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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Queens: A November Kind of Place

In the twenty seasons they called it home, I never visited Shea Stadium to see the Jets play. It never came up as a possibility or as a desire. I wasn’t a committed Jets fan (a redundancy) until I was 15 and the mechanics of seeing an NFL game in person, even though the Jets didn’t necessarily sell out every week until late in their Queens tenure, struck me as too daunting to even consider. Baseball was something you wanted to go to. Football was something you watched on TV if it wasn’t blacked out.

Watching the Jets from Shea on television was strange, especially once I started going to baseball games there enough to be familiar with its topography. Where did home plate go? What happened to the dugouts? Is that the 410 sign? If Lee Mazzilli can handle centerfield, why can’t Pat Leahy?

Most stadiums used to have baseball teams and football teams. Even historic old ballparks had both. The Lions played in Tiger Stadium forever. The Bears used to kick up dust amid the brown Wrigley ivy. Lyric little bandbox Fenway hosted Patriot games. When Yankee Stadium was still Yankee Stadium, it was also the Giants’ stadium. It wasn’t unusual. The Mets and Jets as co-tenants, albeit with the Mets as seniors treating the Jets like perpetual freshmen, was the way business was taken care of until fairly recently.

Somewhere between the Jets threatening to move to the Meadowlands in the spring of 1977 and the fall of 1983 when they abandoned New York in search of spiffier restrooms, I decided that it was OK they were here…even if they were tearing up our grass. As one who didn’t attend Jets games, there were no practical concerns for me, but New Jersey? For the Jets? That was Giants territory. It was Giants Stadium, for crissake. The Jets were headquartered at Hofstra. What were they going to do? Practice in Hempstead all week and then cross two rivers on a bus to play on Sunday?

Yeah, that’s exactly what they did and still do and will do for at least a little longer before they relocate all operations to the Garden State and begin playing on a new piece of swampland in conjunction with their Big Blue cousins. The setting has never set right by me (the green drapes help only a little), but again, it’s all a matter of television when I bother to be interested, and they do sell out every game over there, so what do I know?

With the floodgates wide open for Shea Met memories since last Monday, it occurred to me that we happen to be right upon the 25th anniversary of the greatest Jet game I ever watched from Flushing. That I saw it on a portable black & white set in Tampa doesn’t diminish the joy I recall at its resolution.

In the first semester of my freshman year at USF I didn’t really know anybody, so the first acquaintance I made was sports. Sports I knew. No baseball in Florida then, but there was football. The Bucs were in their sixth season in 1981, on the verge of an unlikely Central Division title in the NFC. I couldn’t stand the Bucs, though. They were just too damn absurd to take seriously. Since they were all that Tampa Bay had to get excited about — besides the NASL Rowdies, that is — I took an abiding dislike to them the whole time I was in school. (If you heard “hey, hey, hey we’re the Buccaneers!” a dozen times a day on Q-105, you would have, too.)

So I wouldn’t have to follow the Bucs with any kind of commitment stronger than osmosis, I listened to Dolphins games. Miami was nowhere near Tampa, but they’d been the state’s team before anybody knew what a Buccaneer was, hence their games aired in locally on WFLA. I had liked the Dolphins when I was 9 and they were finishing 14-0 while my family was spending Christmas in North Miami Beach (though if I knew they were going to be annually obnoxious about it, I wouldn’t have). I hadn’t given them any thought since they stopped appearing in Super Bowls except to hope the Jets beat them twice a year. One Sunday in mid-November, my first semester, I was listening to the Dolphins’ postgame show after they lost to the Raiders (boy did I have no social life) when it was noted the Jets had won in Foxboro and had moved to within one game of Miami for the division lead. Next week, it would be the Dolphins (7-3-1) and the Jets (6-4-1 after an 0-3 start) in a battle for first. At Shea.

Having grown up in New York in the ’70s loyal as a matter of principle to our home teams (how the bleep could you live here and root for the bleeping Cowboys?), I had had very few football games to which I could look forward, Jets or Giants. This one, on November 22, 1981, automatically became my biggest autumn Sunday to date. I anticipated it all week. I may have been something of a Johnny “Lam” Jones-come-lately to the Jets’ cause, but a battle for first at Shea was a battle for first at Shea. I’d been waiting for one since 1973.

So it wasn’t the Mets. You can’t have everything.

One of my suitemates at my off-campus dorm (four guys, two rooms, connected by a bathroom) was from Fort Myers, about two hours down the coast. He was a Dolphins fan. Although the Mets were my calling card, I had made it clear that I liked the Jets. Well, he said, looks like we’re going to have something to watch on Sunday. Lucky for me he had a TV and even luckier just about all Dolphins games were televised in Tampa.

Well, it was a great game. Richard Todd wasn’t even supposed to play because of cracked ribs, but they outfitted him in a flak jacket. Generally not having Richard Todd wasn’t that much of a hardship, but he was the starter and it was no time to leave our starters on the bench. Todd played magnificently. The Jet defense (in this, the year of the New York Sack Exchange) curbed Miami and gave Todd a chance to lead the Jets to victory. It would be tough. They were down 15-9 and on their own 23 with just over three minutes left.

But he did it. He hit six different receivers along the way. The last pass was to Jerome Barkum for a touchdown. It was 15-15. Then Leahy, never a sure thing kicking into Shea’s Edmund Fitzgerald winds, nailed the extra point. Just like that the Jets were in first place.

The Jets were in first place!

My suitemate whose TV it was had left for work by the time his Dolphins lost. So it was just me and his non-fan roommate watching at the end. At the final gun, I did one of those leaps from a sitting position that one does without thinking. You’re pretty excited there, the other suitemate said. You’ve got to understand, I told him. This is the first time I’ve seen the Jets in first place since 1969, a year I always liked to stick into sentences whenever I could.

