Sports

01/27/2010

The end of the Jets ride

I'm leaving Indianapolis today with thousands of long-suffering and still-suffering Jet fans.  The suffering, however, is a passing thing for Jet fans.  Sure, they're disappointed, but pessimism doesn't have much of a shelf-life with this group.  They loved the season they had, they loved the run and the burst of success at the end.  They love the plain-talking, game-smart coach who seems like he's one of them.  Any sadness over a missed shot at Super bowl glory faded fairly quickly and was replaced by happy reminiscing about a memorable post-season. That's Jet fans for you.  Never down for long.  They are a good-natured, fun-loving, high-spirited bunch who have learned how to cope with moments of "so close, but so far away."

 

Indianapolis is a lovely city. Neat and clean with some pretty turn-of-the-century architecture and friendly people who smile easily.  This past weekend, they played the perfect hosts and hostesses.

 

The Jet fans rolled in Friday night and set off fireworks of vibrancy.  All of a sudden, Indy had a soundtrack of loud accents and raucous cheers.  The streets filled with Kelly green and carousing buddies.  Plenty of beer guts and gut-busting laughter. 

 

The energy crescendoed on Sunday with Jet tailgates surrounding Lucas Oil Stadium.  The air smelled of grilled brats and hangovers.  The fans held their weary livers and partied on.  More green, more cheers, more hugs with total strangers.  J-E-T-S, they shouted!!!  Jets, Jets, Jets!!! Kenny from New Jersey wore massive green Incredible Hulk gloves; Dominick from Staten Island parked a big school bus painted green and white; Kevin fashioned an ersatz Colts jersey out of a t-shirt and printed "Clots" on the front.  My stomach muscles ached from the laughter.

 

Victory wouldn't be theirs, sadly.  The team's confidence and early lead faded and Peyton Manning did what Peyton Manning often does: assert football dominance and win.  When it was all over, I felt as crestfallen for the team as I did for the fans, but the sorrow didn't stick around long.  "Next year!" the Jet fans assured me, their green face paint fading. "What a season, right?!!" they toasted, over beers at a nearby pub. "We're resilient," one smiled. "To 2011," another cheered.  "There's time," a man gently promised his son, his arm slung around the boy's shoulder "We're Jet fans. There's time."  No fights, no riots, no meanness.  "Ah, it's okay," Scott from Queens told his pal Tommy.  "We did good."

 

People become fans when they fall in love with a team.  They learn the stats, remember the plays, and feel sincere admiration for the tough players, and the tremendous athleticism and grit it takes to play professional football.  The season becomes a story line of emotional up's and down's and perseverance.  A fan follows it all, invested to the end. Most of the Jet fans I met this past weekend have been following this team and its up and down story (often light on the "up's" and heavy on the "down's") for decades, and they've done so in their own inimitable winning way -- with optimism, reverence, acceptance, loyalty, and love.

 

I became a Jet fan this weekend, but not because I fell in love with the team.  I fell in love with the fans. 

 

Jamie Roth