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I J-U-S-T Don't Get the J-E-T-S

How do Jets fans stand being Jets fans?

I’ve been a supporter of the Jets from a relatively safe distance since 1978. I won’t call myself a Jets fan in the sense that I’m a Mets fan, but I like them as a rule. I root for them against all outlanders always and even versus the Giants when it feels like the right and neighborly thing to do. I’ve been energized during their brief spurts of momentum and brought down hard on their many occasions of disappointment. They have been, if you’ll pardon the football pun, more than a passing fancy of mine for the past thirty years.

But how do Jets fans stand being Jets fans? The Jets are intolerable these days, even as a diversion. It must be hell if you take them seriously as death. How can you? How can you stand them? Let’s put aside, if you can, the “because I am…” explanation. I understand that one. That’s our currency here. But honestly, I no longer get it where the Jets are concerned.

The Jets on Sunday in Seattle were a) atrocious and b) typical. Even as someone who only dabbles in them, I was reminded of and left reeling from at least five different horrible Jet seasons while this game unfolded. This whole trip from 8-3 to 9-6 has been one long Flashback Sunday, little of it good. Even the friendly bounce Buffalo handed them a week ago felt phony, like a setup.

When the governor calls the Jets to offer a reprieve, the Jets have to put him on hold for call-waiting. On the other line is the lieutenant governor, reporting that the governor just had to resign in scandal and, oh by the way, I, the new governor, am not going to sign that reprieve after all.

Traditionally lousy teams and hopelessly lousy organizations populate the NFL. The Detroit Lions are 0-15 and a metaphor for the American car industry. The Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals are taking the briefest respite from their legacy of schlumpiness. You know no matter what happens for them in January they will be back schlumping it up next fall (and that nothing good is going to happen to them this January). The Kansas City Chiefs are only one year younger on the Super Bowl waiting list than the Jets and have made the least of myriad playoff appearances in the past quarter-century.

It’s not just that the Jets don’t win or go to a Super Bowl. It’s not that the Jets have won only two division titles since the merger. It’s not that the Jets have regularly edged near playoff spots they couldn’t possibly lose and lost them. It’s not the bottom line, it really isn’t. It’s not even, necessarily, the bad form they demonstrate at those junctures when good form is so desperately in order.

It’s just…what is it with them? What’s their deal? Why do they exist? I can’t grasp it. They have reached, from what I can tell from my admittedly limited perspective, a state of utter pointlessness. I don’t see how anybody can garner any kind of purpose, never mind joy, from them. I’ve reached breaking points with the Mets many, many times. I can always, at base, fall back on the mere act of being a Mets fan [1] transcending whatever’s going wrong at any given moment.

Does it work that way with the Jets? I’m asking, really. I root for them, and I don’t get them at all. I don’t get this coach. I don’t get this quarterback. I don’t get the way they put Long Island in their rearview mirror or play in New Jersey (old story, but I’ve never gotten that). I don’t get how anybody can love this team as a going concern, unless it’s all about tailgating. Again, this bafflement of mine does not stem from wins and losses. I nominally root to various extents for various teams in various sports that aren’t going to win anything substantial ever again (if they ever have), but I get them. I get the Nets. I get the Islanders. I don’t question their existence anyway. I question that of the Jets, not out of malice but out of genuine curiosity.

I thought I reached a breakthrough with them eight years ago. On the final Sunday of the 2000 season when they blew their surefire playoff berth in Baltimore while the Giants were clinching home-field advantage through the postseason, I found myself more distressed by the Jets than elated by the Giants…and I’d always considered myself a Giants fan first. Well, I thought, maybe not, maybe I’ve been a Jets fan deep down all this time. But it never really took. Eight years later, it was the second-to-last Sunday of the 2008 season and the scenario was similar: Giants clinched home-field and the Jets lost in Seattle, imperiling if not officially destroying their playoff chances. I’m not all that moved by the Giants’ win over Carolina — they have a bye in my mind after last February 3 [2] no matter what happens to them — but beyond reflex disgust, all I’m feeling for the Jets is an inability to fathom their equity. I’ve been with them and definitively not against them for 31 mostly unrewarding seasons, but I find it impossible to get them.

How in the name of every team that used to call Shea Stadium its permanent home do you guys do it?