Diary of a Third Generation Jets Fan

24 Dec

Last night my father informed me my uncle would be joining us for Christmas Eve dinner, as he travels back to Pennsylvania from the Jets-Giants game on Saturday Afternoon. We shared a moment of weighted silence before my pops said: “So let’s all hope that’s a happy dinner.” Now don’t get me wrong, I love my uncle. He is the model of what an uncle should be: fun-loving; easy-going; interested in what’s going on in my life, but not doting; and the first person to text me on NFL draft day. He doesn’t have any kids, and while it’s not like he has adopted me as his son, I do think he cherishes the fact that someone in the family has inherited from him the sickness of being a die-hard Jets fan. The moment of silence between my father and I wasn’t so much about my uncle, but about what he has come to represent in my family: a three-generation genetic deformity (and should my nephew be so “fortunate,” a fourth in the making) of this heart-weakening disease. The third generation? My grandmother. That’s right: my 90 year-old grandmother has taken on the habit of cursing out Brian Schottenheimer, and refusing to answer the phone during Jets games. My uncle Fritz has passed this burden along (I can’t imagine with any ill-will) to not only his brother, and his nephew, but also his own mother. That moment of silence wasn’t about “Will Fritz be in a funk and make Christmas dinner uncomfortable?” No, we are more than 10 years beyond that question. Now it is, “Will we all be so miserable that we lose our appetites and can’t talk about a damn thing besides why in the world the Jets didn’t roll Sanchez out on that final drive at third-and-nine, instead of letting him sit in the pocket to get crushed for a 7-yard loss.”

Every single woman I have ever been in any kind of relationship with has asked me the same question: “Why do you care so much?” Shit, some of my male friends who aren’t as intense about a sport team as I am about the Jets, look at me sideways when I can’t eat a meal the day after a brutal loss. I don’t know what to say to them. I don’t think you can ever describe to a person who doesn’t have that particular black hole in their soul that can only be filled by one thing, what it is like to have that thing in your life. Like an addict who can’t describe to a sober person what their fix gives them, or someone who truly has a soulmate cannot describe that feeling to their friends who bounce from one-night-stand to one-night-stand: it’s an often alienating feeling. I’m not saying I am an addict, or even saying the Jets are my soulmate: I am just saying there is a certain history there, a chronology of emotions and invested time and energy, a dedication that is rewarded and sometimes taken advantage of, and the roller coaster of emotions that comes from these things…that filling of a void, though what in the world that void is I cannot say. But the more I think of it, the more I think it is the history of it, the nostalgia.

I remember my first Jets games with two of my middle-school friends: the Jets were embarrassed by the Bills, and on the way out–and I mean everyone was filing out with a few minutes left on the clock–the PA announced, “The Jets fumble and the Bills recover the ball.” The whole stadium burst into laughter. I thought as we rode home, my friend’s father playing the post-game postmortem, “Now this is a sports team I can root for. They are a joke. I can just root for them and not take it too seriously.” Then in my Junior year of high school after about 5 or 6 years of developing a certain level of intensity, the Jets lost to Denver in the AFC Championship playoff game and something just changed. It was the tipping point. I was despondent for days. I began researching potential draft options (“I wonder if Champ Bailey will drop to the bottom of the first round!”) I bought Jets gear, Fritz and I discussed with a fervor the potential of the next season. We all know how that next season went. And it’s been that same cycle on-and-off ever since. Excitement, fear, anxiety, euphoria, disappointment, despondency, repeat. So if it hurts so much, so often, they ask “Why do you care so much?”

A friend of mine is a huge friend of Pearl Jam. When I teased him about it once, throwing up my arms and declaring with exasperation, “I just don’t get it!” He responded, “They are the one constant that has been there for me my whole life. Good or bad, they are there. I imagine it is something like you and the Jets.” I immediately knew what he meant.

For almost 20 years now the Jets have been the one constant in my life (along with my family, which in a perhaps perverse way I see as being closely related.) In high school, if I was down about some girl, or the fact that I had braces, or hadn’t gone through puberty yet? No big deal: Jets were there. In college, when I was stranded in Oregon in the middle of 150 straight days of rain, depressed, and tucked into the sheets 5 days a week: the Jets gave me the Monday Night Miracle, and I was on cloud-nine for a good month when I needed it most. The next winter, when I lived at home, and sat up nights drinking six pack and writing bad poetry, working at the Gap and going to Community College, floating in an abysmal abyss: the Jets. When I transferred to school in Pennsylvania, surrounded by Eagles and Steelers fans? Fuck you–Jets. And in the euphoric post-college days when I lived paycheck to paycheck with my lady, and all my friends lived in the same city, I could rely on someone to meet up and enjoy the Jets (I could even afford tickets once in a while!) Two years ago the Jets were in a playoff game with the Chargers. They were down in the third quarter, and a friend watching the game with me suggested: “Jets win we’re going to Atlantic City.” The influence of the Jets is so strong that not only did I say “sure,” but when the Jets came back and won a stunner to get into the AFC Championship, we hopped in the car, and 12 hours later I stumbled home 1,000 dollars richer. A thousand dollars and a Jets victory: the final-straw cost of probably blowing up my whole life as I knew it.

I moved into my own apartment for the first time in my life in the middle of last season. I was enough of an emotional wreck without the Jets and then the first two Sundays in my new, empty, lonely apartment, strewn with beer cans and dirty pots and pans went a little something like this: Week 13 blow-out loss to the Patriots, Week 14 embarrassment at home against the Dolphins. I thought I was going to explode. That’s not hyperbole. I literally thought on several train-trips to and from school that I might choke out the next person who clipped their goddamn nails on the train, or blasted mariachi music in my face, or tried to sell me anymore goddamn starburst. I think my students intentionally tried to avoid me for the first time in my teaching career. What an awful month. And then they stunned the Steelers at Heinz field. I swear to god that was a gift from above. A loss that week and I might have gotten on a Greyhound and ended up in a reactionary commune in the upper peninsula for the rest of my life.

It’s a year on. The most up-and-down year of my life to be sure. So many good things to be happy for, and so many frustrations. And the Jets? Well, they keep being what the Jets have been for me, my whole life. They win a couple games that convince me and Fritz and my dad that they are on the verge of playing Championship football, and then they get embarrassed by the Eagles. They get me excited with all their talk and pomposity, and then they don’t live up to it. So they are on the edge of the playoffs needing to win tomorrow, and maybe even next week just to get in. And of course the game has to be against the cross-town rivals.

I would like to be able to end this with some corny line about how win or lose the family will come together because that means so much more than the Jets. And perhaps that’s “true.” But it isn’t the truth. Fritz and I will swirl our forks around in the pasta all night if the Jets lose thinking about what could have been. But the truth is simpler, I think: I am a blessed man. I’ve hit some bumps in the road. The last two years have been a motherfucker. But the Jets never left me (even when they mistreated me) and my family never let me go (even when good reason said maybe they should have.) So when the Jets lose tomorrow I will turn off the TV, pop open a fresh one and say what I have been saying for 20 years: “With the group we have got?! You just wait until next year!”

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