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Jets Tailgating: One Era Ends, Social Media Spawns Another

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Jets Keep Winning, Veteran Fans Debate Future Tailgating

This past Thursday night, the Jets gave their fans a true win to celebrate over.  On Thanksgiving night, they beat the stuffing out of those turkeys called the Cincinnati Bengals.  Three wins in under a year.  The Jets defense came alive when the team needed them to the most.  That was a key piece missing the past few weeks.  Sanchez and the offense was picking up the slack for the defense.  But Revis and the Defense proved they want it just as bad.  Two interceptions, a fumble recovery, three sacks, and a safety kept their juices flowing.  It was great to finally see the Jets have a decisive win that they did not have to pull out in the final seconds of the game.

Where has Brad Smith been hiding his potential?  For weeks now he has barely cracked double digits when running the ball or in the Seminole package.  Mr. Every Position sparked New York to its second-best start after he scored on an 89-yard kickoff return — during which a cleat slipped off — and also had a 53-yard touchdown run.  Brad Smith is showing why he is an integral part of the Jets offense.  It seems when guys are needed on the team, they come to life.  I think some are still waiting for Joe McKnight to come around.

Now the Jets may be 9-2 and that gives many fans a reason to celebrate.  Everyone will.  Many younger fans have not seen a Jets team like this and older veteran fans have not seen a team this good in decades.  But it is still not enough to keep some long time tailgaters happy.  Long time tailgaters The Jet Nuts, Jet Pack, and a few others have considered putting a halt to their mass crowd tailgating ways.  They are not seeing the people they once saw come to their tailgates to pay.  Many blame it on friends opting out of the PSLs and continuing their season tickets.  The groups that charge per head is not seeing the same income come in to help fund a large tailgate party each game.

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Caesar who helped create the Jet Pack back in 1967 said over 80% of the crew did not continue their season tickets.  Now, they tailgate in two separate groups and do not really have the bond they used to have.  Cesar has tried to get Robert Parrin over at the other group to come over to no avail.  One group has about eight while the other has about a handful.  Really down from the dozens I have seen at their combined tailgate before.  To them, the game is not the same experience without being able to tailgate the way they used to, with their friends.

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The Jet Nuts though have a larger tailgate.  Sometimes catering to over 100 fans, depending on the game.  But this season has seen a considerable drop.  They say the crowds are not coming to them like they used to.  They are putting out more money and not seeing much of a return.  Not to mention the bus they drive up from Port Redding with the TV’s, industrial sized grills, and generations of family members.  The Jet Nuts are thinking this could be their last year of group tailgating.  They have been a focus on Jets tailgating for years and they are on their forth bus.

Some could argue the economy still has a hold on some, only paying for the essentials when it comes to the games.  Spending what they had on the PSL, parking pass, and tickets.  Maybe some do not have the $20-$30 per game for a tailgate.  IF you have a family, that can add up.  So it could be cheaper to do a few burgers and dogs yourself.  But people will always party in the parking lots.  You will always see the few and the many.  The groups who take up 4-5 spots who will cook for a few dozen friends.  Not to mention Lobel’s of New York and Weber Grills teaming up to do your tailgating for you, for a price.    They will offer grills to rent in the future.

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As long as the Jets keep wining, the fans will find a reason to celebrate.  But at the home games, not everyone will celebrate together.  Some are doing it by their cars, while their friends are doing it for the first time from their couches.  Many fans note he inside of the stadium has changed.  Not just the building, but the fans inside as well.  It is a different atmosphere all around.  From parking, to the building, to the fans seating around you, to how you leave the stadium parking.  Everyone sees a difference inside when attending a game.  But the biggest difference is how many new younger fans there are compared to the old regime of fans who were with the team since the New York Titans days, or even Shea Stadium.

Even if the Jets win the Super Bowl, it will not bring back the fans who have already left.  They will continue to cheer on their team.  Just no longer from seats inside the stadium.  But from the ones in front of their TV or at their favorite sorts bar.  Sometimes a bigger better stadium does not mean your fans will be better.  You never hear too many people recall memories from walking around a stadium, from visiting VIP lounges or suites.  Sitting at the stadium bar or carving station.  Not even from what concession stand they get their beer from.  They recall the memories of the game itself, memorable plays seen on the field watching with their friends.  Memories recapped while tailgating in the parking lot, passing those memories on to the next generation.

NY Jets Need To Show More Fan Appreciation

I hate the time in between home games.  I think some season it is too long.  The first week of the season was great, two homes games within a week.  The Jets have their home games spread out too far this season.  There are a lot of fans who feel the same way.  Others just go to those away games and tailgate there if they can drive to them.  The ones one has to fly to are not as easy to tailgate at.  Makes it hard to check your grill and cooler in at the terminal.  But some fans are so die hard they will follow their team anywhere.

All this time between games is hard when one loves to tailgate.  Yeah one can have friends over the house to watch a game on TV and barbecue but it is not the same.  It is never the same experience when you are not at the game.  I know many fans are experiencing it for the first time this season, not being a season ticket holder.  All because of not wanting to purchase a PSL.  Many of those fans had their seats for several years.  I am not talking about the ones who were only at Giants Stadium.  I am talking about the ones who came over from Shea Stadium and the Polo Grounds.  The ones who were there for the team and gave their hard earned money to support them when no one else would.

I am a big fan of Pink Floyd.  Great music, great stage shows, and their lyrics tell a story not too many know about.  Pink Floyd were formed in 1965, and originally consisted of Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Richard Wright, and Syd Barrett.  In 1968, David Gilmour joined the line-up. Barrett was soon removed, due to his increasingly erratic behavior due to his continued abuse of psychedelic drugs.  Once Barrett left the band, the other continued on to great worldwide success.  But it was Barrett’s songwriting ability and use of sound composition with Nick Mason that helped to develop what Pink Floyd would be without Barrett.  Once David Gilmour rook over for Syd Barrett, Roger Waters became the main songwriter.  The sound developed and all of the songs were dedicated to Syd Barrett.

Syd Barrett helped define who Pink Floyd would be.  If it is was not for his influence, there would be no albums like Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here among others.  They went on to dedicate every album, performance, and song lyrics to him.  They always wanted Syd to be there and be a part of the band.  But Syd sank deeper into his own self and psyche.  Pink Floyd never lost track of who helped to get them started and noticed for their music.  They always loved their friend and never lost sight of who they wanted to thank for their music.  Every concert began with them saying :”For Syd”.  Every album, every song has hidden meaning in wishing Syd was with them.

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The New York Jets and other professional teams should learn something from them.  Thanking those who have been with you since the very beginning.  Helping you get to the point where you are at now.  If it was not for the fans buying those season tickets for the Titans of New York games in the AFL, there would be no New York Jets today.  Those fans stuck with their team no matter what and were there for them and continued to buy those season tickets.  You will never see a fan be inducted into the Jets “Ring of Honor” and Fireman Ed does not count.  I am talking about the fans like Tommy Wilson, The Jet Pack and countless others who have been with the team for over 45 years.  The ones who have been fans longer than anyone has worked for the team.  Even longer than Woody Johnson being the owner.

The thank you does not need to come in a commemorative ticket holder to showcase your season ticket for being the first to have a PSL in the new stadium.  That goes out to everyone.  EVen stockholders get dividends if a company makes a profit.  Being a PSL holder in a way makes one a stockholder.  You paid your money to hold a seat and pay for the new stadium.  Ever PSL holder has stock in the new stadium.  Every PSL holder deserves a vote and a piece no matter how much they paid for one.  Instead, the team thanks the ones who pay more than those who just paid.  The Jets need to realize a thank you needs to be done on a more personal level.  I am sure Woody Johnson does not know or did not thank the dedicated fans who kept their seats since the 1960’s, since their “records only go back to 1977”.

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Myself With Woody Johnson

Mark Cuban as an owner even sits court-side by the fans and not up in his box.  When was the last time a Jets owner sat down with the fans?  I am not talking about Woody walking through the parking lot during tailgating because it is a nice PR moment and “shows” he cares.  I am talking about Woody Johnson sitting in the seats along the 50 yard line or in the end zone to see who the true fans are.  When was the last time he had a 40 plus year season ticket holder in his box as a thank you for all the years of dedicated to the team?  I am sure never.  That is something you will never see.  A team owner bringing regular fans into his owner’s box as a good gesture of thank you.  Only the ones who are high profile client’s, high profile friends (Michael Douglas), or anyone else that looks good on camera.  If he has brought up sick kids or ones associated with a charity then that is a good sign.

I guess what I am trying to say through all this and the Pink Floyd reference is that I do not forget those who helped to being the New York Jets to where they are today.  This documentary is about them and their dedication.  I am not giving them just one day or thanks but a film dedicated to them, and my father.  Thanking them for their years of service to a team who has not won a Super Bowl in over 40 years.  The Jets have the longest drought of winning a championship than any other New York area professional team.  The Nets won the ABA championship in the 1970’s and I am counting that.  A highlight reel with their moments, something no professional team has ever done for fans.

