By Jason Keidel
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With the seal broken on the 2014 NFL season, we will spend much time dissecting our two local teams.
And with both teams in one building, it revives one question: Can the Jets ever consume the hearts and minds of the five boroughs and beyond? Or will they always shrink in the shadow of their cotenants, the Giants, and keep their insecure sobriquet as Big Blue’s little brother?
Frankly, it’s hard to fathom this franchise taking the top spot in The Big Apple. Indeed, how can Gang Green topple Big Blue if the Jets can’t even keep Fireman Ed in the fold?
In a recent article on this site, the retired, real-life fireman mused over his time as the most heralded male cheerleader in the NFL, with his famous, robust chant of “J-E-T-S!” from his brother’s shoulders.
At the end, Ed Anzalone was jeered, cursed, spat on and challenged to fisticuffs. And it’s kind of a microcosm of the Jets as a whole, a team of turmoil and conflicting impulses, even mangling the more refreshing parts of the team.
The Jets have enough bad karma on the gridiron without baleful tales of drunken fans harassing women in the bowels of MetLife, without stories of well-lubed fans starting fights with Fireman Ed in the bathroom while they drain their bloated bladders. (Notice we don’t hear these stories during Giants games?)
I was at the Jets game last week, against the Colts. It was hard to enjoy an army of players you know won’t be there in a month. Andrew Luck only played a few snaps, and almost all starters were gone by halftime — along with half the fans. You’re ready to leap from the lights after the 20th rendition of “Jump Around” and 10th version of “Seven Nation Army” pound from the speakers. And at the two-minute warning, we were sleepy from a soporific and sloppy 10-10 game before the Jets squeaked a field goal through the uprights in the final seconds.
Preseason is hardly a precursor to the real thing. But the Jets don’t even have the most vital position in the sport (quarterback) resolved. Is it Geno Smith’s job? Or is the more seasoned, successful — and talented, if you ask many of us — Michael Vick going to gallop onto the field in Week 1? There’s an old NFL maxim that says if you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks.
Indeed, if you look around the league at the Super Bowl contenders, there are no questions at quarterback. All the chalk — Denver, New England, Green Bay, San Francisco and Seattle — have their QB jobs locked up. Even the second-tier teams, some of whom can sneak through in January — New Orleans, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Philadelphia — have rather reliable and productive signal-callers.
And you’ll notice the Giants are airtight at QB. Even when Eli Manning loses his way, as he surely did last year, there’s the comfort of not only having a QB with two Super Bowl rings, but also the QB who won the MVP of each Super Bowl.
Of course, the Jets’ 45-year title drought imbues their fans with eternal cynicism. So there will be a near-universal sense that the team will start the wrong QB in September. Especially under Rex Ryan, whose NFL bona fides rest entirely with his defense.
Yet Ryan is also the reason Jets fans have felt a renewed vigor over their team. Ryan wobbled over from Baltimore with a full inheritance of his father’s hubris, spitting his dad’s fierce bromides about rugged defense and not kissing a certain coach’s ring. He had the ornery attitude it takes to change the lost and lonely culture that has haunted Gang Green for decades.
Ryan’s remarks and refrain were refreshing, but largely because the Jets responded. The Jets soared (pun intended) to consecutive AFC title games, bogarting the bold ink from the Giants. And no matter how much WFAN host Mike Francesa trivializes the way they got there, it counts.
But once the Jets fell back into their old habits, Ryan became a bore, a man whose girth was surpassed only by his ego. Then we worried about his tattoos and his wife’s tattoos and foot fetish videos and spats with Mike Tannenbaum. His act suddenly wore thin. Then he lost all that weight and we told him to put it back on because it was part of his public costume, the meat of his mojo.
You’ll notice the Giants don’t have to worry about their HC or GM. Tom Coughlin has been here a decade and, up to this point, has done something spectacular each time the sword seemed close to his vocational head. Two Super Bowls give a guy great latitude.
The Jets haven’t had a bedrock identity since Joe Namath. They played in a baseball park (Shea Stadium) and then moved to a football stadium named after another football team (Giants Stadium). And while their new abode bodes better for them than the others, the Jets are probably the only team in the NFL that has never had a place to call home without sharing their beds.
And you’ll notice the Giants, even off a disastrous season in 2013 during which they started 0-6, have a unified vision and confidence that last year was an aberration. There’s no soap-operatic tone to the team. They win and lose in the collective. When the Jets lose, the team fractures right away, with fingers flexed in all directions — toward the coach, general manager, quarterback and even the owner.
The Giants surely don’t worry about ownership. Not with the Mara family seal on the franchise. So if the Jets are going to leapfrog the Giants as the local team of record, they will have to take ownership on the field before they can even think of taking the lion’s share of our hearts.
As I finished this paragraph, a Jets commercial conveniently popped on TV, imploring me to buy tickets for this season. The Giants don’t have to worry about selling seats — or their souls — to get you in the building, which means MetLife belongs to Big Blue.
At least until Gang Green parties like it’s 1969.
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