Like Father, Like Son: The Evolution of a Cynical New York Jets' Fan
"I love him—and I hate him. We went all the way with his guarantee, but he put the horns on us. I've been suffering all these years since that Super Bowl victory."
-My father, 77-year old Pat Gatti, Sr on his love/hate relationship with Joe Namath
So, what do you say to a father who thinks his football team is eternally cursed?
It's tough to give him a big hug and say, "we'll get 'em next year Dad" when he's gone through 40 seasons of that 'next year' nonsense without experiencing a championship.
That's exactly the dilemma I face each season when something goes wrong for the New York Jets.
The second they throw an interception, give up a big running play—or heck—lose a game, I'm forced to try to calm my father down and assure him that everything is going to be alright, even when we both know that probably won't be the case.
His 'Jets nervous tick' as I like to call it, is when he gets up after a bad play and goes to the front door to look out the peep hole. That's when the negative comments start to fly.
I know I'll never truly understand the pessimistic attitude of Jets' fans who were there to see Namath trot off the field in Super Bowl III—and then the 40 disappointing seasons that followed. But I'm beginning to at least see where they are coming from.
I was born in 1982 and came out of the womb with a Wesley Walker jersey on—at least metaphorically. My earliest recollections of Jets' fan-hood don't really come until the early 1990s.
Since my father spent his Sundays in front of the television watching his beloved team, my evolution into Gang Green fandom was as simple as sitting on the floor and watching what transpired before me.
I have to admit, for some reason I was fascinated with those green helmets and the swooshing "JETS" letters that spanned across (obviously when you're eight years old, things like that matter).
The Dennis Byrd tragedy is still vivid in my mind and I was there for the home-opener the following season when he walked onto the field.
The Rich Kotite years ensued—as did puberty—and it tested my allegiance. Wearing a Jets' jersey to school during those two seasons was torture.
Then the arrival of Bill Parcells infused hope and optimism into a downtrodden franchise. He nearly led the team to the playoffs in his first year, but they lost to Detroit in the season finale, ending all hope.
The 1998 season was one for the ages that ended in the most heartbreaking fashion. Only today do I realize just how close the Jets were that season and how difficult it is to get back to that point.
It's always a sore subject of discussion for my father and I. Even though it was a season that went far beyond what we could have ever dreamed of, the ending is the only thing that sticks in our minds.
The following year was probably the most hyped season in Jets' history. They were the 'team to beat' and most experts predicted them to win the AFC. But then Week One came, and Vinny Testaverde shredded his Achilles tendon.
Playoff berths in 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2006 all ended in disappointing fashion. The one that may have hurt the most though was '04, when Doug Brien missed two field goals in the final minute that would have sent them to the AFC Championship game.
Watching my father at the end of that game was like watching a nervous first-time Dad in the hospital waiting room as he paced back and forth.
I know there are other franchises who have never experienced a Super Bowl, and I feel their pain, but as a fan, a championship only lasts so long before you want another.
And, for fans like myself, who were not around to see Super Bowl III, it's almost as if the Jets never won a championship at all.
Part of me wonders if Joe Namath did indeed sell the soul of all Jets' fans in exchange for that one championship.
My father would certainly have you believe that.
And quite frankly, there's not much I can say to him to dispute it. The proof is in the losing seasons, disappointing playoff losses, season-ending injuries, and draft pick busts.
Reluctantly, I feel like some of his pessimism is rubbing off on me. Sometimes I'll be watching a Jets' game and an eerie feeling of impending doom will come upon me, almost as if I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Even though I've been a loyal Jets fan for 18 seasons or so, it's come to the point where I'm not hoping for a championship for myself—but for my father. A guy who has bled green and white since the days of Weeb Eubank and Shea Stadium.
The only thing I can do now is hope and continue to believe, that someday, this team I put my heart and soul into will finally breakthrough.
"We'll get 'em next year Dad."
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