This is, on the surface, the tale of the lamest NFL Draft party of all time. But it's also a story about class and about fans who project their own anxieties on their favorite teams and about teams that respond in kind.
This is why we can't have nice things.
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A lifelong Jets ticketholder, whom we'll refer to as Jeff — "If possible I'd prefer my story to remain anonymous," he wrote to us. "I wouldn't want my tickets revoked" — passed along a tragic tale of his grandfather, the Jets, the Giants, and the side-by-side draft parties that told you everything you need to know about either team.
It all started in 1964, when Jeff's grandfather and his "fellow working class, Irish drinking buddies" began attending games at Shea Stadium for the brand new expansion team New York Mets. The Jets played at Shea then, and his grandfather became enamored with Gang Green over numerous casual beers with some of the players during summer Mets games. That year, he switched his allegiances from the Giants and bought Jets season tickets.
"He liked the Jets because they felt like him," Jeff explained.
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New York football fans have long ascribed these sorts of distinct personalities to their two hometown teams, with the Giants typecast as the tonier "establishment" franchise and the Jets the young Everyman scrappers, perennially down on their luck. That the two shared "Giants Stadium" could not be better scripted.
But that stadium is now a thing of the past. A lead piece in the Wall Street Journal last week examined the "forced marriage" between the two teams, a union that has been tested of late as the unhappy couple tries to build their new broken home.
The article has the obligatory good-ol'-boy wistfulness (Wellington Mara, bless his dear heart, and Leon Hess agreed to shack up over "lunch in a back room at La Caravelle"), not to mention a whiff of that "white guys drive like this, black guys drive like that" stuff so beloved by the Journal (the newspaper does with class signifiers what Sinbad did with race.) And then comes the adorable hate-flirting between the two teams:
When the Giants demanded access to the high-end portable toilets the Jets had brought in for tailgaters, the Jets demanded they help cover the costs. The Giants responded, as the leaseholder, by ordering the Jets to remove the toilets immediately. Ultimately, state officials had to intervene.
"I'll turn this car around right now!" is what the state officials probably said.
This article, part of the Journal's shiny new "Greater New York" section focusing on local culture, real estate, media, and sports, was a fittingly meta way to commence publication. A week ago Monday, the Journal took a break from crowing pugnaciously about its new toy to actually, you know, launch the damn thing. It was a festive occasion, culminating in Rupert Murdoch "swatt[ing] the air disgustedly" during a celebratory fete and saying, of rival New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.: "He should get a life."
It was the latest in a series of spastic open-palmed slaps — passive-aggressive photo selection, allegations of plagiarism, poached reporters, prissy memos — thrown between the overlords of the two media empires. Considering the noxious fumes of petty rivalry that Murdoch presumably has piped in through the newsroom vents — I'm guessing that's what the fuck Robert Thomson meant by "argy-bargy," at any rate? — it was unsurprising and altogether fitting that the lead sports story in the inaugural Greater New York issue was itself about some local bitchitude. And it, in turn, begat more meows: Reacting to news that Jim Baumbach said thanks-but-no-thanks to the Journal after just a few weeks and returned to his native Newsday, Giants rep Pat Hanlon Twittered derisively, "Would've done U-Turn too after ystrdys NYG-NYJ piece."
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For decades, Jeff's grandfather and his five sons attended game after game in their Shea Stadium seats. (Their sister, Jeff's mother, wasn't allowed.) The team moved to the Meadowlands, and the family got an "ideal" location: on the lowest level behind the Jets sideline, just under the mezzanine overhang and right on the aisle.
By the mid-naughties the tickets had been bequeathed to Jeff … just in time for the talk of a new stadium for which funds would be raised, in part, by the implementation of the dreaded personal seat license system. Long-time season ticketholders would pay large sums of money — up to $27,500 — to maintain primo seating. And that didn't include the per-game ticket costs.
According to the Journal it was the Jets, in all their overcompensating snobbery, that had agitated for the "sleek" state-of-the-art stadium — the Giants had lobbied for a "more traditional brick structure" — whose costs ended up ballooning to the $1.6 billion that necessitated the cushion provided by the PSLs. And so Jeff's own costs inflated:
At $10,000 a seat plus a per game jump of 195%, we couldn't justify it. However, the Jets allowed people to move to the 3rd level of the new stadium based on seniority. Because our account began in their inaugural season at Shea in 1964, we thought we were good. Wrong. The Jets only had records from 1977 on. Therefore, whether someone got their tickets in the fall of 1976 or the summer of 1964, everyone was equal.
It's not surprising that the Jets office bungled this process, although it's particularly painful that their halfassed recordkeeping most directly screwed over their longest-running ticketholders. The WSJ's Odd Couple piece shows that from the very start, the team viewed the PSLs as something of an act now! moneymaking gimmick rather than a distasteful (if lucrative) fundraise that could not be avoided. The latter was the view of the Giants, who finally acquiesced to the Jets' idea in mid-2008 with the economy on the cusp of freefall, but not before pulling a move so bitchily undermining that it ought to be incorporated into the curriculum at the Nightingale-Bamford School for Girls. Via the WSJ again:
In June 2008, however, the Giants scheduled a conference call without telling the Jets. During the call, Mr. Mara announced that the team would sell the licenses — but added that the Giants regretted the move and were even remorseful about the effect it might have on their fans.
The call left the Jets steaming. Team officials say the team had planned a marketing campaign spinning the sale as a positive thing: an opportunity for their fans to join an exclusive club and own an asset that could appreciate over time.
