Sunday, August 21, 2011

Training Camp 2011

At his destination
Finding the Jets' training camp at Florham Park, NJ is a lot like trying to find the prize in a massive box of Cracker Jacks. It's there, you know it's there, it says it's there, you have no idea why it's taking so long to get there, and you start to think it's all a vast trick they're playing on you. In a way, that makes sense. No football team wants everybody to stop in and say hi during the summer, and since the Jets are still one of the franchises that doesn't charge tickets for admission, it's still worth it. If you want it bad enough, you'll figure it all out.

There are no signs anywhere in town letting you know this way or that is the right direction, but there are Jets flags everywhere to let you know that geographically you are in the right village. Finally, we clearly went in the back way, following the compass on my wife's iPhone, or maybe it was the front way, I don't know which, passing through an AT&T business park. Suddenly a cop directs you past the main entrance, and you head out to a vast parking lot that looks as old as the franchise itself, all covered with weeds and broken asphalt. You are then guided by silent, dehydrated parking attendants to the exact spot where they want you to park, and you walk the length of ten football fields to the shiny silver mother ship of the Jets' new summer facilities. It is the last public day of training camp 2011. You are home.

LT, Jim Leonhard - behind them a place 
where you can register for your wedding.
This was my first time here, so I couldn't help but compare past and present. For the players, it's obviously better than Hofstra; for the fans, not so much. With fewer fields on which to play at Hofstra, all the players used to have to practice  on the same field, which they still sort of do now, though the punters and placekickers had a larger space of their own for practice. There are fewer seats for fans to sit and watch things up close, but the ones available are much closer than in the past; if you got there early, you got a good spot. But by the time the first, second, and third strings were practicing against one another, I noticed that the players standing on the sidelines were actually blocking the fans' view. So where we ended up standing, at the end zone of the main practice field, leaning up against the artificial fencing like refugees, ended up being a pretty good place to stand and observe. Hofstra offered better seating, but the players must love the new building, which they no longer need to share with a college. Local suburban residents might even mistake it for a Crate and Barrel.

Of course, Shonn Greene was not playing due to a skin infection, so Joe McKnight played a great deal, as did Chris Jennings who was sharing #32 with another guy. From our vantage, Sanchez looked sharp enough, but threw a few worrisome errant passes. Plaxico Burress caught a few nice passes; one that elicited the biggest cheers from the crowd was a long one from Sanchez, and I found myself going right along with the crowd. Many people mumbled around me about how happy they were to see Jim Leonhard play, and he was pushing Dustin Keller and Tomlinson around, letting them know he was there. Mark Brunell still seemed to hobble a little (as did Plaxico) so Greg McEvoy (wearing fellow Alabaman Richard Todd's old #14) took a lot of snaps. From our end it was easier to see how the offense did.

My wife took the photos, and she caught some good candids:

Plaxico Burress, lining up
Derrick Mason, Mark Sanchez
Plaxico, in thought
Mark Brunell, still injured

Nick Mangold and Rex Ryan
We play the Bengals tonight in exhibition without Brunell and Mason, and there still plenty of injuries to be concerned about on the defense, especially to Bart Scott. It is hard to remember who was and was not playing on defense that afternoon, and since I'm more of a historian than a reporter, I admit that I wasn't looking hard enough. The crowd was a little more interesting in a way. A woman from North Jersey was excited to be there with her husband and son, and they let us have a closer view after standing at the fence for a while. She was a math teacher, about as eager to go back to work next week as I am, which is not very much. It was hot out, very humid, and a young woman behind me collapsed, and we all went scurrying to find water and shade for her. 

Another guy with his two little kids was there, and we chatted about our worries for the season. His little son kept bugging him about getting water, and the Dad kept telling him that he couldn't pull it up out of the ground. I was with the Dad on this one. "You said you wanted to see Revis," he told his son. "He's right there," he said to the boy, pointing at the field. When my wife and I started for home, she laughed and said, "Leave it to a Dad to not think to bring bottles of water to the practice field," and I laughed because I wouldn't have thought of that either.

We had Tom Moore's view of the offense the entire time
After about and hour and a half, we got our fill. We stopped by the Jets Shop, and I bought nothing, which is on the same par as a struggling diabetic abstaining in a candy store. The inflatable bouncing things were there for kids; a bunch of high school girls were enduring the tropical sun while guiding little ones through its obstacle courses. I'm glad I'm not young anymore. 

It's his real spot.
And we found Woody Johnson's parking spot inside the facility area. There's no way you can park there. My wife and I had the following exchange:

"Is that supposed to be a joke?"

"No, that's his real name," I said.

"I know that's his real name. Are they just kidding about that being his spot?"

"Oh," I said. "I don't know. I don't think so."

We bought a $4 bottle of water and left. This time we were able to take what seemed like the front way; to tell you the truth, it was only more obvious because a electric construction sign was temporarily placed at the entrance flashing, "JETS FANS ---->" on and off.

It was a good visit. I felt like it made me that much ready to gird my loins for another tough season with its high and low expectations. It was especially good to be around nothing but Jets fans in a place specifically designed for our team - not somewhere we share with someone else, or a place with another entity's name on it. In this sense, Woody Johnson deserves his own parking spot. I will park miles away for that.

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