Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Jets leaving Long Island for New Jersey training facilities
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Chris Baker and his Jets teammates could always count on a few thousand fans to greet them in the stands during training camp, regardless of the day or time.
"We'd joke about how we're not sure if a lot of our fans have jobs because they're always here," the tight end said with a smile Wednesday. "It's 8 in the morning on weekdays and they're here, 5 in the afternoon, they're still here. It's pretty cool. It's been nice to have that kind of support."
After 40 years on Long Island, the Jets said goodbye to their fans with one final training camp practice at Hofstra University. It was the team's last public practice before the franchise moves its headquarters on Sept. 2 to Florham Park, N.J., the site of its lush, 27-acre facility.
"Most Jets fans are die-hards," said Baker, who grew up in nearby St. Albans and followed both the Jets and Giants as a youngster. "The fans have come out and supported us for years and now it obviously won't be as easy unless they want to hike over there, but the good thing is we're not that far away."
That depends on who you ask. Obviously, New Jersey-based fans are thrilled with the move, while those who made a day at camp on Long Island a part of their summer plans aren't so pleased.
"I think it's big because the Jets' roots are from Long Island," said Michael Mone, 33, of nearby Garden City. "They've been here since the days of Joe Namath. The fan base really is Long Island. It's going to be a little weird, a little strange."
Joe Yurga, 41, of Pequannock, N.J., took the day off from work to bring his sons Joe, 13, and Jesse, 10, to the final day of camp.
"Being from New Jersey, it'll be about half the commute, but I'll miss it out here," Yurga said. "It's going to be better for the team, though, with a state-of-the-art facility. Florham Park will be a setting like this, though, quiet and clean."
Each of the players signed autographs for the 4,000 fans in attendance Wednesday, including Brett Favre, who spent time with a terminally ill child. There were no teary farewells or signs pleading for the Jets to stay, but there was the excitement and cheers that have intensified by the thousands since Favre was acquired by New York on Aug. 6.
"Over the time I've been here, whether it was this time or the last time I was here, it's always great to have the energy from the fans," said coach Eric Mangini, who was an assistant with the Jets from 1997-99. "It gets a little bit long during training camp at times, and there are some days where the coffee is just not getting it done. Having them there and having the kids here, having the passion here, it's always great."
The Jets' first season at Hofstra was 1968, the season they went on to win the only Super Bowl title in franchise history. Previous sites included the University of New Hampshire (1960), Bear Mountain, N.Y. (1961), East Stroudsburg State College in Pennsylvania (1962) and Peekskill, N.Y. (1963-67).
"When I first got here in 2000, I really didn't know what to expect, but there was always a good crowd out there," said defensive end Shaun Ellis, the team's longest-tenured player. "We won't be in their backyard anymore, but these fans are true fans. They'll follow us wherever we go."
Some of the Jets' longtime employees, though, won't be heading for suburban New Jersey with the team.
Maureen Dillon, the team's coordinator of player development, has been with the Jets since 1985 and is the second-longest tenured employee. She's surpassed in seniority only by her sister, Kathy Reade, the team's senior manager of operations who has been with the Jets for 29 years. Neither will be joining the Jets in Jersey.
"Long Island fans are not happy," said Dillon, who lives in nearby Massapequa. "It is sad, and I can't not feel sad about it, but the team is getting a new facility and a new stadium and it's going to be a good thing."
John May, 44, of Clarksburg, N.J., has been coming to training camp for at least 15 years and has seen lots of changes around the facility.
"When I first started coming here, there was no fencing around the fields so you could put a blanket out and sit there and watch, but it's become so popular over the years," said May, wearing an Emerson Boozer No. 32 jersey. "It used to be a few hundred people here and there. They'll be missed out here."
Whether the Jets are based in New York or New Jersey, all fans are hoping for one thing: a title.
"New Jersey doesn't have teams other than the Devils, so the Jets and Giants are New York-New Jersey teams anyway," said Jeremy Weinstein, 45, who lives in Marlboro, N.J., and grew up in Port Jefferson. "If the Jets win the Super Bowl, the ticker tape parade will be down Broadway anyway."