Fireman Ed’s stepping down as Jets “Superfan” provides us all with an opportunity to take stock of how much has deteriorated in stadium seats since he first became the face of the Jet fan some thirty odd years ago. We have traveled considerably from the once standard “suit and fedora” event wearing garb, to the jersey numbered taunters and instigators that many of us have become,. Like the Jets play on the field this season, behavior in the stands has become at times, deplorable. It is hard to blame Ed for choosing to no longer be the target of other people’s anger, yet fans themselves are not the only ones deserved of the scrutiny while our decorum grows increasingly volatile.
Former New York Knicks legend Bill Bradley noted in the Harvey Araton book “When The Garden Was Eden,” that the connection between the city and the championship teams that he played on in 1970 and 1973 was a collective one steeped in a mutual exchange of “brotherhood, cooperation, excellence, teamwork, joy, and self fulfillment.” The evolution of live sporting events that have led us towards PSL’s, and the rising cost of game ticket prices have since altered the relationship between fan and player that existed during Bradley’s years as a player . The same era in which Ed began leading the J-E-T-S chant.
The more innocent notion of spectating and cheering on one’s home squad, has been replaced today by a greater need within the fan for his or her team to “win now.” An emotion that runs parallel with the current sense of entitlement for the loyalist. Paying an arm and a leg to witness the journey, now means that results must validate the investment. When home teams fail to deliver, the frustration in home stadiums, as we all have seen and experienced, grows faster and more ferociously than ever before.
Few wore replica jerseys and colors that publicly promoted one’s own leanings back when Ed Anzalone first became “Fireman Ed.” Merchandise was more kitschy, less plentiful, and overall, less available in the early 1980′s. Going back in time prior to the dress down relaxed wear of the 1970′s, attendance for public events including sporting contests was still further characterized by the more formal suit and tie. Fights and arguments still took place above playing fields during television’s golden age, but the societal code of conduct as a whole, was more polite. Such as during times when people sat down to watch a game together.
Nowadays, booze filled stadium-goers promote their loyalty with every type of visual gear imaginable in the form of jerseys, sweatshirts, caps, and more. You name it, the NFL makes it. At the risk of those who sport the attire, becoming reachable targets of displeasure.
Visiting team supporters are often harassed simply for wearing the “wrong colors” from the minute they enter any lion’s den. In the case of Ed, his backing of embattled quarterback Mark Sanchez with the number “6″ during Sanchez’s unforgettable gaffe of crashing into G Brandon Moore, turned Ed’s own allies into enemies last Thursday night. This during an embarrassing 49-19 loss on national TV to the hated Patriots. In a game that consisted of never ending Jet follies that reminded too many in attendance of the ugly days that marred the Rich Kotite era.
When Jets owner Woody Johnson acquired polarizing backup Tim Tebow back in March to both add a playmaker while increasing merchandise sales, he probably failed to consider what the combination of rising prices for a struggling team with poor quarterback play, would bring out in his own customers by late November.
Florham Park’s constant presentation of the Jets as a viable Super Bowl contender has not helped the situation out either. The Jets are not the only team in professional sports however, that justifies the high cost to attend games by selling the vision that glory for all those who come along for the ride will be had by season’s end. Many clubs promote the fool’s gold view that their team has, as coach Rex Ryan noted regarding his club in September, “the most talent” it has possessed in years, in order to ramp up the excitement.
It would be foolish to believe that society will ever return to the days before seasons were measured by trophies, when a team’s likability, and improvement from one year to the next carried a heavy merit. Fireman Ed too, did not walk out on a die hard fan base that has taken his cue for the past three decades, because the Jets will not be returning the Super Bowl this year. He simply stood up for himself as a patron unwilling to take the heat for the shoddy play of the team that he lives for.
It truly is a shame that it had to come to that. Not only for Fireman Ed, but for many others who simply seek the enjoyment of supporting their team in person. Only to exit with personal shame and grief on top of a pitiful performance they spent their hard earned money to see.