By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — While your initial reaction to Ed Anzalone stepping away from his unofficial role as the Jets’ most visible fan might have been a roll of the eyes or a snicker, just know this: He mattered.
Anzalone, a former New York City firefighter who goes by the nickname “Fireman Ed,” has been a staple at Jets games in three stadiums since the mid-1970s. While many actually believe he didn’t invent the “J-E-T-S!” chant, he was certainly the person who brought it to prominence as a key piece of the franchise’s desire to be something more than it has never really been.
And before you laugh, say good riddance, or wonder what all the fuss is about, stop and think about the actual traditions the Jets have.
Let’s see. We have mediocrity, which is always a great selling point. We have being a laughingstock, which the Jets have perfected over the years. We have a fan base perennially stuck in a state of limbo, with a large percentage of fans that wear snatching defeat from the jaws of victory as a badge of honor.
Here is a team that has always been the second-class citizen in the Tri-State Area, almost entirely due to its own ineptitude on the field and often bizarre mindset off of it. The fans, for reasons only they truly understand, pledge allegiance and their hard-earned dollars to a franchise that really only called a converted and dilapidated baseball stadium a true “home” field in its 50 or so years of existence. The Jets have been historically just a group of men wearing green and white that have given the illusion of a higher purpose, when in reality the names and faces have consistently changed, while the end results have almost always stayed the same.
The Jets just don’t have an identity, or they haven’t had one since Joe Namath paraded around leading the charge of “us against the world” and actually meant it. To call the old school fan exasperated is putting it mildly. To the new age, or Rex Ryan-era supporter, the idea of being all the aforementioned things seems to come as a shock, as if winning is a rite of passage or something with this franchise.
Well, no, you 20-somethings have a lot to learn.
But through it all there was Fireman Ed. And despite the fact that the Jets have had only fleeting moments of success, moments that have rarely been sustained over the decades, Anzalone was the guy doing his best to make your experience at whichever stadium you dared enter, a positive one.
But now he’s stepping away, for the same reasons many Jets fans over the years decided dealing with home games is not worth the stress.
And, believe it or not, it really doesn’t have all that much to do with the losing.
I have never met Anzalone. I have no idea what he’s like personally. I truly do not care about what he’s done or continues to do in his personal life. As far as I know he’s not on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, nor has there ever been an all points bulletin out for his arrest. And while some of you may know him intimately and may not like him personally for reasons only you know, it really makes no difference in the final analysis when it comes to his role at the stadium as a Jets fan.
The guy tried to help, but due to a combination of many factors he became the poster boy for the Jets’ failures as an NFL franchise.
While I’m not exactly breaking news here by stating the 2012 season has been a giant disappointment on just about every level, some of you have taken your displeasure to an altogether higher and more ridiculous level. It’s as if this faction of the fan base needed someone to take out its frustrations on. Or maybe this minority just got tired of all the attention Anzalone received over the years. Maybe you think he received perks or special treatment from the Jets or the NFL for leading the chant or for becoming as visible as he had become. Maybe you’re just jealous of all that, if indeed it happened as some have claimed.
You just gotta grow up, man.
From where I’m standing, Anzalone is the irresponsible Jets fans’ patsy.
Anzalone wrote a guest column in the Metro New York newspaper that appeared in Sunday’s online edition. In it, he described a sad situation at MetLife Stadium that he said had gotten progressively worse as this horrible season took a pronounced turn from early euphoria to 4-7, featuring more of the same nonsense we’ve seen for years.
Anzalone wrote he will no longer lead the “J-E-T-S!” chants at home games or wear his firefighter’s helmet because “confrontations” between him and other fans “have become more common.”
Confrontations? At a stadium the Jets play in? You’re kidding.
And while it’s true sitting in MetLife, or Giants Stadium or Shea Stadium back in the day, has always been a test of patience due to vulgarity, alcohol consumption and general negativity, I think it would be hard to just finger the Jets as the only team that this happens to. We know from experience and well documented news reports that fan behavior at American sports facilities has become an epidemic over the years.
