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For Jets Fans, Hope Gives Way to Heartbreak

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

“A very disappointing loss. Defense played well but offense continued to be inept. Oh well, Steelers next up. Hard to be optimistic.”  @TheRealJoeNamath via Twitter

That tweet really is from the legendary Broadway Joe, and he captures, in about 140 characters, the trajectory of the entire 2010–2011 season for the New York Jets. 

The campaign started out well enough. Coach Rex Ryan was talking big, and talking plenty. The team was getting lots of good exposure. HBO’s “Hard Knocks” -- a multi-part series that looked inside an NFL training camp, featured the Jets and showcased Ryan and his expletive-laced interactions with the players, stoking the feeling in the fan base that the team was going to do it this time.

Star cornerback Darrelle Revis may have been a no-show at camp, but finally came around. Gang Green even beat the arch-rival New England Patriots in the pre-season, right?  And then there was that New York Times article about Ryan, the team and just a smidge of green and white ambition for greater things. As Ryan said, “We expect to win the damn Super Bowl...Period. Anything less than a Super Bowl will be a disappointment.” A friend said of Ryan after reading the article, “I love that fat f---er.”

And so did a lot of fans. After the team’s title bid last season (the Indianapolis Colts beat the Jets 30-17 for the AFC title), believers dared to wear their hearts on their sleeves again, busting out their Jets jerseys and sweatshirts and baseball caps and filling the streets with green and white. The team was playing better, and fans were feeling good, infected with Ryan’s enthusiasm. Young quarterback Mark Sanchez made a guest appearance at the Victoria’s Secret store in Soho, where the company had begun to showcase its made-especially-for-women NFL apparel. The Same Old Jets Syndrome had been boisterously -- and loudly -- put to rest.

Online fanboards were practically glowing that this time -- this time -- it was going to be different. Superbowl III -- in which quarterback Joe Namath led the Jets to a 16-7 victory over the Baltimore Colts -- came up a lot. Said one fan on jetsinsider.com: “I became a Jet fan when I was just a kid, and I feel that JOY and youthful optimism that I felt back at the end of the 1969.”

Things went well for awhile. The team won two thrilling away games in overtime, and fans suppressed the nagging thoughts that the Jets almost blew both games and that the wins might be due to dumb luck.

Then came December 6, when dumb luck took a holiday during the team’s 45-3 shellacking by the Patriots. Fans were jolted awake by the loss. Blogger Wesley Sykes called it “The Boston Massacre,” and postings by the no-longer so faithful were sprinkled with terms like “Deja-vu.” Wrote another fan on jetsinsider.com, “Rex said Mark Sanchez is what a Superbowl quarterback looks like; he said we're the best defense in the game. He said this to the media, he said it to me.

And I believed.

45-3.

Really pissed off...Hope the Dolphins get the brunt of some similar anger, hope we bury them.”

Bury they didn’t. Instead, the Jets lost to the Dolphins on December 12, with the most memorable moment of the game coming courtesy of Jets strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi, who tripped Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll as he ran up the sideline. Ryan was embarrassed, the team was embarrassed, and fans responded with disbelief. Local TV stations played the clip over and over again as if to verify that yes, that really did happen.

On Twitter, Jim Brady (@jimbradysp), who describes himself in his bio as “kind of a Jets fan,” tweeted, “The #Jets need support the most in dark times like this. So, as a show of support, I tripped a jogger running past me in DC today.” He added later, “Jets are now a dumpster fire. Mets were just eliminated from the '11 pennant race. Thank God for the Knicks. (Did I really just say that?)”

Now brewing in Jets fandom is a battle -- a battle between old fans and new. Those with baggage return to the theme of perennial betrayal: “Don’t set your hopes too high. You know they’ll just disappoint you in the end.” Tabloid coverage poked the open wounds. In a NY Post spread entitled “More of the Same Old Same Old Jets,” which appeared the day after Alosi was suspended by the team without pay for the rest of the season, columnist Mike Vaccaro wrote, “It isn’t working now, and Ryan needs to come to terms with that, and it has nothing to do with his press conference stand-up or the F-sharps he dropped on ‘Hard Knocks.’ It has to do with what we’ve seen from his team.”

The newer legions of supporters are still looking for reasons to believe. Says one hopeful Jets fan after the loss to the Patriots, “Sanchez is our QB of the future and will be fine, he has all the tools and is improving, one game doesn’t make a season or career…This is the NFL. Anything can happen.” And likely will.

For Jets fans, hope springs eternal. And then comes the fall.

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