By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — Father’s Day is still a month or so away, but, for me, it’s never too early to start paying homage to the patriarch of my family.
If not for my father I’d probably be the most miserable person on the planet right now. He saved me from a life of pure disgust by introducing me at a very young age to the New York Yankees. “Thank the good Lord for making me the son of a Yankee fan,” I like to say — often to anyone who will listen.
However, I’m a year-round fan of all major sports, save for basketball, which just never took. I have an appreciation for the hardwood, but don’t go to sleep at night cursing the Dolans or worrying about the Knicks’ point guard situation. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant are exceptional athletes, but I’m not investing in their Fatheads to decorate the man cave any time soon.
Football and hockey, however, are totally different animals in my world and dad is of no use to me whatsoever. He’s at best a casual NFL fan, will watch Notre Dame and occasionally Army if the mood strikes him. The NHL? Well, that’s just basically controlled chaos in his eyes, or, in other words, total nonsense.
As I’ve learned, dad is really proud of his Italian heritage. His lack of loyalty to a specific NFL team has been a serious problem in the past. I mean how do you ask about Dan Marino after your green-blooded son has just witnessed the fake-spike play? I used to think he was just bustin’ chops, but I found out over the years that if you’re last name ends with a vowel or was shortened or if your parents came over to Ellis Island from the old country he was and still is genuinely interested in your well being. I mean the guy knows who Dino Ciccarelli is, which is likely a far cry from today’s so-called sports aficianados, the 20-somethings who will wax poetic about everything that’s happened since the calendar crossed Jan. 1, 2000, or that ESPN has told them.
So, as you can see, while growing up I didn’t really have an ally once October turned to November and the days crawled by until spring training. I have always fended for myself, with no worldly guidance to speak of, when it comes to the Jets and, to a lesser extent, the Islanders.
And it shows.
How else can I explain being a fan of these two teams in a town that is extremely demanding every waking second and then utterly worships its champions? You win here, you’re a god. You lose here, well, you’re pretty much godless, basically just someone walking the Earth in search of adventure only to find that the road isn’t perilous by design; It’s fraught with all forms of potential catastrophe simply by accident.
Or simply by association.
Why I actually chose the Jets I can’t really put a finger on. None of my close friends I grew up with were passionate fans and I wasn’t really the rebellious type who consciously chose to be the black sheep. I had Giants, Cowboys, Raiders and Steelers diehards to deal with, but not one true Gang Green disciple in my inner circle. Sure, some jumped on the bandwagon from time to time, but as a child of the late 1970s and then a teen in the ’80s, you tell me exactly how many times there was really that much to get all that excited about with the Jets to even consider forsaking all others.
It made for some pretty tough sledding back in the day.
At least with the Islanders I had, and still have, a support group on the home front. My brother remains a loyalist as do a few of the guys I’ve known 30-plus years. We’ve always made the 120-mile round-trip drive to Nassau Coliseum and will continue to make similar excursions should the Isles end up playing elsewhere in the Tri-State Area down the road.
But, pure loyalty aside, it’s a tough time to be a fan of the Jets and Islanders. Correct that, it’s brutal as long as you’re not pretending the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, I can’t count Twitter and the legions of like-minded souls I’ve recruited as being in my corner, because the best years of my sports life are over. Those who tell you life begins at 40 need to be slapped upside the head with a fully loaded puck bag because they never have sports in mind.
And while I understand the Jets are just a few steps from being very good again and the Islanders have been forever “up and coming,” at the end of the day it’s hard to expect more than fans like myself have consistently received.
Compounding the frustration that has come with the Jets and Islanders collectively not winning a championship in now-nearly 30 years has been a recent Super Bowl matchup from hell and currently an NHL Eastern Conference Finals series straight out of central casting for an upcoming documentary on sports fan suicide.
Look, I realize what the Jets will eventually be is really not going to be dictated by what other teams do. The fact that the Giants and the Patriots met for all the marbles was great for this area. I commend Big Blue for being a standard of excellence, a franchise that mostly worries about its own business and by and large carries itself as worthy of the mighty accolades it has earned throughout history.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a hint of jealousy, but, again, I’m a Yankees fan. I know pretty much what it means to churn out a top product the majority of the time. However, baseball has no relation to football when it comes down to doing battle during the season. I love baseball, but football will forever be king. And the fact remains the Giants win titles while the Jets talk about winning titles. It is what it is and it creates a numbness for the fan that refuses to engage in online smack talk. I mean, what’s the point of that? Rings talk, B.S. walks and any diluted defense is really just a failure to grasp reality.
I love hockey for its purity, its intensity and because its postseason is unrivaled anywhere. So, that said, now we have the Rangers and Devils fighting for a spot in the Stanley Cup finals, again. The Rangers were arguably the NHL’s best club throughout the regular season and they’ve rewarded their loyalists with a postseason that has so far been chock full of character and a team-wide message that basically says we won’t quit until you pry our frozen skates off our mangled feet.
The Devils have been as consistently good a franchise as you will find anywhere in sports over the last quarter century, missing the playoffs just three times, not counting the lockout season of 2004-05. Oh yeah, and they’ve won three Stanley Cups, too. If the Devils played in New York City they’d be the Yankees of the hockey world.
Then there’s the Islanders, whose problems over the last two decades have been well-chronicled. I’ll say this for the Islanders fans: they are brand loyalty, even if you want to argue there hasn’t been much of a brand since the early 1990s. If not for YouTube and a few disintegrating VHS tapes I’d have a hard time remembering the glory years. The run of four Stanley Cups was so long ago, if you actually have the gumption to use it as your rallying cry I almost don’t want to know you.
The bottom line, to me anyway, is these two franchises really do nothing more than take up space. It has to be about winning championships. There’s always a billion built-in excuses, or turmoil or a failure to live up to potential, regardless of whether it’s the fans or the media setting the bar. The nonsense — and that’s what it boils down to with the Jets and Islanders, often pure, unadulterated nonsense — has to stop. I could throw the Knicks and Mets in there, too, and go on for another thousand or so words, but you get the point. Why even have a franchise if you as a fan are consistently subjected to mediocrity or utter failure and seemingly always watch the parade from afar too annoyed to feel good for your fellow man, regardless of his affiliation?
At the end of the day there really is no solution for any of this, short of that one special season coming out of nowhere and, albeit for a brief second in time, shifting the usual balance of power. I’m just venting, trying to once again be a voice for the downtrodden or for those not worthy of rising above steerage on the sinking ship.
Make no mistake, I’m not walking away from either of these teams, but at the same time I’m sure my father won’t wake up one day saying he now has an affinity for Canadians, Russians, Swedes and Tebows.
We’re on our own, people, left in a perpetual state of doing nothing but hopin’ and wishin’ and prayin’ and hopin’ …
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini
Have the last few months been brutal for you as well? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …