By Steve Lichtenstein
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My friend Duke, aka Bob DeLuca, has coached youth baseball with me for the last five years. He’s a great guy, knowledgeable about the game and wonderful with the kids.
Duke has been especially helpful this fall season, as our 14-year-old boys were in the mix for the division lead heading into a key game on Sunday.
Unfortunately, Duke couldn’t make it. The reason: He’s a New York Jets season-ticket holder.
Yes, Duke is one of many thousands who are foolhardy enough to support this woebegone franchise. Unlike me, who gave up his season tickets after one season of Rich Kotite and now howls at the moon from a distance, Duke has been putting his own money into Jets ownerships’ pockets every year since 1986.
And it’s not like Duke is one of those who take government subsidies through “business entertainment” tax deductions. This is his personal indulgence, despite having to finance (at an above-market interest rate) his PSL over 10 years through the Jets when MetLife Stadium opened in 2010.
Of course, that license only gave Duke the right to purchase 2014 season tickets—including those two exciting preseason exhibitions—at $127.50 a pop.
That’s a $2 raise above last season’s price, which owner Woody Johnson took to do … what exactly?
It certainly didn’t go into building a better team.
Duke watched the Jets continue on their path to NFL irrelevance with a 31-17 loss to Denver on Sunday. At 1-5 and with a tough tilt at New England on Thursday, the Jets—especially general manager John Idzik and coach Rex Ryan–are feeling the wrath of their fans.
I’ve done more than enough ranting about this team over the past month, but if anyone has a right to continue to vent, it’s Duke.
“It’s absurd,” said Duke. “We have no talent. Everybody in the stands is yelling ‘$22 million under the cap.’ We blame Idzik for that. And after the game Rex said the same crazy crap he always says—about fixing things. There’s no hope here—we’re a complete joke.”
Duke specifically admonished Ryan for playing cornerback Dee Milliner on the field goal block team, where Milliner may have torn his Achilles on the Broncos’ first-quarter field goal.
“Why is Milliner, who has a history of being injured, on the field goal team?” asked Duke. “What is he going to do on the field goal team—block a kick? It speaks to what a moron Ryan is—the only cornerback who might be able to cover anybody is now (possibly) out for the year.”
Duke said that despite the Jets’ feistiness in this game, in which the offensively challenged Jets somehow put up 10 straight second-half points to make it a one-score game, he never thought they had a chance to win it.
“Not even to tie it,” Duke said. “Especially after they stopped Denver (with about six minutes left in the game) and then they came out with those three ridiculous plays.”
Ryan opted then to punt the ball back to Denver because, you know, his pride-and-joy defense will surely get it back in short order.
Duke didn’t even bother to wait around to see the Broncos bleed the clock down to about a minute (which could have been a lot less had Denver not inexplicably called for a pass play on its last third down). He was gone after the Jets punt.
“I knew,” said Duke, that quarterback Geno Smith wasn’t about to embark on a game-tying drive.
This disaster of a football team is depressing enough for me, but what does it say about all of you who are paying for the privilege of getting overly worked up every home game to the point where Duke brought out his old “Joe Must Go” and “Ditch Rich” paper bags on Sunday?
Not only that, but the Jets double down on the pain by fleecing their fans in so many ways, from the time they try to park their cars to those who lose their Jets “smart cards”–that curiously didn’t fit properly into their designated holder–and then have to pay $150 replacement fees.
Why did Duke even feel the need to go on Sunday when he and I had given up on this season two weeks ago?
“I only went because I paid for the tickets and I got to spend time with my 86-year-old father,” said Duke.
I get it—football games are meant to be shared with friends and/or family. The stadium provides a central meeting place for those who root for a common objective—usually a home-team victory (though Duke estimated that about 40 percent of Sunday’s MetLife crowd were Broncos supporters).
It helped that Sunday’s weather was accommodating and let’s not dismiss the fun that is the pregame tailgate. Duke actually thought about going just for the tailgate—he would enter the stadium by scanning his smart card (“to earn the ‘points’ on the card”, he said) and then turn right around and leave.
He can’t take much more of this, and he shouldn’t. He’s been waiting 46 years since the Jets’ last made an appearance on Super Bowl Sunday.
It’s one thing for a team to rebuild through the draft, like the way Idzik assisted in the rebooting in Seattle. But let’s not kid ourselves about where the Jets stand today. There are very few quality young players, outside of the defensive line, for whom the Jets can call their future core.
Most importantly, Idzik’s first go-round at selecting a franchise quarterback—the turnover-prone Smith—is a far cry from Russell Wilson. Smith wasn’t overly atrocious on Sunday as he was last weekend in San Diego, but so far it’s clear that any progress he’s made over his rookie season has to be measured in inches, not the miles necessary for him to be able to lead this team to beyond mediocrity.
Smith will get another start on Thursday because what’s the point of making a change to Michael Vick now? As my comrade The Green Lantern Jet so often says, Idzik’s plan all along was to make this season irrelevant. This season was set up so that wins were not a priority.
And it’s working to a tee. Even if it’s turning the faces of Gang Green’s fans red.
That’s why if the Jets indeed leave New England at 1-6 and the 60-plus degree days are but a memory, I expect that I’ll have Duke at my side on a baseball field when the Jets host the Bills in two weeks. He said he plans on eating the tickets.
“A lot of people (in our section) said, ‘You may not see me next game,’” said Duke. “My nephew said he’s not going to the next game. It’s really sad. After (the weather changes), there’s no reason to go. Why sit in traffic when there’s no chance (the Jets) will win the game?”
Jets fans can’t even burn their tickets any more. The paperless route reportedly saved the Jets millions in printing and postage expenses.
Again, it would have been nice if their customers saw that some of those savings went into something like, oh, I don’t know, maybe a second wide receiver besides Eric Decker who can beat his man off the line of scrimmage?
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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