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With the cover charge for this "exclusive club" prohibitively steep, Jeff ended up downgrading to season tickets "about 6 miles away from the field" that did not require him to purchase a PSL. Which is why, when he got an email touting a posh draft party at the Meadowlands' Gridiron Club for all PSL owners, he knew something was up:
Knowing that I wasn't a PSL owner and that this email had been sent to me in error, I immediately responded that I would love to go and I would be bringing a guest. I wanted this to blow up in their face. It did. About 3 hours later I received an apology email stating that it had been sent in error, that another corrected email would go to PSL owners, and that there were a limited number of tickets available to the General Public with a link attached. I followed the link, got 4 tickets and was happy. I figured they made good on a screw up. Wrong.
With three friends, Jeff made the great schlep to Jersey, "expecting a nice indoor lounge with flatscreens," he said. "What we got was something that looked like a concrete cave…It was a wind tunnel, basically outside, with $9 beers." Adding insult to injury was a nearby escalator, guarded by a fleet of team personnel, escorting PSL-holder guests up to the fancier — and free-er — VIP lounge.
And then there were the sales reps. "You couldn't walk five feet without tripping over one of them," said Jeff's buddy, whom we'll refer to as Sean. "All they were interested in doing was selling more seats. It was the fucking men's warehouse in there." (Jeff had his own smarmy descriptors: "They looked like 27 year old young male clones that you always see at Enterprise Rent-A-Car or from a scene in Boiler Room," he said.)
Bored and antsy, Sean broke free of the shackles, slipping past a rope barrier leading further into the stadium and finding himself alone on the second floor concourse, where he walked halfway around the stadium to where the Giants draft party was being held.
So I say fuck it, head down, and see if I can get in. No one gives me a second look, I head into a pretty nice looking club. Bunch of people milling around, eating, watching the 40 inch flatscreens all over the walls. I'm greeted immediately by some Budweiser chick hawking Bud Wheat. Free booze. Nice. I head over to the salads, grilled chicken heros, huge meatball subs, pizza, hot dogs, and a ton of other food. I grab a dog with the works, and again, it's all complimentary. I'm blown away. The spread is better, and then there's a full bar in the middle. Absolutely everything on the Giants side is free. On top of that, besides an info table, I didn't see one ticket rep on the Giants side.
Before returning to his friends, who were still stranded in the green-and-white concrete wasteland, Sean "looped back around so I'd end up at the top of the forbidden escalator on the Jets side," he said. "The Giants side was nice, but this place was unreal. Wood everything, big sofas and chairs, 3 or 4 different food stations and a huge bar." There was even a crackling fireplace, though no plush bearskin rugs. It was also far more sparsely populated than the Giants section, since the lay season ticketholders were sequestered outside.
Sean returned, four beers deep, to his friends. "My fury had peaked at this point," said Jeff. "While he was gone I had four beers as well, but for $36. I lamented over an $8.50 meatball sub." The group figured they'd try once again to infiltrate the Giants section, but this time they were met at the door — to be not interrogated, but greeted with drinks.
Jeff wasn't hungry, but he ate a second hoagie on principle. "I decided to average out my meatball sandwich to $4.25 each by eating another that didn't cost a penny," he said. "It was glorious."
We had just been treated like lepers on the Dark Side only to be treated like Kings in the promised land. One of the cooks was closing up around 10:00 and came up to us, unprompted and said, "Hey guys, I'm closing up. Want some sandwiches for the road?" WTF? I was blown away. Then I was pissed. I thought of my Grandfather, I thought of how many times he found the money he didn't have to pay for his seats. I thought of him telling me how he met some Jets players in a bar inside of Shea Stadium, and had a beer with them. He told me how the ushers at Shea would treat you with respect whether you had a suit and a box seat, or some workboots, ripped jeans and bleacher seat. Hoodwinked by the Jets and their sales creeps. Blown away by the Giants and their class. What a difference in how to treat somebody.
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I'll preempt your jaded rancor by saying it now: In the grand scheme of life, Jeff's story is deserving of only the world's smallest violin, played by Phil Mushnick. Plus, who actually travels to the Meadowlands for a draft party anyway?
But consider the history: The Jets organization has long alternately prided and martyred itself on existing in the shadow of the Giants, on being the working-class team. The WSJ catfight article calls the Jets "the poor sister," though the term I've heard used more often is "second-class citizens." (The most recent wails of which came after a secret coin toss by Roger Goodell — he's been taking lessons in totalitarian rule from David Stern, no doubt — granted the Giants the new stadium's first game.)
Like most second-class citizens — your fat playground bully, your doucherapey frat boy — the Jets organization flexes its muscles at the weakest creatures within reach: in this case, its own fans, the loyal sacks who've endured decades of failure in someone else's stadium for no reason other than that's what their fathers did, and their grandfathers too. These fans should be eagerly anticipating the season after last year's playoff surge, but instead of looking forward to The Sanchize and Rex Ryan on Hard Knocks they're too busy battling insult and injury.
It's pretty pathetic, this projecting of insecurity, this weird inability to navigate social norms. The Giants at least have the good sense to feign discomfort with robbing their fans blind. But the Jets? Where they once held themselves as the working-class counterpart to the old money of the Giants, they have ladder-climbed to the point that they now behave like striving arrivistes with a bad case of Asperger's. The Jets are Rupert Murdoch, waving their hands dismissively, telling people to get a life. The Jets are Sammy Glick. The Jets are America's Team.
Photos courtesy "Jeff"