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I do not think any team, including the Jets have a fan relations coordinator.  Someone who is the link between the fans and the team.  This is something that is needed.  These teams need to keep in mind if there were no fans, they would have no one to play in front of.  No sponsors, no endorsements, just a bunch of guys playing ball.  The fans are the ones who make professional sports a success.  They are the ones who should be thanked in more ways than one.  Not thanked because of how big their wallet is.  I guess it is up to me to thank the Jets fans for their years of dedication.  Their years of coming to cold weather games sitting outside when the team was 4-12.  It takes a fan to thank the fans.

NY Jets Tailgating Creates Friends & Memories

I have talked before how there are a lot of new faces in the Jets parking lot during tailgating.  There are also fewer recognizable faces from years past.  Not only that I see, but others see less and less of their friends who did not get a PSL.  As the Jets organization pressed hard for the PSL’s, many long time ticket holders felt pushed away by the organization.  While others, felt they had no choice if they wanted to continue to see their team live.  Everyone has a choice, no one can say they were pressured into buying a PSL.  The pressure comes from yourself, and maybe some friends who already made their decision.  Some do not do it for the game alone, but for the tailgating as well.  It has become such a ritual for some, their warm up to the game itself.

The more I walk around during tailgating, the more I see friends and family partying like it was a major holiday.  Everyone comes to the game with what they feel are the essentials.  The necessary items to make their pregame ritual the best it can be.  The long time Jet faithful feel that friends are the best for the games.  Who better to share it with than those who you have followed the team with since the Polo Grounds or Shea Stadium.  It is the continuing of these memories that makes the next one that much better.  You can consider your memories your own personal NFL Films that many have viewed but only your friends will remember the way you do.

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There are some necessities to tailgating.  A grill, burgers, beer, chips, and a spot to have it all in.  Some prefer to add a lot more to make it exciting for them and their friends.  You can add a tent, a 10×10 canopy, or for the major league tailgater, a camper.  One camper I walked around in cost the fan about $75,000 complete with Jets memorabilia, fridges, bed, flat screen, and everything else he feels is needed for a Jets tailgate.  Some are towing grills/smokers behind their vehicles.  Nothing says tailgating like burgers for 120 people.  Now, one can have Lobel’s of NY and Weber grills prepare it all for them.  Just sit back and fork over your cash.

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Other people feel there are other necessities to tailgating.  Some prefer to grill steaks, lobster, pork chops, crab legs, sausage, vodka chicken parmigiana, and other foods based on the Jets opponents.  For the Patriots, some had New England clam chowder, seafood jambalaya, mussels, and a Tom Brady jersey over open coals.  Now a couple of guys said a necessity was hot girls at a tailgate.  When one is young and drunk, one will say anything.  But everyone agreed you do need close and dear friends to make every tailgate that much better.  Now one group forgot their propane, but they did not forget their friends.  So it really does not matter how big of a set up you have or what you prepare, as long as you have friends around you to share in the festivities.

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The Jet Pack, founded by Robert Parin in 1967, was all about fun with friends before the game.  IN  years past, they always had each tailgate a themed one.  They would do a pig roast one game, seafood buffet another game, and other great themed tailgates.  They were even responsible for the Spark Plug Award.  At the final tailgate of each season, it would be given to who the fans thought the season’s MVP was.  The last one was handed out in 2008.  As the members of the Pack dwindled due to many not investing in a PSL, they stopped the award.  Last Sunday, only a handful out of the 70-80 that had accumulated over the years of the Jet Pack were back.  Robert and a few dedicated others only had two small grills going compared to mega set ups they had grown accustomed to.  The prices kept many away.  Now Robert and others sit farther away from where their seats had been previously.

It does not matter how much the Jets charge for PSL’s, tickets, parking, or overpriced food inside the stadium.  Fans will always set up in the parking lot like nomads in the desert, looking for a place to rest, eat, and celebrate before moving on to their final destination.  That is something the Jets can not take away from their fans, no matter how confusing or expensive they make their parking.  I guess that is why I enjoy walking around and talking to everyone there.  It is where Jets fans show their true self.  Not just inside being led by Fireman Ed, but outside getting ready for the battle yet to be witnessed.

The Jets seem to have a separation between themselves and their fans. Many fans I talk to feel the Jets really do not listen to them or care about them. I guess that is why I listen to the fans so much and want to get their message across. Maybe if the Jets had people in the parking lot talking to fans rather than having employees paint peoples faces for $10 they could get more in tun with their fans. If anything, I would like my documentary to let teams know what they could do to come down to their fans level. To really let your fans know that you care about more than their checkbooks.

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