. The cops just watched. No such memento-removal will take place tomorrow night. Not only does the world work differently now; they remember 1984 well enough to make tomorrow night a beer-free event.
While a list of our worst days would likely be longer and more amusing, here are my personal six greatest days at the Meadowlands:
6. January 5, 2003. Jets 41, Colts 0. On bizarro-Jets day, the Herm Edwards/Chad Pennington led team can do no wrong in a wild-card game. It’s hard to fathom right now, but at this stage in his career Peyton Manning was considered a choke artist and everyone laughed at his no-huddle pre-snap histrionics at the line of scrimmage. The trouncing is highlighted by Manning’s futility and by Richie Anderson taking a little screen pass 80 yards for a touchdown. The stadium is a party from beginning to end and no one left the building ashamed of thinking that the Jets might go to the Super Bowl. The Raiders had other ideas the following week.
5. October 23, 2000. Jets 40, Dolphins 37. My father and I were treated to a rare Monday Night Jets game. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, the Jets were not up for the challenge and were trailing 30-7 at the start of the fourth quarter. Then out of nowhere Vinny Testaverde proceeded to engineer one of the most furious and unlikely comebacks in NFL history, passing the ball at will against the suddenly defenseless Dolphins. The game-tying touchdown occurred when Wayne Chrebet made a diving catch in the end zone, but the Dolphins quickly retook the lead on a bomb of their own. The game re-tying touchdown came on a ridiculous tackle-eligible throw to Jumbo Elliot (!). John Hall’s game winning overtime FG took place well after 1:00 am. A sad admission must be made here: my father and I exited the building with the Jets trailing 30-7. I listened to the Jets’ comeback unfold on the car radio and actually made it home in time to watch overtime on TV. The old man in Seat #14 (our neighbor for all 25 years) makes fun of us to this day for leaving this game early. He makes a good point. Wins like these are few and far between in Jetland.
4. January 10, 1999. Jets 34, Jaguars 24. A very chilly but happy day at the Meadowlands. This game marked the apex of the Bill Parcells era for the Jets as the 1998 team won the AFC East going away and then beat the Jags easily on this day in the Divisional Playoff round. Keyshawn Johnson tore the Jags up. The Jets led 17-0 and never turned back. I left the stadium feeling numb from the cold but deliriously excited. I began cooking up plans to attend the Super Bowl. The Jets—of course—had other ideas. The following week, they wrested control of the AFC Championship game in Denver from the Broncos, then proceeded to play the worst half of football they’d played all season, washing away the Super Bowl dreams. Testaverde tore his Achilles in the first quarter of the first game in 1999, Belichick didn’t want the job in 2000, and that was that.
3. December 28, 1986. Jets 35, Chiefs 10. The Jets opened the 1986 season 10-1 and were an honest-to-god juggernaut. They had a solid defense and an explosive offense with a myriad of weapons. The long awaited trip to the Super Bowl seemed possible. Then without warning everything fell apart. The Jets dropped the final five games on the schedule, looking horrible in the process, and limped into the playoffs to host the Chiefs in the wildcard round. Coach Joe Walton made a ballsy move, giving the untalented but plucky backup QB Pat Ryan his first start of the year in the game. Dad and I came in with low expectations but Ryan and the Jets delivered. Probably my single favorite play to occur on the North (our) end of the Meadowlands field took place in this game: on the Jets’ first possession of the game, they faced a 4th and 6 at the Chiefs’ 30 yard line. Walton elected to go for it, and pulled a QB draw out of his nosepicking ass. The play caught the Chiefs completely by surprise and Ryan executed it perfectly. He capped the run off by spinning out of a tackle and bulling his way down to the nine yard line. I nearly jumped out of my skin. The Jets went on to trounce the Chiefs and re-ignite Jets fans’ hopes that they could go all the way. The following week they lost an insane double-overtime game in Cleveland that probably ranks as the #1 most disgusting, most hideous loss in my long history of watching them. Obviously.
2. December 29, 2002. Jets 42, Packers 17. The Jets season looked like it was over. Then they beat the Patriots in Week 16, giving them dim but viable playoff hopes with one week left to play. But they needed help: a Pats win over the Dolphins followed by a victory over the Packers was the only way in. The Pats/Dolphins game was at 1:00 and the Jets/Pack was at 4:00. My father and I got to the stadium parking lot around 2:00. Things looked very bleak when the Dolphins took the lead 24-13 with 5:00 left against the Pats in Foxboro, another season down the tubes. But then the Jets’ fortuned changed. In 2002, the current all-media Sunday barrage of NFL coverage was just beginning to blossom, and the best I could do to stay abreast of the Pats/Dolphins in real time was watch a TV that was set up in the back of some guy’s Mazda hatchback in the Giants Stadium parking lot. About forty other chilly Jets fans and I huddled ‘round the back of the Mazda as if a bonfire were burning therein. We erupted in jubilation as Brady hit Brown for a touchdown and then converted the all-important two-point conversion. Then Pats got the ball back and got into field goal range. Was this really happening?! The hatchback group fell silent as Vinatieri lined up for the game-tying field goal… and went bonkers when he nailed it. Enlivened, we all sprinted into the stadium as the Pats took the Dolphins to overtime and the Jets and Packers kicked off. The Pats/Dolphins game was on the luxury box TV’s as Jets/Pack unfolded before us, and at certain points in the game most of my section was facing backwards, glued to the television set in the box rather than the action on the field in front of us. When Vinatieri beat the Dolphins in OT, the Packers were huddling up before the next play from scrimmage—a lull in the action. Still, the entire stadium incongruously erupted as if the Jets had just won a football game on an overtime field goal (which they essentially had). Even the players on the Jets’ sideline were going wild. The Jets then finished the deed, laying a major smackdown on the Packers, giving them the AFC East title. Total euphoria. The Colts win (#6 above) followed, but that was all the Jets had in the tank that year.
1. September 21, 1986. Jets 51, Dolphins 45. During his prime, Dan Marino owned the Jets the same way Michael Jordan owned the Cleveland Cavaliers. But worse, if that’s possible. When the Jets played the Dolphins the question wasn’t whether Marinso would tear the Jets to pieces, but just how bad it would be. On this particular day, Ken O’Brien, Al Toon and Wes Walker had an answer to every one of Marino’s darts, and there were lots and lots of darts. The total passing yardage in this game (around 850 I believe) remains the NFL record. Despite their best efforts, the Jets tailed by 7 with 1:04 left and started their final possession of regulation on their own 20 yard line. They hit a big play on a hook-and-ladder, O’Brien to Shuler to Hector, which set up the final play of regulation from the Dolphins’ 21. Miraculously, O’Brien evaded pressure and then uncorked a bullet that Wesley Walker leapt for and caught in triple coverage at the goal line with the clock at 0:00, forcing an unbelievable game into an unbelievable overtime. Confetti everywhere. On the first possession of overtime, O’Brien went for it all and hit Walker with another perfect throw, in full stride down the sideline, and he sprinted in untouched for the score. Pandemonium. The confetti bags were already empty. It took hours for my exhilaration to fade (I probably should have been institutionalized). Thinking about this game still gives me goose bumps.