In 1959, a New York Times editorial entitled “Requiem for the Meadows” was only saying what most people thought about this reviled land of burning garbage dumps, of polluted canals, of smokestacked factories, and impenetrable reeds. The Meadowlands was the nation’s eyesore, the blight separating New York and America. The Meadowlands cried out to be developed.
—Robert Sullivan, The Meadowlands: Wilderness Adventures at the Edge of a City
In August I mentioned casually at a Mets game that I’d never been inside Giants Stadium. Next thing I knew, my friend Sharon — a person who converts casual mentions into first downs — asked me if I wanted to break that lifelong ohfer before the ancient facility (opened in 1976) turned to dust. She and Kevin have Jets season tickets and there was an opening October 18 against the Bills. A chance to see a stadium before it meets its wrecking ball sounded right up my sentimental alley. New Jersey Transit even started operating a rail line to and from the stadium as if anticipating my needs. It shaped up, in gauzy anticipation, as a brilliant autumnal afternoon.
Despite my August observation, I never much cared if I saw the Giants or Jets play at Giants Stadium, though I’ve always felt a little bad that I never made any kind of move to see the Jets at Shea during their twenty-year stay. Never mind that they left Shea in 1983 and that I didn’t start rooting for the Jets in earnest until 1978 — or that by 1981 I was spending my autumn Sundays in Tampa. The whole thing never added up, but I’ve remained charmed that on September Sundays when the Mets were home, clear through to 2008, guys continued to show up at Shea in Jets jerseys, as if Curtis Martin was going to pinch-run for Matt Franco. Guys even showed up that way the last Sunday at Citi Field, where the Jets never played. That was adorable, I thought. Even if I’ve been following the Giants longer and a bit deeper, I generally maintain a soft spot for the Jets.
That soft spot is in my head. And now it’s frozen.
There was little brilliant and nothing autumnal about going to Sunday’s Jets game. It was so cold! I cannot believe how freaking cold it was! I knew it was coming, I was prepared for the nor’easter, I layered and I bundled…but geez, it was cold!
But it’s football, right? It’s supposed to be cold, albeit not so soon. At the peak of my fandom in January 1983, I was encouraged to read that when the Jets landed in Miami for the AFC championship game and saw the rain, they chanted “JET WEATHER! JET WEATHER!”
Then Richard Todd went out and threw a zillion interceptions. But the idea holds.
The Meadowlands is legendarily windy. Jerry Izenberg once wrote in a great book called No Medals For Trying that the gust is so notorious in the area that folks in Newark gave it a nickname: The Hawk. You want the Hawk at your back if given a choice by the referee.
Good advice. By the middle of the second quarter, Sharon and I had the Hawk at our backs — as we fled to the first NJ Transit train back to Secaucus Junction. It was a slow game, it was a cold game, it was not a baseball game. Sharon and I once stuck out fourteen innings of a Mets loss to the Cardinals, but that was the Mets. We’ll sit through almost anything for the Mets, even the 2009 season. But for the Jets?
C-O-L-D…leave, leave, leave!
And judging by the way the rest of the afternoon/evening unfolded, we didn’t miss anything we’d want any part of.
Don’t get me wrong, however. I’m glad I got my Giants Stadium cameo, particularly before all decent citizenry of the Garden State will be advised to evacuate lest they be stampeded by the obnoxiousness that will envelop New Jersey when the inevitable Phillie-Yankee World Series proves there is no God — at least not one that likes us.
It so happens I have enough green in my wardrobe to meet the approval of Jet management, which asked for a “green out” (and helpfully suggested a trip to the team store so we could all comply). I wear a green winter coat anyway and I own a green Jets hoodie. Alas, no Jets headgear in my collection. As the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority forbids umbrellas, I dipped into my pile of blue and orange caps to pick the biggest one I’ve got to shield me from potential rain. That’s fine in my book. I’ve seen so many Jets jerseys worn to Mets games, the least I could do was return the favor. While there wasn’t a ton of Mets gear in evidence, my cap was not the only one of its kind on the premises.
Yet why was it that as we walked through the parking lot before the game and passed a tailgate gathering, I had to hear this?
“Hey! You root for the right football team, but the wrong baseball team. LET’S GO YANK-EES! METS SUCK!”
I don’t remember what I blurted in response, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t J-E-Et Al. What strikes me a day later is that there must be something about me that Yankees fans like, because I’m always being told I should be rooting for their team. It’s never occurred to me to extend the same invitation in their direction.
Then again, I’m not a sports fascist.
Yes, they’re everywhere, in every season. No place in the Metropolitan area is safe from their kind. Most of them were content to be smug and otherwise keep to themselves about it. A Jets game should be a DMZ for baseball. Later on, I switched to my orange Michigan Hunter’s Hat since it’s the warmest hat I’ve got. This elicited another wise guy, this one sitting in the row behind us:
“Yo! You can’t wear an orange hat to a Jets game!”
I turned around and gave the kid who said that a look that was more droll than dirty. He changed his tune instantly.
“Yo! Your hat is all right, it’s all right! Let’s Go Mets!”
