By Kristian Dyer
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The most famous fan in New York — and perhaps in the NFL — is calling it quits, and while fans wrestle with the merits of “Fireman Ed,” it is clear that no one is the winner in this situation. Not the Jets, not their fans and certainly not “Fireman Ed,” who now concedes his passionate role supporting the team.
In a letter published in Monday’s edition of Metro New York, Ed Anzalone cited concerns over fans who had become confrontational with him over the course of this season, a situation that has escalated over the past few games. His decision to step down from his legendary role in stirring up and leading the crowd will be missed and likely never replaced. After all, who could imitate the man who so effortlessly would turn a docile, tame Jets crowd at MetLife Stadium into a teething, frothy and frenzied mob with a twirl of his arm and a waving of his fireman’s helmet?
This was “Fireman Ed,” who seemed to polarize fans. Some had the idea that he was on the team’s payroll or perhaps too cozy with the organization, a claim that he always denied. Then there were those who idolized him and his impact on the team, and the way he took a hard stance on the Jets and the PSL issue.
But no matter the stance on “Fireman Ed,” Jets games will never be the same.
In all of American sports, traditions like the one that Anzalone carried on at Jets games are hard to come by, as he made going to a game a different experience. He brought the crowd to life, creating moments that were iconic and inspired goosebumps, something very unique in the fishbowl stadium experience at the Meadowlands. What “Fireman Ed” did was unite a fan base that only seemed too eager to jeer rather than cheer, to tear down rather than build up.
Losing Anzalone is much more than losing one man — it is losing a certain innocence about this Jets team. There was a childlike love, pure and clear, that came from Anzalone towards this team. Wins and losses, rain or shine, he was there from the lows of the Rich Kotite era to the early success found by now-head coach Rex Ryan.
Unquestioned and unwavering, Anzalone loved this team from a pure place, somewhere deep inside of him. It was the way a fan was supposed to love a team, and now it succumbed to juvenile taunts and blatant aggression from those who had one drink too many or had an agenda against the team.
He has seen more losses than wins as a Jets fan; that’s just the way it is when one signs up to get behind this team. But he was always there, brimming with hope that he could create a 12th man that could help carry the day.
Through all of this, Anzalone was working himself into a lather. His helmet was off, his throat grew hoarse and a vein bulged over his left eyebrow. It didn’t matter the record or the team the Jets were playing, as he was always there with optimism before every game. He will tell you that he never accepted a penny from the Jets, and that he is still paying off his PSL on the installment plan.
The team never gave him anything but heartache mingled with the occasional bit of joy.
Now, “Fireman Ed” is no more, and the whole experience at MetLife Stadium got a bit emptier, a bit sadder.
He will still go to games, he says, just not as the team’s most prominent and leading fan.
He will also cheer for the Jets, including the chant he made so famous.
There is no stopping that.
He’s no quitting on this team, but rather quitting on his role come game day because a growing number of drunk and disorderly fans can’t control themselves as their team’s losses mount. Sadly, Anzalone was the target of their frustration, and he wisely decided to step away before the situation got worse.
Sundays just won’t be the same anymore.
Kristian R. Dyer covers college football for Metro New York and also contributes to Yahoo! Sports. He can be followed on Twitter here for insight and snarky comments.
How do you feel about “Fireman Ed’s” decision? Are you upset? Disappointed? Disheartened? Thrilled? Completely indifferent? Let us know in the comments section below…