One evening in the summer of 1965, my brother Michael came home from work and announced that he and a few friends bought season tickets to the New York Jets. The Jets used to be the Titans and played their games in the aging Polo Grounds. A year earlier, a name change and a new stadium meant that the New York Jets were the darlings of Queens and played their games in the brand new Shea Stadium.
I wasn’t sure what that had to do with me or with my brother Michael for that matter.
For as long as I could remember, we were fans of the New York Football Giants. Even though the New York Baseball Giants left New York years ago, you still had to add “Football” to the New York Football Giants for the sake of clarity.
There was Charlie Conerly, Frank Gifford, Sam Huff, Andy Robustelli, Jim Katcavage, Jimmy Patton, and my favorites YA Tittle and Del Shofner. All of New York, especially the Bronx, were New York Giant fans.
So, I greeted Michael’s announcement with more than a little incredulity.
“You’re going to the new league?” I asked.
“Yeah, I am. You can’t get tickets to a Giant game, and we can only see them seven times a year when they are on TV. Now, I’ll be going to seven games and will be watching Joe Namath!”
I had heard of this guy Namath from my friend Mike, so I knew something about him.
Anyway, the season started, and I began to watch games with my brother when the Jets were away and listened to Michael’s account of the games he attended. So, I was slowly coming around.
Then, a few games into the season, my brother had an extra ticket, and I went to the game with him.
That game changed me forever.
Seeing Namath in person as he speedily hobbled from the Center and almost immediately threw a dart to George Sauer or Don Maynard was exhilarating. These weren’t five-yard dump passes; they were thirty or forty-yard bombs. I never saw anyone throw a football like that.
So, fifty-five years later, I remain the Jet fan that was overwhelmed by the majesty of a Joe Namath pass.
When I was fifteen in 1965 or especially when I was eighteen and dancing on the frozen Shea Stadium field with my friend Mike after the Jets won the AFC Championship Game and we were going to the Super Bowl, I never thought that moment would be the last happy moment as a Jet fan.
Of course, we have had some other moments, but none that compare to winning a championship game and then the Super Bowl.
I can fully appreciate what the Cubs fans and even the Red Sox fans went through all those years in between championships. But it’s more than winning championships.
I can accept not making the Super Bowl. I can take not making the playoffs, but no Jet fan wants to be the laughing stock of all sports, not just football, is a cross I never expected to bear when I first saw Namath throw a pass.
When the Jets beat the Colts in Super Bowl III, we used to say that Namath or maybe Weeb Ewbank, sold their soul to win.
Not that it wouldn’t be worth it, but I would never have expected that I would be the one living in hell in payback to the devil.