Sunday the Jets faced the Bills and defeated them with ease. They also did it with their second and third string players. Even though they faced the Bills, they showed they wanted to go into the playoffs with a head of steam and prove they can hang with the big boys. Sometimes when your backs are against the wall and your critics doubt you, you have to prove them wrong. All Jet faithful hope they can bring that same energy into the playoffs when they face Indianapolis. They will need it against Manning and the Colts.
Out of the eight home games, the Jets had five games that had rain or other bad weather. Luckily today, it ended before the game started. As usual, I got there as early as possible. They let tailgaters in at 8 AM. With the fog and rain this morning, there were not too many people on line to get in. Many arrived about 30 minutes to an hour before kick off. You can tell who the die hard fans are. They are the ones who will get there as early as possible and tailgate in any weather. While trekking across the lots to get to the non PSL parking, one can see where they true fans were. The Non PSL parking closest to the stadium had a decent amount of vehicles. It seems the further out from the stadium you go, the more passionate the fans.
Met up with a crew that saw its tailgating numbers drop form about twenty to six or so. Two of those are newcomers who they met this season. They all talked about how many lines they have to stand in. From the minute they leave their parking are to the minute they have to get to their seats. They have to cross two elevated bridges and stand in lines to get into them. Then the lines to get into the stadium. Lines again to get onto the escalators to get to their upper tier seats. So no matter where they go in the stadium, they have to wait on lines. From their parking spot to their seat it takes about thirty minutes. And this is the non PSL parking section closest to the stadium.
Their belief is the real fans are the ones who will be there no matter what. Not show up less than an hour to go before kick off, pull into their green parking spot, and walk right into the stadium. The true fans are out there in any weather and make tailgating a part of the true game day experience. These are fans who had lower level seats in the old stadium, but because their pockets are not so deep they had no choice but to move to the upper tier of the stadium. Many share their sentiment, that the true fan was pushed upstairs to make way for the corporate or business ticket holder.
My associate Sixto and I took the elevated bridges over to see what they were talking about. I feel bad for those who have to wait on line like cattle moving through there. I can see why it can take forever. We walked across the green parking to the yellow side. There were not too many cars in the green lots, and this was around 10 AM. By the time we made it to the yellow parking we could see there were more people set up, still overcast and the occasional drops were falling.
I had a chance to talk with Cesar and Mark from the Jet Pack. They were established back in 1968 and had dozens upon dozens of people at every tailgate. This year, it was just them and maybe a few others sporadically. They have set up in a new location since their old one no longer exists. Even if they do not have their many friends or fellow Jet Pack members with them, they will still be out there every game. Their love of their team is what keeps them going. It does not matter if the others do not have tickets, they will keep going to every home game. After 40 plus years and countless organizational changes, these guys are the real fans. They know who the true fans are.
After Cesar, I met back with with David Fier. I first interviewed David two years ago. David tailgates in Lot L with Guyton, the Godfather of Lot L and the other tailgaters they bring. Guyton is one of those long time fans that tells stories like you were listening to your own grandfather, or father depending on your age. His story about meeting Joe Namath after being in the military is a great story. David takes his own money and feeds everyone at his tailgate. He spends around $1,000 per game on food, drinks, and much more to give his friends a good time not just before the game, but during as well.
David is one of a rare type of Jets fan. David used to have season tickets in the lower tier of the old stadium, not too far from the 50 yard line. But once the PSLs came about, he decided not to spend his money. The PSL’s for that area would have been $25000 per seat and he had four seats. Add the $700 per ticket per game to those seats and you have a $128K price tag. He did not want to move upstairs as he looks at that as a step backwards. Why after so many years of making his way down to the lower section would he want to go back up again? He would rather spend around $1000 per game tailgating and stay in the parking lot. This is a generous person. He feeds his friends and weary tailgaters for free and watches the game from an HDTV in the back of his truck.
