jen melife jets

Jersey Jen: Be True to Your Team—Or Not

jen melife jets

“J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS!!” I proudly chant the cheer for Gang Green as they start the 2012 NFL Season with an impressive 48-28 win over the Buffalo Bills. I can’t say as much for their fellow tenants at MetLife Stadium – The Super Bowl Champion New York Giants who suffered a 24-17 loss to their archrivals, The Dallas Cowboys.

It’s not that I don’t have tremendous respect for Big Blue. I have watched the franchise claim four Super Bowl titles. My Jets have only one, in 1969 before I was born.

My love for the Jets began back in 1987. My father was a Giants fan, but in the 80’s it was virtually impossible to get tickets to home games. Although he would go with family friends who were season ticket holders, he wanted to share the NFL experience with his kids.

That opportunity came in 1984 when the New York Jets moved from Shea Stadium in Queens to play their home games in the New Jersey Meadowlands.  An old friend from my father’s hometown of Edgewater, New Jersey had been a Jets season ticket holder since the team’s days playing at the Polo Grounds. Sporty, as he is referred to by family and friends, offered a seat to my father who quickly accepted it. One of my father’s colleagues was selling two of his season tickets; three new Jets fans were born. Every fall, my brother, my sister, and I would go to games at Giants stadium. They are now priceless memories. (Above, Jen on left, with her dad and sister, Jackie.)

In the late 80’s and 90’s, the parking lots were filled with rowdy tailgate parties, each group staking out its area. Our family and friends would gather in area 4H. Hamburgers or hotdogs were always cooking on the grill, the coolers packed with beer and soda, and the radios and portable TVs blasting from all different directions. The crowd was the best pre-game entertainment around. On one occasion, Broadway Joe Namath’s limousine was parked at the end of our row of cars.The only quarterback to date to bring the Jets a Super Bowl, Namath was like the second coming. Fans jumped on the limo giving the most famous Jet high fives and one man shouting “Joe, I named my son after you!”

We always knew game time was approaching when fans would begin marching toward the stadium chanting, “Here we go – here we go – here we go – here we go – here we go – here we gooooo!!”

On the few times I made my way to a Giants tailgate party, the environment was tame and sophisticated. Giants fans always dressed neatly, their tables were well set out, their grills were cooking steaks, and their coolers were filled with wine. Inside the stadium, Giants fans have always been loud but less rambunctious.

Early on, I was conflicted about which team to throw my full support behind. Before purchasing the Jets tickets we faithfully watched the Giants with my father. I once toyed with the idea of having a custom made jersey that included both teams. However, I realized at some point you just have to make a choice and stick with it. In honor of my father, who had a closet full of both Giants and Jets gear, I still root for the Giants when they are not playing the Jets. My father was a New York sports fan who cheered on both teams, but deep down he was a Giants fan. If the two teams were head to head he would root for Big Blue.

My first on-air opportunity was as a sports broadcast journalist. I was given the chance to file reports from the professional games in the Meadowlands. It was a different point of view that allowed me to observe the teams from the press box, sidelines, press conferences and locker rooms. The differences in the franchises were apparent. One, the traditional well respected older, wiser group; the other, always trying to come out from under the shadow. It definitely felt like sibling rivalry.

I attended my last Jets game at Giants Stadium before the complex closed and was eventually demolished (photo above). The new MetLife Stadium built adjacent to my old stomping grounds opened in 2010 and is now the home for both New York NFL teams. My uncle continues to hold season tickets to the Giants at MetLife Stadium and offered his seats to me for the 2012 preseason game against the New England Patriots – the Super Bowl XLVI rematch.

When I picked up my husband, Glenn, at his office in Rutherford he took one look at me and said, “I can’t believe you are wearing that shirt.” I was sporting my green Jets jersey. A Jets fan himself, he was worried that I would be taunted throughout the entire game. I thought about wearing the Giants T-shirt Glenn purchased for me while reporting from the Super Bowl last year, but it just didn’t feel right. It felt like a betrayal. It wasn’t my first time at an NFL game; I knew what I was in for, but figured there would be a few more fellow Jets fans to back me up.

The second I stepped out of the car it started— “wrong game”… “She must think she is at a different game,” tailgaters shouted. I just smiled, waved and gave the thumbs up. All the while thinking, “Where are the other Jets fans?” Before too long, I came across some Jets fans, in disguise of course, who applauded me for my bravery. One said  to his friends: “I could have worn my Jets shirt.” Other fans who were in genetic shirts gave me free beer for the decision to bear our team’s logo.

As we walked through the parking lot and more tailgaters shouted their greetings to me, Glenn turned to me and said, “You can’t wear the jersey of the other team that plays in the same stadium; you just look like you don’t know who is playing tonight. You need to buy a Giants shirt.” I looked around and thought maybe he was right because I didn’t see one other Jets fan.

When I approached the ticket gates the attendant smiled and said, “Nice shirt but wrong team tonight.” I started to worry that I was really outnumbered. Then I thought about my time at the old Giants Stadium and how visiting fans were treated at home games. Not wanting to cause any trouble, I gave in and went to the stadium gift shop and purchased a really cute Giants shirt. The instant I took off my Jets shirt and slipped on the Giants red and blue it felt like I turned my back on my team.

Later while sitting in the stands I did notice a man walking up the steps wearing a white Jets jersey. At least I wasn’t the only one who was trying to be true to my team. I thought—good for him! At least he didn’t succumb to peer pressure. Super Bowl Champions or not, this is no longer just the Giants house; it’s the Jets home, too, and fans are just going to have to get use to it. Who knows? Maybe 2012 will be Gang Green’s year to win the stadium’s bragging rights.

Jennifer Madden covers New Jersey for NY1.

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