Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Faces of lockout: Jets' seafood star
By Rich Cimini
The NFL lockout has put players and owners in limbo. The ripple effects are also felt by people whose lives or businesses touch their teams. Here are their stories:
CORTLAND, N.Y. -- When his favorite team arrived two summers ago for training camp, Mark Braun was as happy as a clam -- make that a bucket of steamed littlenecks.
Mark Braun, left, owner of Doug's Fish Fry, says sales spike when the Jets are in training camp.
Braun sells fish for a living, but he lives for the New York Jets. When they decided to hold camp in Cortland, a small city on I-81 south of Syracuse, it was both a football fantasy and a boon for business.
Braun owns a popular seafood restaurant, Doug's Fish Fry, located only a few Brad Smith kickoff returns from the football facility on the Cortland State campus. Quicker than Rex Ryan could say, "We're gonna win the Super Bowl," Braun, 42, became a local celebrity. Players, coaches, staffers and, of course, fans -- plenty of hungry and thirsty fans -- flocked to Doug's between two-a-day practices.
Sales spiked by 25 percent in the month of August. Save for Good Friday, the day of the annual intrasquad scrimmage is his busiest of the year.
Now with the NFL lockout into June, threatening to sabotage training camp, Braun is facing the distinct possibility of a Jets-less summer. The Jets have two years remaining on their contract with Cortland State, but if the labor dispute isn't settled by July 1 (there is some wiggle room), they will have no choice but to hold camp at their headquarters in Florham Park, N.J.
For Braun, that stinks more than week-old flounder.
"Of course, on the business side, it would hurt," he said. "Not having a year, Doug's Fish Fry wouldn't be as fresh in everybody's mind. But, to be honest, I'll miss it more as a fan. You never know who's going to come in."
Ryan popped in once for a Jets sundae -- dyed-green ice cream, marshmallows and whipped cream, a diet-busting treat for the big coach. GM Mike Tannenbaum brought in his young son for his birthday party, with Braun supplying the cake.
Dozens of players, from LaDainian Tomlinson to Santonio Holmes, have stopped by for the fried scallops and fish sandwich. One night last summer, the crew from HBO's "Hard Knocks" filmed for more than hour inside the restaurant, resulting in a spontaneous "J-E-T-S, Jets! Jets! Jets!" cheer from diners.
Braun's place is filled with Jets memorabilia -- photos on the wall, autographs, banners, helmets and jerseys. There are flat-screen TVs on the wall, always tuned to SportsCenter. It's the ultimate man cave, with the bonus of good food, cold beer and killer milkshakes.
Braun got hooked on the Jets in the late 1970s, when he saw Mark Gastineau and his mother in an electric-razor commercial. The following Sunday, Braun watched the game and spotted the guy from the funny commercial -- Gastineau -- performing his celebrated sack dance.
So began a lifelong passion.
Braun is a longtime season-ticket holder, driving 440 miles round trip to every home game. As he said, "That's all I know on Sundays." Training camp is like a month of Sundays, but now he's deeply concerned that there will be no football.