Not too far from there was the L7 Tailgate crew who was started on Twitter. Yes, Twitter. They set up under the L7 sign in, obviously, Lot L7. It was an interesting tailgate. If you mentioned your name, you got a look. If you mentioned your Twitter handle, people knew who you were instantly. The main guys behind this tailgate were @L7Tailgate and @Fear_The_Panda. They met in college and seeing as they were both Jets fans, decided to get season tickets together. When they decided to tailgate, they put it out across Twitter to anyone who wanted to join them. Then the Twitter handle #L7Tailgate was created to make it more official. From their start they have had as little as 10 people to as many as 50.
The more they Tweeted about the tailgate, the more word got around. Many Twitter users followed @L7Tailgate and everyone else helped to spread the word. Tweeters like @laportal @greenlanternjet of CBSNewYork.com, @Fear_The_Panda, @e_man of JetsTwit, @LaurNYJ, @MikeCatNYJ, @Double_O_Six, @MissJtotheK, and many others. This is the first time I have heard Twitter or social media be used to fuel a tailgate party. I know there are a few blogs that talk tailgating, but those tailgates did not get started from social media or the internet.
The L7 Tailgate is free as well. They prepare food for everyone. Plus, you can bring what you want and add to the festivities. They have developed their own tailgate food, called the “Rex Ryan”. I finally had a chance to sample this caloric overload. It is a hot dog, wrapped in cheese, wrapped in a hamburger, wrapped in bacon. Yes, it is just as tasty as it sound. It is named the Rex Ryan because it is big, obnoxious, and they love it anyway. It was a really fun and welcoming tailgate to be a part of.
From there we ventured over to the Jet Nuts. These guys can be spotted by their bus, their third one for the past 21 years. These guys may have to call it quits. They are about $2500 in the hole as they charge at their tailgate. They have seen numbers diminish this year due to, what else, the PSLs. So they are not seeing the return on their investment like in previous years. If they can make that money back before ticket money is due by raffles or auctioning off memorabilia, then the Jet Nuts will be back next season. The Jet Nuts mainly get their contingent from word of mouth. They rely on others to spread the word to get people to come to their tailgate.
My main reason seeing the Jet Nuts was to talk with William Born. He is the main Jet Nut. The patriarch if you will. Bill has been going to games since the first days at Shea. He reminds me of that father or grandfather who can captivate your attention with his recollection of previous seasons. A very humble, likable guy. A quiet type whose conversation speaks louder than his voice. Bill watches the game from the bus. He can not walk to the stadium. The bus parking is too fair from the stadium. He has never stepped foot in the new stadium. A man of his years and mileage with the team can not even go inside to watch the team he loves.
He lets his kids, grandkids, and other relatives go inside for him. There is a family member or two that will stay with him as they watch the game in the comfort of their bus. As I sat there talking with him, I felt like I wanted to carry him to the stadium. I did what I could to keep the conversation going, it was just a great moment. Bill even knows that the ones who are in the stadium now are not the real fans, but corporate ones. People who have money to spend and not true Jets fans. NO matter the age, there is a like minded pattern here amongst the true Jets fans.
It seems the veteran tailgate groups rely on word of mouth, friends bringing friends and family to help populate their tailgates. The new younger fans know how to use social media to their advantage. Plus, the Jets players interact with the fans via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets. It helps create a more fan friendly environment between fans and players. Plus, tailgate groups have websites and Twitter handles now. The Jet Nuts have a website too. So one can just send out a Tweet and let others pass it along to get people to come on by. Word of mouth is still good, as many have relied on that for years.
But the torch has been passed to a new, younger, technically inclined fan. When you see Jets players thanking Tweeters on the jumbotron during the games, you know there is a change in the air. The younger fans still are not willing to part with money too fast. Some from the L7 Tailgate will not buy tickets next year. College comes first and money needs to go to that before any season tickets. The newer fan is anxious to get their seats and see the games while the more veteran season ticket holders care more about being treated fairly by the organization.
This season was very different from previous years. Not just because of the new stadium, PSL’s, and rejuvenated team. But for the first time, there was finally unity amongst many of the fans. Jets fans held their head higher, than in previous years. They see a difference in the team and it showed in the way they celebrated before every home game. I see more fans wearing their green and white away from the game more than ever. Then once tailgating, there is more pride. I am sure in future seasons, that pride will be there. Unless fans once again say, “Same old Jets”. Let us hope they do not return. The fans will always let them know. Especially in the parking lot.
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