Thanksgiving night was sad. It wasn’t sad because my favorite sports team was embarrassed on national television – or because quarterback Mark Sanchez lost the infamous butt fumble – rather it was sad because Dad and I were sitting on our couch in New Jersey, watching the game on television.
It was the first time in over a decade that we didn’t have tickets for a Jets home game.
At the turn of the millennium, a full season removed from an appearance in the AFC Title game, Dad was presented with an opportunity to purchase season tickets. He jumped on it immediately, and thus ended my one-year Pop Warner career. Don’t worry, I recorded exactly 0 catches for 0 yards as the fifth-string split end. The two seats weren’t in my father’s name. In fact, until Metlife Stadium was constructed in 2010, we never sat in the same pair of seats for the entire eight-game season.
For the first six years, we split our time in sections 113 and 328. Both sections had their perks, but Dad and I preferred to sit “downstairs.” For the most part, the guy we bought our tickets from let us sit downstairs for divisional games, primetime games etc. Initially, Dad and I beefed with the people that sat behind us downstairs, because an elderly man would shout “SIT DOWN!” when everyone stood up on a defensive third down. The man, who was fully capable of standing, would then needle the fans in front of us when the opposing team converted a first down.
“It’s a football game!” Dad finally shouted during our first game in the seats.
I don’t remember what the man said in return, but it wasn’t snarky or rude. From that moment on, we were great friends. The man, a season ticket owner since the Shea Stadium days, owned six tickets in the row, and a rotating cast of characters, including his wife, his two sons, his daughter, and a few friends, would make the drive from Connecticut to watch Gang Green.
In 2004, his daughter Kristine came to a game wearing a medal. She handed it to Dad and I to hold, and we soon discovered that it was a gold medal from the Summer Olympics in Athens. “Kristine” was a forward for the U.S. women’s national soccer team, a two-time Olympic Gold medal winner, a two-time World Cup winner, and a four-time NCAA National Champion.
Despite parenting one of the most iconic players in the history of women’s soccer in America, the Lilly’s never bragged or boasted about their daughter Kristine. Actually, they never brought up her incredible career after that day.
The first game Dad and I attended as season ticket holders was a Monday Night Football tilt on September 11th, 2000 against the hated New England Patriots. Once we got over “SIT DOWN!”-gate, everything went quite smoothly. With two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Wayne Chrebet caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from Vinny Testaverde – Chrebet’s second of the quarter – and the Jets won 20-19. Naturally, I was on cloud nine.
Little did I know that six weeks later, the Jets would stage another comeback on Monday Night Football. At the time, as a 12-year old boy, it was hard to truly quantify how incredible the “Monday Night Miracle” really was. Unlike the majority of our fellow fans, Dad and I didn’t leave. Dad had actually purchased two extra seats so that my brother Mike and his girlfriend could come to the game as well, and looking back he was sweating a bit as midnight came and went.
“I told her father that it would be a late night,” Dad will tell you today.
What people forget about the “Monday Night Miracle” is that Dolphins scored immediately after Chrebet capped off a 23-point fourth-quarter comeback with a 24-yard touchdown reception. Brock Marion returned the ensuing kickoff 47 yards, and on the very next play, Jay Fiedler threw a 46-yard touchdown to Leslie Shepherd.
Down seven once again, Testaverde marched the troops down the field – with thanks to an incredible catch by Richie Anderson – and ultimately threw the iconic touchdown pass to tackle Jumbo Elliot.
Better still, in overtime, Marcus Coleman intercepted Fiedler twice in the span of six plays. Thurman Thomas forced Coleman to fumble after the first interception, the Dolphins recovered the ball, and five plays later Coleman picked Fiedler off again. This time he held onto the ball, and seven plays later, minutes after 1:00 a.m., John Hall drilled a 40-yard field goal to win.
The Jets finished the 2000 season 9-7, but failed to make the playoffs.
