Just as owner Woody Johnson has wanted all along, all eyes will be on the Jets this weekend. Gang Green will battle NFL royalty — the Steelers — for a chance to go to the Super Bowl.
But with the national spotlight shining brightly on our boys, I feel compelled to point out that the Jets are still our — Long Island’s — team. A substantial portion of the fan base resides here, in Nassau and Suffolk counties, and, no matter how much Johnson tries to dispel it, the Jets remain a mom-and-pop brand. They’re steeped in that history, and long-standing allegiances dictate that it remain in place.
Now, more than ever, there’s that disconnect between who the Jets are and who they want to be. I’m not old enough to have lived through their glory days as the little-engine-that-could underdog, but a part of me still identifies the Jets as Joe Namath, Don Maynard, Matt Snell and Weeb Ewbank. I think their past — Shea Stadium and that quaint letterman jacket Kevin Arnold donned in the Wonder Years — still follows them.
That image is a slice of sprawling suburban life on Long Island from a bygone era, one in which a single Grumman salary was enough to support a family of five, but it persists.
These days, though, the Jets are Hard Knocks and GQ covers and a veritable plethora of first-round draft picks and, had it gone their way, a Westside stadium.
I don’t begrudge them this; times change.
One of the final vestiges of the Jets’ official ties to Long Island was cut off a couple years back, when they uprooted their training camp at Hofstra in Hempstead to Florham Park, N.J. Hofstra, of course, is where Wayne Chrebet plied his trade at the collegiate level before becoming a hero with the Jets, the proverbial hometown kid making the locals happy.
As the local truism goes, the Giants, Yankees and Rangers are the old money, the blue bloods, the Westchester and Manhattan residents. The Jets, Mets and Islanders are the upstart blue-collar guys from the Island, the spiritual descendants of the long-gone Brooklyn Dodgers.
The big brothers have enjoyed varying degrees of success, but each is considered a founding father and cornerstone of its respective league. The second fiddles and their fans have had to cope with being relegated to step-child status on account of largely inept management and coaching.
I’ve witnessed Browning Nagle, the Dennis Byrd tragedy, Rich Kotite’s tenure, The Fake Spike™, Throw Me The Damn Ball, a squandered 10-point halftime lead in the 1998 AFC title game, Ray Lucas’ triple-option offense, Bill Parcells’ farewell, “I resign as H.C. of N.Y.J.,” Al Groh, back-to-back playoff losses to the insufferable Raiders, Doug Brien, and Mangenius’ annual insistence that the quarterback competition was a tossup between Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens, to name a few. And yet, I feel as if I’ve barely scratched the surface.
We might be masochists, but we’re nothing if not loyal. So, excuse us if we’re a little protective of our boys now that they’re grabbing headlines for the right and wrong reasons.
Scores of Jets players have resided here over the years, taking to our communities. East Islip native Boomer Esiason made a three-year cameo in New York toward the end of his career, and wide receiver Wesley Walker remained here once his playing days ended. I suspect the Jets’ deep-seated Long Island identity isn’t going anywhere, either, regardless of whether they play in Queens, Manhattan’s Westside or East Rutherford, N.J.