Monday, August 6, 2007
The great second wave of blight in Jets history would begin with the Ken O'Brien era, but every Jets fan really knows it most likely came with the passing of Shea Stadium at the end of 1983; or rather, it was the ejection of the New York Jets from the ruddy, badly surfaced football grounds of Shea. The New York Mets had formally requested the city give the Jets the heave-ho, and the Jets left New York to play in Giants Stadium, in the Meadowlands of East Rutherford, New Jersey.
It made for a perfect closure to my childhood. Shea Stadium had been the terrible house in which I had been raised, but it was the dump I called home. I can't make the memories speak through the games I saw there because the games are now romantic illusions - moments so cherished that if I'm still this demented a fan when I die, I will choose to relive them again and again in nirvana.
I remember once sitting beneath the Shea mezzanine during a game and felt cold drops of water pelt me on the head and thinking that a menacing bully lurked somewhere around. I was pointed by a fan nearby to a leak of acidic water from the level above that was also permanently staining my jacket with droplets of industrial Jet-green slime. I remember once watching the scoreboard flash "NEW YORK JETS VS. MIAMI SEAHAWKS" as the Jets prepared to take on the Dolphins.
I remember the embarrassing baseball diamond showing through the football field in September. I remember the feedback from the loudspeaker, and the airplanes whose serial numbers and landing gear tire brands could be easily read from the Loge section as they passed overhead. You learned to pace your conversation around domestic flights coming into LaGuardia, and your ears rang from the hissing of airplanes, never from the roar of the crowd. (Do I ever remember cheers? I remember sighs, pouts, screams of agony and despair, mocking laughter, and the boos -the incessant, blood curdling boos).
I remember the beverages in the waxy Harry Stevens cups and the numbing wind and drizzle. I prayed for a sunny day upon a visit to Shea, and when I got one on the day the Jets' opened the 1978 season with a victory over the Dolphins, I felt somehow as if the sun garishly revealed the stadium's insecurities a bit too forwardly - as if its inconveniences were better suited to another blatantly disappointing performance under the skies of a soft autumn day.
I remember when the fans booed Governor Hugh Carey while the city's Mayor Ed Koch was cheered during the pregame festivities honoring the '68 coach, Weeb Ewbank. Why did they boo Carey and not Koch? There had been a dispute over funding for the city. Dad tapped someone in front of him and asked.
"Just getting ready for another season," the man said.
The Jets and I would cross the Rubicon to our respective territories - they to Jersey, I to adolescence, knowing that pieces of what we left behind were appropriately richer and more intrinsically ours than anything we would know in our new worlds. The Jets might have stayed in Queens a bit longer, but their staying at Shea wouldn’t have offset the ravages of their next few years’ performances. Time marches on. With a 34-7 loss to Pittsburgh, the Jets said farewell to Shea in appropriate Jets-style.
I didn’t cry. I kept close to the things I had loved as a boy: its frame gray and lifeless, punctuated by those garish, corrugated blue and orange aluminum shingles that were removed even before the Jets left. Maybe when the cheesy shingles were gone, the magic of staying at Shea was gone, too. They had been placed there originally to spruce up the hulking concrete arena during the '64-'65 World's Fair next door. Could the removed shingles of Shea have survived a better fate? Maybe they were piled onto the sea-faring barges that carry New York City's trash around the world in search of a home. I wonder what a dock worker in New Orleans, Villa Cisneros or Caracas might have made of a corrugated pumpkin or royal blue shingle if he had seen it.
Trash. Just as Leon Hess viewed Shea itself, the shingles would probably be viewed as ugly, with no purpose. Having shed all the symbolism of their dwindling glories, the Jets were now willing to innocently take on their troubled maturation with Ken O'Brien at quarterback into Giants Stadium. I cannot remember if I felt it boded well or not, but I have since then never met an older Jet fan who does not miss watching a game at Shea, and like demented pilgrims, Jets fans are looking forward to the day we return to our homeland.
Yet with the passing of the West Side Stadium, and a newly planned Jersey venue to be shared with the Giants, this will never be. A Jets stadium in Manhattan would have been like a bacon cheeseburger served with fries at the Four Seasons. We know where our heart's true home is - Queens. Something was left behind in Flushing Meadow, and it would take the Jets years to retrieve even a semblance of their greatness again once they left Shea. We now see the whole thing as a terrible omen from the start.