Whatever. This was supposed to be about the Jets, an organization whose long-term proposition regularly mystifies me, and the stadium, a place that was I just meeting. Was it really time for it to go? I can still recall watching an NJSEA propaganda film in 1976, narrated by Pat Summerall, explaining that it was OK that the New York Giants had moved to New Jersey because, “The Greeks had a word for it: megalopolis.” The Meadowlands, you see, wasn’t East Rutherford. It was the whole region, so get past the “Hackensack Giants” jokes and come on out. The Giants filled it every Sunday and the Jets would do the same once they moved west, so I guess the argument was processed and purchased as intended. Still, it was kind of strange seeing the big green NY on the screen and thinking that technically, we’re somewhere else.
It’s not like you’re far from New York. You can see the skyline plainly from the right spot just as you often do on TV during one of the interminable breaks in the action. The train ride — Penn Station to Secaucus, Secaucus to the stadium — was a dream. As easy to get to via mass transit from Manhattan as Shea, almost. Still, you look around and you wonder what all this is doing here. It really is a swamp. It really was the middle of nowhere, like that spare room where you throw your clutter, your bric-a-brac, your extra sports franchises. Now it’s the middle of nowhere except with a stadium that for some reason needs to be replaced by another stadium.
Sharon mentioned the Vet as a point of architectural reference and I found that an accurate comparison (save for the lack of a jail). Giants Stadium is from that age when stadiums weren’t “state of the art,” let alone “world class”. After a summer of being hit over the head by how lucky I was to be at a ballpark that was tailored just so to my needs, it was chicken soup for the sports fan’s soul to attend a rather utilitarian facility to see a game. We did several pregame laps around the 300 level and the sameness was reassuring. There’s the food, there’s the souvenirs, there are the bathrooms that so relieved Leon Hess…what else do you need exactly? I had never been inside Giants Stadium before yet I felt very much at home along its ramps and concourses.
Entering the seating bowl was like visiting a set at Universal. The Giants and Jets had been a television production for me all these years. Now it was live. How strange.
The verdict? It’s a football stadium. They’re all a hundred yards. You can’t wedge a Mo’s Zone into the end zone. I guess you could do something cute (others have), but Giants Stadium retains the same clean look that Summerall touted in ’76. The Jets drape it in green and I know the sky-high press box is a relatively recent embellishment, otherwise it appears serviceable and, pending the presence of the Hawk, relatively comfortable.
Of course they have to tear it down.
Our seats were over one of the end zones. I would say the south end zone using the sudden appearance of the sun to our left as a gauge, but later I heard something on the radio about the east end zone, so who knows? It was a fairly spectacular panorama from wherever we were. Behind us were the idiots who didn’t care for my orange hat. They had turned their attention on a girl wearing extravagant foul-weather gear (“Miss Yellow Pants! Miss Yellow Pants!”…shut up already) and on any Bills fan who happened to make his or allegiance obvious. An undercover Buffalonian who wore his Bills stuff to a Jets game ten years ago and will “never make that mistake again” struck up a conversation with me, swearing that if he had to sit here eight times per season, he’d kill himself — or the guy behind us.
“The latter would be more efficient,” I recommended.
I go to a game and I think about the stadium and the history and the sociology. Others go to a game to drink, yell and curse, reminding me of my brother-in-law’s tenure as a Shea vendor in the ’70s: he hated working Mets games…but he really hated working Jets games. Sunday, whether measured by prevailing winds or temperament, didn’t provide much of a climate for ruminating on what makes the Jets the Jets and why it never really works for them. The only notable highlight we saw from our seats was Thomas Jones breaking a very long run. Of course there was much celebration in the stands and on the field. The Bills fan volunteered he’d prefer to see more consistent reactions, not getting so high from a brief victory, not getting so low when things don’t go well.
“Kind of a metaphor for this franchise,” I told my nominal enemy whom I rather liked. Not that the Bills have much to brag about over half a century (thanks, in part, to my other football team), but an air of desperation just hangs over the Jets. Lots of video clips of the players on Fan Appreciation Day — we got swell travel mugs as we left — telling us how important it was we make lots of noise. I suppose this is standard admonition at sporting events, but I flashed back to Joe Namath using a Super Bowl III reunion in 1994 to lobby the fans for a better home-field advantage. I flashed forward from there to Rex Ryan leaving his infamous voicemail for fans imploring them to whoop it up against the Patriots a few weeks ago. Is all this anxiety over fan enthusiasm really necessary? Are the Jets worried they won’t be mistaken for a mid-market team where all anybody worries about between Sundays is football?
A little unbecoming if you ask me. “Noise Meter” graphics notwithstanding, even the Mets display more dignity than that. And if “76,048” in attendance don’t rumble nonstop, I can’t blame them, not when there are so many torpid halts in the action. You don’t appreciate how much nothing happens in football when you’re watching it on TV. Football is awesome on TV. It’s impressive in person, but only for the eight seconds per hour when they’re actually playing. I exaggerate slightly, but I once read that if you add all the plays together from an NFL game, they amount to all of twelve or so minutes. Don’t tell me baseball is dull.
I had my taste and was satisfied. Sharon had made the second-strongest guarantee in Jets history when she said she’d be willing to leave our wind tunnel at any time, so I didn’t feel the least bit bad when, after Jay Feely kicked the field goal that put our side up 6-3, the only noise we produced was from our shoes making tracks to the train. I wished my new Bills pal luck (with the idiots behind us, I meant) and that, presumably, was the last I’ll ever see of Giants Stadium.
I’m still cold.
Mark Sanchez didn’t throw too many bombs Sunday, but at least ten Mets have operated some heavy artillery in their time. Check out Mets Walkoffs’ penultimate installment regarding the greatest regular-season home runs the Mets have ever hit.