But what makes the Jets’ situation different can be attributed to much more than simply losing games. Prior to the advent of the Internet and social media websites, what you knew of your favorite sports team was limited to what you read in newspapers, perhaps heard on fledgling sports radio stations or saw on television or cable channels geared toward a national demographic.
Now, in the instant and specialized news age, fans are privy to the types of information no player or coach prior to the mid-1990s ever had to worry about. Now, fans with a firm understanding of NFL personnel, college programs and finances have their own idea of how to build a football team or sustain winning — and adamantly profess it. There are blogs dedicated to individual teams all over the place, with the types of in-depth analysis that may one day render the traditional newspaper “beat” reporter null and void. Twitter, to name one social media site, appears to give fans more access to players, even if that’s really more of a tease than anything else.
The point is, the fans now feel entitled and more emotionally and financially invested than ever before.
Is that a good thing? That all depends on how far the angry horde is willing to go.
The Jets love attention, maybe more than any other professional sports franchise, so for PR disasters to arise is a much more common occurrence when compared to other teams. The biggest controversy swirling around the Jets this season has been the quarterback debate. On one side you have incumbent Mark Sanchez, a player who has yet to achieve the type of status the Jets expected of him when they moved all the way up to No. 5 in the 2009 draft to select him. There are many out there who believe the Jets reached big time for a player with 15 career college starts. Then there’s the other side which believes Sanchez is an NFL player for a reason. Sooner or later, regardless of his apparent faults or pedigree, he simply has to put up or shut up and try his luck in the CFL.
Now whether the expectations and criticism of Sanchez over the last four years have been just is a story for another time, but there is a clear dividing line among fans either way.
Then there’s the Tim Tebow movement. Again, there are two sides to this. There isn’t a player in the NFL with a bigger and more vocal fan base than Tebow. They are largely considered outsiders in the vast demographic that makes up “Jet Nation.” But, regardless, they want to see their guy play, and Sanchez’s failures combined with the coaching staff’s lack of belief in Tebow and ownership’s apparent smokescreen of reasoning for why he was even brought here in the first place, has only fueled what has been a raging debate for going on nine months.
The Sanchez camp of fans, many of whom won’t admit it but really don’t want to see their guy play all that much anyway due to the plethora of reasons I’ve stated, simply view Mark as the anti-Tebow, whatever that means. Again, how deep-rooted the non-Tebow fan’s dislike of Tebow and his fans are is a story for another time, but just know it goes well beyond the fact that Tim supposedly can’t throw or run a pro-style offense.
Anzalone’s part in all of this was simple. I think he’d support any player that was anointed the starter by Ryan. In this case, it was Sanchez, so Fireman Ed wore a No. 6 jersey to the Thanksgiving night game against New England. And as we all saw, Sanchez made yet another mistake, this one turning the early tide of momentum, and the Jets never recovered. Anzalone later said he was chastised by fans for wearing the jersey. He said he had reached the point where simple criticism had morphed into something that made him fearful of sitting in his seat.
Is that what it’s evolved into now? Jets fans going after Jets fans inside their home stadium for wearing certain Jets players’ jerseys?
And you wonder why the rest of the country laughs at this team and its fans.
There’s a divisiveness in this fan base that’s becoming more apparent. In a lot of ways, the people who root for the Jets have become a microcosm of American politics. There’s no debating the fact that this country is split down the middle when it comes to the presidency and the nation’s direction — and it seems like both sides will go to any extreme to get what it wants.
Well, there’s no doubt in my mind “Jet Nation” is split down the middle. And while debate over quarterbacks, general managers, coaching staffs, what type of offense to run, how to generate a better pass rush, who to draft, who to sign or what makes up the best tailgate spread is constructive and healthy, acting like a jackass is not.
The Jets will miss Fireman Ed. Sure, someone will take up the chant, probably screw it up initially, but eventually it will once again be a staple at home games. But as far as I’m concerned the Jets and many of their fans have completely lost their way. A lot of people no longer have the first clue why they are even in that stadium.
And that’s pretty sad.
There is no “Jet Nation.” There are simply factions fighting for some mythical prize, with not the first clue what it is or how to get it.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
Will you miss Fireman Ed leading the chants? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …