Keep Your Shirt On: A Jets Fan in the Midst of Eagledom
All true NFL fans know how the schedule works, and as such can prepare for future opponents and trips even years in advance. I knew we were playing the NFC east again this year for the first time in four years and it reminded me of my trip to Philadelphia the last time around. I thought it would be a good idea to recount that story for all the fans wondering if Eagles fans live up, or down depending on your perspective, to the reputation bestowed on them; here is the story, more or less, of that trip.
As a Jets fan it is difficult to take the high ground with anyone. I myself, an allegedly rational person, have yelled at multiple girls wearing pink Tom Brady jerseys to Jets games in the swamp. (For the record their boyfriends were with them and looked too embarrassed to even argue with me). This offends me on so many levels it is difficult to put into words. Our only refuge is to say with shaky confidence, “Well at least we are better than Eagles fans, they once pelted Santa Claus.”
It was with this dubious hierarchical distinction swirling in my brain that I accepted an invite from a friend to attend the Jets-Eagles game at the Linc in 2011. It is difficult to remember now, but the Jets were coming off back to back AFC Championship appearances and were very much in control of their playoff destiny at the time. I had good reason to be excited to make the short trip down the interstate to see my green doppelganger NFC brethren. As always, by the time I get excited, it is already too late. How bad did it get? Well, future Bills star Shady McCoy scored three touchdowns, and future mediocre Jets Michael Vick and Jason Babin torched us for 274yds 3TD’s including an 11yd scamper away from Mo Wilkerson and 3 bone crunching sacks respectively; Mark Sanchez threw ghastly interceptions and Santonio Holmes had a fumble returned for a touchdown, missed a pass that was then intercepted and led to a touchdown all in the first quarter!, and then got called for excessive celebration on a TD that made the score 28-10 on the way to a 48-19 loss, believe me when I say that the score looks closer than it was. Then a week later, the Jets, needing the last two wins to force their way into to playoffs, famously gave up a 99yd reception to Victor Cruz and kick started their cross building rivals onto a Super Bowl run where they thankfully blew up the perfect season of the New England Patriots.
That should be enough entertainment, but it does not even half tell the story of seeing a game at the Linc, as the Eagles fans more than lived up to their famous reputation of passionate, vicious, and knowledgeable fandom. Our group started off with a full on debate about whether to wear our jerseys to the game. This conversation went on for far longer than I care to admit but ranged from “it’s not worth it” to “don’t poke the bear”. I decided to wear my jersey, #74 C Nick Mangold my favorite player since he was drafted with Brick, but in a nod to not poking anyone, I would wear it underneath my winter coat, all my seatmates opted for no jersey at all. When we arrived at the stadium the very first thing you noticed was the law enforcement presence- there was even an armored personnel carrier! I noticed local Philly PD, Pennsylvania state troopers, and plainclothes who were later identified as Homeland Security. This, as a local patrolman told me, was because the meeting of the Jets and Eagles was considered by the powers that be to be a fan clash of titans- titans of rude and dangerous behavior. I was astonished and not a little nervous; the heavy jersey had increased in weight substantially under my coat. I worried aloud that the green was not the right shade and I would be discovered before we got inside. At this moment the crowd started chanting- “This is why the terrorists are winning” “This is why 9/11 happened” and other such invective. Uh-oh, they are literally heckling Homeland Security on the way into the game for not processing the fans fast enough. We all looked at each other and considered whether we had made a very large mistake.
When we made our way to our seats, we found ourselves surrounded by hard core season ticket holders who were vocally demonstrating their hatred for all things, not the Jets, ALL THINGS. Obama was betraying the unions, SEPTA seemed ripe to be swallowed up into the ground, Vick was a bum, the NFL was getting ruined by Goodell. My seatmates, who let’s charitably say were enjoying self-induced analgesia, stared straightforward through very dilated pupils, trying as hard as possible to blend in with their seat cushions. The Jets came out flat and proceeded to get worse, which led the fans around us to be happy and then to look for other things to be unhappy with (a not unfamiliar emotion to a Jets fan by the way). If the game wasn’t such a blow out they would have been looking for the ridiculous way their home side was going to blow it- also not unfamiliar to a Jets fan. I was finally noticed when Sanchez threw a truly terrible pick and everyone in our section cheered except me. The leader of the group stopped everyone, pointed at me, and called over three friends. I am 6’2 and 240lbs, but for the first time in my adult life I froze, and looked around in futility for a safe hole to crawl into. The Eagles faithful saw my jersey peeking out from my jacket and demanded to see it. I showed it and to my relief they all smiled. They patted me on the back and said they respected me for wearing an offensive lineman, not one of the “mincers” out on the edge and that I had worn the jersey but covered it up with a green jacket “out of respect”. They even bought me a beer. I was too relieved to point out that I had done all of this out of trepidation for this exact interaction, but why quibble?
My nerves had barely settled into my new found surroundings when half time struck. Allow me to set the scene: A local high school band got to perform, a particularly demonstrative band leader was using the occasion to show off his baton skills, I think you can see where this is going, he ended the elaborate performance by doing a back handspring with a toss…and dropped the baton. The entire stadium erupted and proceeded to boo him off the field. I think I saw tears but why let the facts get in the way of the story. I am telling you how it felt to be there- and it felt awful for him. That is the strange thing about that feeling, my relief extended to that moment and I smiled- with the relief that it wasn’t me. The Eagles faithful had gotten to me- you don’t change the devil, he changes you! Santa Claus did deserve it; Tom Ridge did change and forget where he came from, fatalism elevated to an art form that only a Jets fan could appreciate. It was the ultimate convergence. Well I could check it off my NFL bucket list I had been to Philly and survived, even got a measure of respect from fellow tortured fans. A week later we would begin the long slow death dance of the Rex Ryan era but we didn’t know that then. All we knew was we had seen another lousy loss but had lived the visceral experience that makes the NFL the metro-sexual equivalent experience of a gladiator match, and since going I have never yelled at a pink jersey of any kind again. Go Gang(s) Green!