In 2001, the Jets stumbled out of the gate, losing by three touchdowns at home against Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts. The entire world changed two days later on September 11th, and in the wake of the tragedies that had occurred, Week 2 of the NFL season was postponed until what would’ve been the first round of the playoffs. Both New York teams were away during the new Week 2 slate of games, and in Week 3, while the Giants were once again away from the Meadowlands, the Jets hosted the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football.
I can still remember gazing at the New York skyline in disbelief as Dad drove up the Jersey Turnpike. The Twin Towers were gone. Inexplicably gone. The mood was grim in the parking lot, and the only thing I remember about the game is that I cried during the National Anthem. To this day I well up whenever the anthem is played at sporting events – the memory of thousands of New Yorkers weeping uncontrollably while waiving tiny American flags will never leave me.
The Jets sucked at home that year, finishing 3-5, but made the playoffs as a 10-6 wildcard team. They lost against the Oakland Raiders in Oakland in the first round of the playoffs after beating them in the Coliseum in Week 17 (formerly Week 2).
The 2002 season started off slow, but it culminated with two of my favorite home games ever. After winning a 37-31 overtime thriller against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1 – where Chad Morton returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, including the opening kick in overtime – Gang Green dropped four straight games. Two of them were home games – one a 44-7 snubbing by the Pats, and the other an ugly, 29-25 game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Jets split their next two games, won four straight, and then split the next four. They were 8-7 heading into Week 17, and could win the AFC East if the Pats beat the Dolphins, and they beat the Green Bay Packers at home. New England hosted Miami at 1 p.m., and while tailgating for our 4 p.m. game, Dad and I watched our rivals clash on a small analog receiver. Thanks to Ricky Williams, the fish jumped out to a 14-0 lead, and looked to have a stranglehold on the division.
As the fourth quarter began, and the Dolphins led 21-13, Dad and I started to make our way to the stadium. Miami added a field goal, making it 24-13, and seemingly all hope was lost. Tom Brady got the ball down two scores with five minutes left, and marched his team down the field. He connected with Troy Brown for a three-yard touchdown, then converted the two-point attempt with a pass to Christian Fauria.
Up a field goal, Miami went three-and-out. Unbelievably, Mark Royals’ punt only went 23 yards, and New England was in field goal position. The Pats gained nine yards off of a Kevin Faulk run, then Adam Vinatieri drilled a 43-yard field goal.
At this point, the Jets game had kicked off, but the crowd was focused on Foxborough. No one had a smart phone, so all of Section 328 crowded around Dad and I to sweat overtime. It wasn’t much of a sweat though – the Pats got the ball, marched down the field, and Vinatieri kicked a game-winning 35-yard field goal.
Our section erupted, and soon enough the entire stadium knew. About five minutes later, they played the kick on the jumbotron, and the crowd went into a frenzy. Gang Green fed off of the energy, and throttled the Packers 42-17. As confetti started to fill the stadium, Dad and I hustled downstairs to briefly celebrate with the Lilly’s. It was a special moment for the lifetime season ticken owners, because it was just the second time in 32 years that the Jets had won the division.
Ironically, Dad and I didn’t have tickets for the Wildcard Round of the playoffs. The guy Dad bought the tickets from didn’t send in the playoff money, so we had to stand in line at a Modell’s (maybe a Staples?) on Monday to buy them. It sucked not sitting with familiar faces during the game, but the game itself was a 60-minute party.
The Jets were six-point favorites over the Colts, and anyone who took the chalk could’ve cashed their ticket in at halftime. Manning and the Colts went three-and-out to start the game, and on New York’s first offensive possession, Anderson took a screen pass 56 yards for a touchdown. Gang Green scored on their next two possessions, then finished the first half with a four-yard touchdown pass from Chad Pennington to Santana Moss. It was 24-0, and the Colts couldn’t do anything.