He didn’t care. But I did.

Shea Stadium was going wild, too. Sitting and leaping out there that late afternoon/early evening were 50,000-plus of the green and white who considered Shea home every bit as much then as I would for the next quarter-century. No doubt a lot of them were Mets fans as well as Jets fans. No doubt a lot of them were season-ticket holders who packed up with the Jets in 1984 and kept going to see them in the Meadowlands, fall after fall, decade after decade (bus after bus).

But the Jets have never looked right over there, even on TV, even when they were beating the Dolphins 51-45 in 1986, even considering they’ve now spent more years in Jersey than they did in Queens. They looked good at Shea a quarter-of-a-century ago tomorrow. They looked great. So did Shea.

Nothing strange about that.

16 comments to Queens: A November Kind of Place

  • Anonymous

    My family has had Jets season tickets since the early 70's.
    My promary memories of watching the Jets, though, was freezing to death. If you think that Shea in October is cold, try December – that was brutal! I remember being absolutely frozen and the concession stands running out of hot chocolate.
    Not the greatest of memories, huh?
    I also remember seeing an injured Joe Namath standing on the sidelines, in his white mink coat.

  • Anonymous

    I did go see the Jets at Shea. And lemme tell ya, it was, for so MANY reasons, a heck of a lot better than the bus nightmare at the Meadowlands… which I suffered through for years for the Jets (friend with unwanted season tickets), the Nets (my own season tickets) AND the Metrostars (also my own season tickets). Several times I even double dipped… a cold September Sunday spent at Shea, rushed home, changed from Mets into Jets gear, then out to the Meadowlands. Or day/night Mets/Metrostars doubleheaders.
    But that bus thing did me in after a while. The thing is that if you go by bus, you can't leave until the event is over… migraine or not. Then you have to run outside and fight to line up. One line, which you can easily be on for 45 minutes or more. Sometimes you get out there and the buses aren't there yet, sometimes there are only two buses for thousands of people. And the scene can get really ugly as people not in the front of the line try to get on buses close to them instead of waiting for the buses in front to fill up and pull out. And of course the endless arguments between the drivers and the idiots who try to get on without a ticket. All that, and you end up dumped at scenic Port Authority Bus Terminal (where the nightmare originally began in much the same fashion). By the time you finally get home from the ordeal, you swear you'll never do it again.
    No more for me, thanks. I have a TV.

  • Anonymous

    But at home you have to bring someone in to curse at/near you, spill beer on you and to say inane rubbish loud enough for the deaf (or Walt Michaels) to hear. Or maybe you just tape your visits to Shea and play em back to get the full stadium experience. I can't imagine you can sit home, watching the game and chowing down on artichoke dip without being able to give someone the Laurie Stink-Eye. Just doesn't sound like fun…

  • Anonymous

    HA!!! Rest assured that the air around me is blue for three hours every Sunday.

  • Anonymous

    Oh yea, one other thing. Let's everyone say it at once:
    METROSTARS?!?!?!?!?

  • Anonymous

    Yup. From day one of their existence. Before that, actually. I was one of the first to sign on for season tickets, before the team had even been finalized. We had awesome seats, too. Nine rows up.
    Good times.

  • Anonymous

    I was at that Barkum game, too. I think that's the first time I can remember the Stadium bouncing…

  • Anonymous

    I was only at Shea once to see the Jets – and that was when I took my twelve-year old cousin to a see the team workout (don't know how his dad, my late Cousin Norman, got the tickets). I think Sam DeLuca was the emcee and Joe Namath and Don Maynard demonstrated how a pass play is timed.
    This was a Saturday morning in early November 1969 and it was strange to see the field level seats parallel to each other but, even more astonishing, was seeing the field cluttered by an endless exhaustion of large patches of missing grass – it was not re-sodded after the mad-cap World Series celebration and looked more awful than any sandlot I played on as a kid.
    Guess that happens to tenants regulated to second class.

  • Anonymous

    I forgot, I even went to a soccer game at Shea once. Honduras vs. Colombia in '96. It was SOOOOO cold, but it felt good to be at Shea that late in the year anyway.

  • Anonymous

    My only memory of the Jets at Shea was watching my stepfather serenade coach Walt Michaels at least three dozen times…”Michaels, you SUCK!” (repeat ad infinitum).
    Though I don't think Walt Michaels sucked as badly as kicker Toni Linhart did in the game against the woeful Buffalo Bills. The Jets lost, 14-12, on TWO – I'm not kidding here, TWO – missed extra points.
    And they say Jets season ticket holders are Giants fans who couldn't get Giants season tickets.

  • Anonymous

    I was at that game as well. My first ever live football game, with my dad, feeling Shea shake when Barkum came down with that catch. What an incredible memory and absolutely the reason why I'm a diehard to this day. I wrote a piece about going to the game and it's effect on me on my site, The Feed, if anyone's interested in another viewpoint. Great work Greg.

  • Anonymous

    Awesome writeup, Feed.
    Pays to get 'em young.

  • Anonymous

    “how the bleep could you live here and root for the bleeping Cowboys?”
    My dad served in the Navy – he was a huge Roger Staubach fan when Staubach played at Annapolis. I grew up a Cowboy fan.
    Simple.

  • Anonymous

    I used to love the Cowboys in the 70s. Billy Joe Dupree was my favorite player. Didn't he get himself in a bunch of legal trouble (drugs) down the road?

  • Anonymous

    By the way, there's apparently a Dolphin fan with this game on VHS, if you have something to trade: http://finsvids.tripod.com/

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