I’ve never been a big sports fan. Sure, once it gets to time for the baseball playoffs, I’ll usually watch some or all of the games, but it’s never been something that I’ve arranged my day around. The exception has been that for 45 seasons the guys in my family have followed the New York Jets as season ticket holders.

For the first year or so, it was my father and some work associates, joined by my brother and myself when we could. On a few occasions, by grandfather came, too, and we had three generations enjoy the game together. We had our green and white hats (most people wore the old wool hats rather than the baseball hats that are more popular now) and our green and white scarves. Mom found a new source of ideas for Christmas presents, and we got green socks and similar items in December. We’d pack up blankets and head over to Shea stadium, listen to the New York Jets band play from the open end of the stadium and watch the little guy climb into the little jet and drive up and down the sideline whenever OUR team scored while jets from LaGuardia flew over head and an icy wind blew off of Flushing Bay.

In the beginning, a lot of the fans who attended the games with us were New York Giants fans who couldn’t get tickets for those games, and settled for Jets games. Some still are. But many of us became big fans of the AFL. Every now and them, you’ll still hear one of these people slip, as the Superbowl gets closer, and refer to the AFL instead of the AFC. We supported the team and the league when they were little more than a joke made when people talked about “real” football. We were there before Joe Namath, and we watched the team grow and improve. We watched Johnny Sample bless himself whenever he came out of the huddle and listened to one of the guys behind us whoop whenever Wahoo McDaniel came onto the field. We watched Don Maynard, George Sauer, Matt Snell, and Emerson Boozer score. When we made it to the Superbowl, one of our friends with a good recorder taped the audio broadcast (VCR’s weren’t around, yet) and we saved a copy. We stayed after Namath while Todd, Woodall, O’Brien, Ryan, Nagle, Essiason, Testeverde and any number of other quarterbacks took the reigns and couldn’t quite get us back while Kurt Sohn, Al Toon, Freeman McNeil, Rob Moore, and Curtis Martin came and went and when a walk-on from Hofstra named Wayne Chrebet was given a courtesy tryout and became a team star with more shirts in the stands than anyone else. We watched them retire or otherwise move on. We came back after a coach resigned to go back to college sports before the end of the season and when Rich Kotite came in to save us from Pete Caroll, who didn’t seem all that bad. Weeb Ewbank, Charlie Winner, Lou Holtz, Joe Walton, Walt Michaels, Bruce Coslet, Pete Caroll. Rich Kotite, Bill Parcells, Herm Edwards, Eric Mangini, and others promised another winning team. At the beginning of Rich Kotite’s second season, we reassured ourselves that it couldn’t get worse, but it did and we went from 3 and 13 to 1 and 15. We cheered for the Sack Exchange, even when Joe Klecko and Mark Gastineau both missed the quarterback and collided, knocking each other out. Midway through one season, a defensive player (Eric McMillan) was our leading scorer and we still kept coming. We were there when Dennis Byrd broke his neck and gave him a standing ovation when he returned to the field with a cane, walking against all odds.

We watched a flying lawnmower crash into the seats in front of us, tragically killing a fan. We endured half-time shows that included Diaper Races (really!). We honored Joe Namath, Don Maynard, Weeb Ewbank, and Joe Klecko as their shirts were retired, and wondered when the glory would return. But, we kept coming back.

We endured terrible conditions at Shea after the baseball season ended, along with most maintenance, and moved with the team to the Meadowlands. Leon Hess and the ownership/management of the team recognized the importance of the fans and our ticket section was kept together. Lenny, Harry, Peppy, and the other folks we knew by face if not by name from Shea were there when we arrived in New Jersey. We were offered, and purchased a couple of extra seats when we moved, but they weren’t with our regular seats and we found that as the team got worse, we couldn’t give them away, so we let them go. But we kept our regular seats. My Dad and I both moved to dfferent parts of Connecticut and I’d pick him up and make the long drive down, meeting my brother in the parking lot, and we kept coming.

Peppy died, but his sons are still there. Lenny’s father-in-law, Harry, died, but Lenny still comes with his kids. My grandfather died in 1973 but his great grandchildren are there. My wife first met my parents when I brought her down from college to a game at Shea. It became a family rite of passage to be brought to the games. First my brother’s kids, then my own, joined us, got their obiligatory Jet hat, and we kept coming. The parking folks started making it harder to meet people before the games by changing the entry patterns after 11:00am for the 1:00pm games, so we came earlier. We’ve had several generations of camp stoves that have never been camping, first cooking up some calamari followed by sausage and onions served on pita bread, then adding some variety when the lingering smell of onions in the car for the week following each game became too much.

Leon Hess had become the primary owner. He may have been a businessman, but he cared about the fans. He had moved whole sections from Shea to the Meadowlands. At one point, he promised not to raise prices again until he delivered a winning team. He did and the price did go up, but we understood. Then Leon Hess died and Woody Johnson bought the team from the Hess estate. He announced that the fans should have a home of their own and started his battle to get a new stadium. Sure, we played at a stadium with another teams name on it, but there really wasn’t anything wrong with the stadium itself. He tried to get one built in New York City, over the rail yards, and somebody noticed that parking there wouldn’t permit tailgating. Woody responded that the fans were so great that they would find another way to support the team (I don’t recall being asked) as long as we had our own stadium. When that fell through, it became okay to share again, as long as our name was on the building, too. Then came the kicker. To get seats that are similar to the ones we have had will require the purchase of a Personal Seat License for a fee approaching mortgage levels (about $150,000). The only consideration for all these years is that we could buy our Personal Seat Licenses in order of our longevity (not counting the fact that the team doesn’t have records — or says they don’t — before sometime in the late seventies). And, all the Personal Seat License fee will provide is the right to buy the seats, which will still be over $100 per seat per game. Some quick math shows that we’ve already put in almost a quarter of a million dollars over 45 years on tickets alone. Of course, the new stadium will have luxury boxes that Woody Johnson can sell to corporations and the teams name will be in half of the stadium name. And, of course, we could move from Row 15 to the Upper tier without paying for a license. Gee, that’s awfully generous!

It all comes down to greed and ego. There’s really nothing wrong with the current stadium other than that Woody Johnson can’t brag about it. The fans who have supported the team for so many years have been betrayed and we’re a bit P.O.’d, but there isn’t a lot we can do about it. Thanks for your support and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. OUR team was legally stolen. Without fans, a team has no value, so Woody Johnson must think we’re replaceable. None of the people we know are springing for the Personal Seat License and I only know of one who is considering moving to the Upper Tier. All of us who stayed with the team that moved from Shea to the Meadowlands will have to say our goodbyes at the end of the 2009 season. Even if we had the resources and desire to pay the Personal Seat License, no plan has been put forward to keep sections together. We don’t matter. OUR team has been taken as the hobby of a man who inherited a lot of money and has decided that we need to pay him a small fortune for the privilege of watching HIS team. After sticking with the team through 45 years of mostly losing seasons, we’ve been dumped like an aging trophy wife with a pre-nup that leaves her nothing. It may be legal, but it certainly isn’t ethical.

When the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, my grandfather stopped watching Baseball. He saw it as a personal betrayal. I’m glad he doesn’t have to watch his football team do the same thing.

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