The second half was more of the same, and when the fourth quarter came to a close, the final score was 41-0. Manning threw for just 137 yards and two interceptions. Pennington threw for 222 yards and three scores.
The Jets lost in Oakland (déjà-vu) the next week, and haven’t had a home playoff game since.
The next five seasons were generally uneventful. In three of them, Gang Green finished under .500, including two four-win seasons, and the two seasons they won 10 games it didn’t matter. The Pats finished with a better record both times, winning the division, and the Jets went 1-2 on the road in the playoffs. They should’ve met the Pats in the 2004 AFC Title game, but Doug Brien missed two chip-shot field goals against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The next season, Gang Green selected a kicker (Mike Nugent) in the second round of the NFL Draft. Sebastian Janikowski (the 17th overall selection in 2000) is the only kicker to have been drafted higher than Nugent.
In 2008, the Jets cut ties with Pennington and traded a fourth-round pick for future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre. Favre generated a ton of buzz, sold a lot of jerseys (Does this sound familiar? Tim Tebow anyone?), and led the Jets to an 8-3 start. He then suffered a shoulder injury which he hid from the team doctors, and the Jets finished the season 1-4, missing the playoffs. In Week 17, I watched the Pennington-led Dolphins defeat my beloved Jets in the Meadowlands and win the AFC East. It was sickening, but I couldn’t turn away. I couldn’t help but watch one of my favorite Jets, who was cast away, celebrate with a team I hated so much.
In 2006-2009, I only was able to go to 11 home games because of college. My brother, who worked from home, went in my stead, but I caught the occasional game because of winter/fall break or Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the 2008 Pennington game was one of them. In 2009, the Jets added rookie head coach Rex Ryan and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. The duo went to back-to-back AFC Title games, losing both on the road to the Colts and Steelers respectively. I will expand upon the Rex/Sanchez era more in a later post, because I think it deserves its own spotlight.
…and this one is going a bit long. Thanks for sticking with me. The Week 17 picks are coming. I promise.
In September of this year, Dad told me that he was giving up the tickets. While I was in graduate school during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, I was able to go to every home game, but after signing a full-time deal with PokerNews, I started traveling so much that Dad didn’t have a partner to go to the games with. My brother has since moved to Canada for work, and Mom isn’t the biggest fan, so the most logical thing to do was to stop paying the Public Seat License, stop paying for all eight games, and cherry-pick a few when we’re able to go.
Dad had already paid for all eight games this season, but when he opted out of the PSL on November 1st, the Jets deactivated our tickets for the remaining three home games. Thanks, Woody Johnson.
So there I was this past Thanksgiving, sitting on our couch in a tryptophan-driven haze, watching the team I love get embarrassed on national television. Dad said something about him being glad that we weren’t there, but I know in his heart of hearts he would’ve made the shitty drive up and down the Turnpike if he could.
The Jets were 46-33 at home in games that I attended during our 12-year tenure as season ticket holders. Last year they had their best season ironically, going 6-2 at MetLife, and the 3-5 season in 2001 was my personal nadir.
During the 12-year span, my 10 favorite players were:
1. Curtis Martin
2. Darrelle Revis
3. Chad Pennington
4. Nick Mangold/D’Brickashaw Ferguson
5. John Abraham/Shaun Ellis
6. Mo Lewis
7. Laveraneus Coles
8. Kevin Mawae
9. Wayne Chrebet
10. Leon Washington
My 10 least-favorite players were:
1. Brett Favre
2. Doug Brien
3. Tim Tebow
4. Eric Smith
5. Vernon Gholston
6. Jon McGraw
7. Anthony Becht
8. Justin McCareins
9. Lito Sheppard
10. Mo Lewis
Like I said, I’ll return someday to address the Rex/Sanches era, but for now let’s focus on finishing the year strong with our Week 17 picks.
NOTE: These lines are courtesy of Covers.com, and were taken at 12:00 p.m. AST. There’s no fantasy advice this week, because if your fantasy championship is in Week 17, your league is stupid.
