By Eddie Mayrose
The NY Jets? …. “Listen to your father, kid.”
November 27, 1994; Jets vs. Dolphins at the Meadowlands. New York came into the matchup looking to gain a tie with Miami atop the standings in the AFC East as well as the inside track to the division title. With a possible playoff appearance on the table, Jet fans were keyed up from the tailgates in the parking lot through the pre-game introductions. When the home team scored to stretch its lead to 24-6 with less than four minutes left in the third quarter, Giants Stadium sounded just like Shea used to during the days of the Sack Exchange. All that stood between Gang Green and a return to glory was eighteen more minutes of dominating football and four extremely winnable games against inferior opponents over the last month of the season. Sure, that’s all.
I had been fortunate enough to score four tickets to the game through the courtesy of a friend. I’d given up my own season subscription seven years earlier because, quite frankly, I hated everything about the Meadowlands. I hated the Turnpike, the tolls, the traffic, the parking lot, the turf, the wind and, most of all, the losing. God, they always lost! I’d go home with a headache every week and for what? They always lost! But now, with a fiery young coach and a battle for first place with the hated Dolphins as incentives, I decided to accept the tickets and take my three young boys, ages seven, five and four. They’d all just started playing various levels of flyweight football and had been watching games with me all season. Their excitement built throughout the week until they were beside themselves when the game finally kicked off. By the time Boomer Esiason hit Johnny Mitchell in the end zone to put the Jets up by eighteen, all three were convinced that they were watching the greatest football team in the world. If only they’d known.
Our seats were in the lower section; about the five yard line on the home side of the field. We were, naturally, sitting amongst Jet fans but, as we were using someone else’s tickets, didn’t know any of them. When Miami QB Dan Marino closed out the third quarter with a TD pass to Mark Ingram and a two point conversion to Irving Fryar, I threw my head back and said to no one in particular, “We’re going to lose this game”. My oldest, Terrence, couldn’t believe my pessimism. “Dad, you gotta be kidding. We’re still up ten, Boomer’s having a great game and there’s only one quarter left. There’s no way we lose.” Before I could respond, the guy sitting behind us, obviously a seasoned Jet fan and, until that moment, a total stranger, leaned up in his seat, looked at my son and said, “Listen to your father, kid.” And, as if it was the period on the end of his sentence, the game immediately turned ugly.
Esiason would fumble three times in that fourth quarter and throw two interceptions. Marino would find Ingram for two more scores, the second in the final minute courtesy of the now infamous “Fake Spike” that gave the Dolphins the victory. The Jets would go on to lose all of their remaining games, fire Pete Carroll and usher in the disastrous Rich Kotite era that produced a 3-29 record over two seasons. “Listen to your father, kid.”
As a recovering Jetaholic, myself, I try to steer other Jet addicts away from the evil teases thrown at them by our favorite team because, as surely as Lucy will always pull that football away from Charlie Brown and watch him land on his ample head, the Jets will break your heart every time. Vinny Testaverde’s set to lead Bill Parcells’ heavily favored Jets to the Super Bowl? Not with a snapped Achilles, he won’t. Jets on the verge of ousting Pittsburgh from the 2004 playoffs and advancing to the AFC title game? Doug Brien misses, not one, but two game winning field goals. Man-genius? Beginner’s luck. Brett Favre leads Jets to 8-3 record? Favre goes color blind in 1-4 finish while Chad Pennington wins the division for the Dolphins. Jet fans are so starved for even a small measure of success, they’ll jump at anything resembling hope. And, just like Lucy, Gang Green pulls the football away every time and laughs as they land on their heads. “Listen to your father, kid.”
So, here we are again. Despite the low expectations accompanying a first-time Head Coach and a rookie quarterback, the Jetsies started the season with three straight wins; including one where they completely dominated the invincible Patriots and Tom Brady. Certainly, this season would be different. Rex Ryan’s brought a new attitude to the organization, the defense is the best in the league, there’s a relatively easy three game stretch coming up and the Hall of Fame in Canton is clearing space for the bust of Mark Sanchez. There’s no way Lucy pulls the ball away this time. Is there? Well, right on cue, Rex Ryan developed a severe case of “Herm Edwards Clockophobia” in Miami, the defense couldn’t stop a backup QB from Harvard last week and Mark Sanchez suddenly has more interceptions than endorsements. Leave it to the Jets to make a 3-3 record seem miles worse than the 1-5 start many had predicted. And the fans? They’re laying on their heads in the Meadowlands parking lot because, stunningly, Lucy pulled the football away yet again. “Listen to your father, kid.”
I got an email after the Miami loss from Cheap Seater Lou Ricciardi, a Jetaholic attempting recovery but prone to lapses such as this one: “Now that they’ve sucked me in again this year”, he wrote, “I am not jumping off the bandwagon and saying, ‘same old Jets’, just yet.” “If, however, they lose one of the next two games, then I will.” If ?! If ?! Poor, Lou. Landed on his head again. But, if it’s any comfort to him, or fellow Cheap Seaters Brendan Grady, Jack O’Sullivan, Mike Walsh and any other Jetaholics that need assistance, there is hope. No matter how many times the Jets convince you that this is finally the year, no matter how many past warnings have gone unheeded and no matter how strong your instinct to jump back up on that bandwagon, there is a cure. It will save you. All you need to do, the next time thousands of Jetaholics start racing at Lucy to kick that football, is to take a step back, close your eyes and wait for the wisdom of that anonymous Jet fan who’d seen enough. I promise, if it’s what you truly want, that you’ll hear his voice above the din of your television or the roar of the crowd and you’ll be safe. Such simple advice; but it’ll save you a broken heart. “Listen to your father, kid.”