Father & Son: A Jets Bond Like No Other

Stephen Russo shares his story of he and his dad’s Jets fandom.

The first six weeks of this NFL season have been difficult for me. Not because the Jets are 1-4, I’ve grown accustomed to that, unfortunately. However, it’s because this is the first time not sharing it with father in my 36 years on this Earth. He was the greatest man I knew. He was smart, witty, and kind. He was my best friend, and we lost him to a 4+ year battle with stage 4 brain cancer about two months ago. Dealing with something like this is never easy. There’s no playbook for it. There’s no right or wrong. You feel what you feel and you don’t hide from it. There are times when I am ok, and I know that he is in a better place because the last few months were tough to watch him go through. There are other times when I am mad that a man that was so unbelievably intelligent could get a disease that ultimately stripped him of his ability to share his thoughts with his loved ones. And then there’s sadness. That never goes away. I’m sad that I lost my best friend in this world way too soon. He was only 71 – cancer sucks.

A huge part of my relationship with my dad was our die-hard Jets fandom. He was hooked in 1965 when the Jets drafted Namath. The story goes that Joe Willie signed a deal with the devil to get the Jets that Super Bowl victory in 1969… if that’s the case, my dad would have handed him the pen. He was actually a fan of YA Tittle and the Giants until the Jets drafted Namath, and that instantly drew my father in. It was over from there. 3 years later, the Jets are beating the Colts 16-7 to win Super Bowl III and it was over. At 19 years old, my father was done for. Therefore, I never had a chance.

So much of my childhood was centered around Jets football. And boy did I love football Sundays with him. A nice crisp in the air, the pregame shows on the television, getting set up for a full day of action. There was nothing like it. I’d beg him at halftime to go out in the back yard and throw passes to me… and he’d always oblige. During the ’95 and ’96 seasons under Rich Kotite, the Jets were especially bad. They went a combined 4-28 in those two seasons and therefore were never on regular TV. My father, amazing man that he was, would take me to lunch every Sunday to a sports bar so we could watch the Jets lose together. Imagine the money he spent in two years just to watch the Jets lose!! There are also fond memories too. I remember when Pat Leahy kicked a game-winning field goal in 1991 to send the Jets to the playoffs over the Dolphins and we danced in the family room singing “Happy Days Are Here Again.” When the Jets beat the Patriots in New England in the 2010 playoffs, I ran up and down my street in a snowstorm doing “the Jet” like Braylon Edwards or Santonio Holmes while my father cracked open a bottle of 25-year-old Macallan Scotch. I distinctly recall us collectively cussing out Eric Barton for a 4th down roughing the passer call in the 2004 playoffs against San Diego, or when the air was sucked out of the Meadowlands, and my family room, when Vinny Testaverde tore his achilles tendon in week 1 of 1999. And when Roethlisberger rolled out and hit Antonio Brown on 3rd & 6 in Pittsburgh to seal the win and crush our souls.

The good. The bad. The ugly. We were there through it all. No matter what. Every season’s start was filled with hope, which usually crashed and burned shortly after. But hidden in there were shocking upsets and amazing wins and great plays – things that we would reminisce about as we shared a beer on the deck on a summer night as we talked about the upcoming season, convincing ourselves that this was the year we were going 12-4.

My father was the Best Man at my wedding. He gave an amazing speech, one that is remembered 10 years later by everyone who attended. In the speech, he said “Someone once said that marriage is a 50/50 partnership, but I can tell you that person knows nothing about women or fractions! Likewise, I’ve been married for 38 years and, truth be told, I have no idea what I’m doing, but… I’ll try: Stephen, everything will be fine as long as you remember to keep saying those three little words: ‘You’re right, Stephanie.’ Stephanie, everything will be fine as long as you remember that Sundays in the fall are for subs and Jets football.”

For all the pain and suffering that we go through as Jets fans, it’s the good and the bad that keep us coming back. It’s the memories along the way. It’s the Sunday routine, whether you’re at a sports bar or home with a couple of submarine sandwiches, that’s where the fun is. As I got older, started a family of my own and moved out of town, the times that I got to sit and watch the Jets with my father became less frequent, but we would still text as if we were sitting right next to each other.

My dad started me early and got me hooked. And for all the jokes made, I’m forever grateful to him for making me a Jets fan. My son, Jack, is 7 now, and I am certainly following in my dad’s footsteps like Jack is in mine. There is no way out for Jack and he knows what he’s in for.

So, for as bad as the Jets have been, and for all the jokes I get from strangers when they see Jack in a Jets t-shirt and ask me if “you’re really going to do that to your son?” My answer is unequivocally yes. Because sharing the Jets, and all that comes with being a fan of this team, with my dad was the best thing in our relationship – and I wouldn’t trade any of that time back.

I can only dream that one day, Jack looks back on this time with me in the same way.

My father and me at Jets Training Camp in 2010 in Cortland, NY

My Father and Jack before watching a Jets game in 2014

My Father and me on my Wedding Day, July 2011