New York Jets (+3.5) @ Buffalo
The Bills have failed to cover in three straight games, and are 6-9 ATS on the season. The Jets, as bad as they’ve played in the second half of the season, will be able to exploit Buffalo’s 31st-ranked rush defense DVOA. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t much better than Mark Sanchez either.
Chicago (-3) @ Detroit
The Bears are fighting for a playoff spot, while the Lions are just trying to get the ball to Megatron on every play. Detroit is 0-4 ATS since Week 12, and 2-5 ATS at home this season.
Tampa Bay (+3) @ Atlanta
If Atlanta’s starters play for more than a quarter, then Mike Smith should be fired. Tampa Bay hasn’t covered since Week 11, but they should be playing against backups for the majority of this contest.
Carolina (+4) @ New Orleans
New Orleans a mediocre 4-3 ATS at home, while Carolina is red-hot, covering in three straight games. The Saints rank 29th in rush defense DVOA – Killa Cam should be licking his lips – while the Panthers are stout against the pass, ranking 11th in pass defense DVOA. I also think New Orleans might be a bit drunk off of the Sean Payton news, and are already looking forward to 2013.
Baltimore @ Cincinnati (-3)
Marvin Lewis is determined to win this game, which doesn’t matter for either team. There’s a zero-percent chance I wager a penny on this game. Stay away.
Houston (-6) @ Indianapolis
The Colts are fatally flawed on defense. They rank 32nd in total defense DVOA, and have been exposed on several occasions, giving up a combined 164 points to the Bears, Jets, Patriots, and Texans. #ChuckStrong is a great story, but this game means a hell of a lot more for Houston, a team that is fighting for a first-round bye in the playoffs. Th Texans are 9-6 ATS thus far, and I expect them to reach double-digits today.
Philadelphia (+6.5) @ New York Giants
Somehow, this line opened up at 10. I think it’s still too high, and that the Eagles have a legitimate chance to win outright. No matter what Michael Vick and Andy Reid say, this game is both a swan song and a tryout for 2013. The kitchen sink is coming, Big Blue, I hope you’re ready for it.
Cleveland (+9.5) @ Pittsburgh
What? No love for Thad Lewis??? The Steelers are 3-4 ATS at home and 0-2 ATS when favored by a touchdown or more. Pittsburgh is also playing for absolutely nothing.
Jacksonville (+5) @ Tennessee
The Titans rank 31st in total DVOA, 29th in total offense DVOA, and 26th in total defense DVOA. How they can give more than a field goal to any NFL team is absolutely beyond me.
Green Bay (-3) @ Minnesota
Spoiler alert: Adrian Peterson isn’t going to rush for 200+ yards today. The Packers rank 7th in total defense DVOA. They also rank 12th in rush defense DVOA. They’re 9-1 in their last 10 games, and have gone 7-3 ATS in that same time span. This team is a favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, while the Vikings are the varsity version of the Lions, chasing individual accolades.
St Louis (+12) @ Seattle
Miami (+10) @ New England
Kansas City (+17) @ Denver
Arizona (+16.5) @ San Francisco
So you’re saying that I’m getting a combined 55.5 points at 4 p.m.? Yes, please. Thank you.
Oakland @ San Diego (-8)
Speaking of swan songs…good bye, Norv Turner. It was fun wagering against you in San Diego, and I look forward to having you on the sidelines as the next Jets offensive coordinator. Not really. I’m starting to think I won’t miss those tickets as much as I had anticipated.
Dallas (+3) @ Washington
The ENTIRE world thinks that the Redskins are going to win this game. Don’t believe me? Check out this SportsNation poll:
I am happily going to fade the public. Don’t place your bet just yet though, once the 4 p.m. dogs come in, this line could move to 3.5. Once it does, grab the hook and thank me later.
In Tony Romo we trust!