By Kristian Dyer
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The New York Jets might be a surprising 3-3 to start the year — Sunday’s horror show against the Pittsburgh Steelers notwithstanding — but they are doing more than re-establishing themselves as a potentially solid team. They are beginning to identify who they are off the field as well.
Due to some vision from team president Neil Glatt and general manager John Idzik, both of whom get where the Jets fan base currently is and where it needs to go, the team is taking steps towards a true homefield advantage and a true sense of community.
For years, the Jets lacked an identity and forever seemed to be a chameleon in the NFL, going along with the latest fads and the new quirks but never really getting the whole tradition thing down right. Part of it might be that the Jets have been such a woefully horrible franchise for much of their existence, making their history anything but storied. But even still, they have struggled to create an identity and a tradition off the football field. Losing “Fireman Ed” midway through last season took away the one unique aspect of Jets games and Jets culture.
But now, finally, for the first time since their inception in 1960, the team is going about creating a culture around their game day, turning a sterile and cold MetLife Stadium bit by bit from a drab game day experience to something that is beginning to build its own life.
The team has taken the right steps forward, including starting a team walk off the bus through the parking lot into the stadium where Jets fans can line a corridor and greet the players. It is a scene reminiscent of the walk made by college teams on game day and gives the players a chance to connect with the fans and vice versa.
For a Jets team looking to make inroads in the area in what is a baseball town that also by and large supports the Giants, not the team in green, the walk through the parking lot serves as an important opportunity to thank longstanding fans and make new ones.
And while Jets fans may be slow to embrace the Aviators marching band, it is a more authentic and fan-friendly endeavor than piped in music blaring over the loudspeakers. It at least gets fans and their voices involved rather than being passive spectators.
But also a big part of what the Jets are doing this year is a significant push towards alumni relations. During training camp, roughly two dozen former players watched practice and drills when the team returned to its New Jersey facility. The Jets have struggled with alumni relations, a major reason why so many former players rather easily rip the team in the media when things go south. But on Sunday for the Ring of Honor celebration for Marty Lyons, the Jets effectively reached out to former players to be included in the day.
It was the right thing to do and something that Idzik, whose father was a coach on the Jets, needs to continue to press for more inclusion of former players as part of this team’s daily functions.
It is all a step in creating a sense of community around the team, a familiar bond between players and fans and the team itself. It is the type of bond that makes the NFL so special in places like Pittsburgh and Kansas City and Baltimore — cities that have embraced the league and teams that promote their history and passion back towards for the fans.
For football, while it is a game, is more than a game. It is spending and celebrating three hours on a Sunday afternoon with friends and strangers, united not by class or creed but by the green and white that drapes their shoulders. Slowly, the Jets are getting this and understanding it.
And that is another win for the Jets this season.
Follow Kristian on Twitter at @KristianRDyer
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