By Kristian Dyer
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As an organization, the New York Jets take a lot of hits, some of which are deserved. But lately, this franchise is doing things the right way more often than not, and that includes proceedings off the field.
On Thursday, a story in Yahoo! Sports revealed that “Fireman Ed” was approached by the Jets this past spring to return to his role as the face of the team’s fan base. Born Ed Anzalone, he rose to prominence as the superfan who would lead the “J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!” chants while wearing his FDNY fireman’s helmet. He left the role two years ago after facing threats from fans at games who confused him as an extension of Jets management during what was a frustrating 6-10 season.
But that the Jets would reach out to Anzalone to help revive the chant, even if he turned them down, is proof positive that this organization isn’t tone deaf. Clearly, the chant has fallen on hard times and lacks the special sizzle that Anzalone brought, and the team wanted to bring it back. They did right to reach out to their most famous of fans and try to lure him back.
It was a good move by Jets president Neil Glat to see the need and try to address it the best way possible. Now a contest run on the team’s website to find a successor to Anzalone has been organized, again another strong move by Glat. It is a sign that Glat, whose background includes extensive work at the league’s office, is cognizant that the fans want to be an active part of helping the team win games.
Over the past 18 months, the Jets have attempted to not only make the morbid fan experience at MetLife Stadium positive, but establish true home-field advantage. Bringing on board the “Aviators” drum corps — loved by some fans and despised by others — is at least a step to create noise in the lifeless stadium. And the team entering the stadium off of buses and walking through a line of fans is another way to create not just a sense of community, but a connection to what being a Jet is.
When Rex Ryan joined as head coach of the Jets over five years ago, he introduced the mantra of “Play Like a Jet.” Now, the front office is clearly trying to create a certain passion among a fan base that hasn’t tasted the playoffs in three years — or a Super Bowl in, well, you already know that one. It isn’t always easy being a Jets fan, something they readily admit. Enter Glat, who is now trying to make being a fan of this team something to be proud of and not a source of shame.
The latest move by the team to gauge Anzalone’s interest, even though it failed, shows their ambition. Anzalone didn’t want to come back for safety reasons, a move that is reasonable and shouldn’t be criticized. But now the Jets have every right to try to enhance their stadium experience into a fearsome one. “Fireman Ed” is on board, as he understands that the return of the chant can help lift and elevate the team once again.
“Play Like a Jet” has now turned its focus into the stands to become “Cheer Like a Jet.” The intensity that Ryan wants from his players, an intensity which he says is “playing like your hair is on fire,” now must make its way into the three tiers of the stadium on Sundays. In reinvigorating the chant, the Jets are tipping their caps to a fan base that can be as loud and passionate as any in the league, if it is given a reason to cheer.
Glat and general manager John Idzik have done a good job over the past year in attempting to incorporate the history of the team back into the organization. A big step in this regard has been inviting former players to come back, attend practices and games and reconnect with the current Jets. They’ve expanded the scope of the franchise’s history beyond Super Bowl III, acknowledging that the team’s history goes beyond that one big win and “Broadway Joe.”
What they’ve done in reaching out to retired players is a dramatic shift towards embracing their history, despite how empty the trophy case is. Focusing on the fans and getting them to be a true 12th man is a big step, as well. Management isn’t tone deaf to the fans, and this latest move to land Anzalone is yet another right move.
All too often, it is easy enough to focus on the mistakes of this organization, and there are plenty of these to consume several other columns. But when the Jets do something right — as they did last spring in trying to bring “Fireman Ed” back into his iconic role — they remind us that despite the lack of success over the past three years, they are trying to take that next step.
Not just on the field, but off of it as well.
Kristian R. Dyer is the Jets’ beat reporter for Metro New York and contributes to Yahoo! Sports as well as WFAN. He can be followed on Twitter @KristianRDyer.
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