The flight back from Denver was delayed nearly three hours, and Michael Rastiello looked more annoyed than most. He was the only passenger wearing a Jets jersey, Joe Namath’s iconic No. 12. He has been a fan for some 55 years, and after watching the Jets get ripped by the Broncos, he sure sounded like he had seen enough.
“All we hear is, ‘Give them time, give them time,’ ” Rastiello said, “and then after three years, ‘We’re going to rebuild again.’ We’re tired of it. You’re not even competitive. No Jets fan ever wants to hear the word ‘rebuild’ again. It’s a constant rebuild.”
This was a day to feel the pain of Jets fans who are staring down the barrel of yet another dreadful season. This was a day to talk to a 63-year-old man who, as a boy, watched Namath deliver on his guaranteed upset of the Colts in Super Bowl III, and wrote so many book reports on Namath’s Jets that his teacher asked him to stop.
Rastiello and his wife, Rose, had taken their 30-year-old son, a Broncos fan, to the game as a birthday gift, and at least their boy had a blast. A longtime New Jersey football coach, Rastiello came away from the experience with a list of grievances about the Jets’ lack of marquee talent, their lack of a Denver-like home-field advantage, their receivers’ failure to get separation, their play-calling, Woody Johnson’s ownership, you name it.
Of greatest consequence, Rastiello said, is what he perceives to be a diminishing fan base.
“I’ve coached football for 30 years and there are no young Jets fans,” he said. “None of the kids I coach ever wear Jets jerseys; they wear everybody else’s jerseys. … What young kid wants to be a fan of a losing franchise?”
This is why your average Jets fan cannot understand the supposed suffering of, say, your average Yankees fan, who has seen 29 consecutive winning years and yet sometimes rails about 2009, the last championship season, as if he or she were a Jets fan railing about January 1969. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post
Yankees fans should take a good look around today’s New York sporting landscape, which was littered long before those John Mara-owned trash cans went tumbling down just like that John Mara-owned football team. More than anything, Yankees fans should be reminded about Jets fans, who have been kept waiting longer than anyone else in New York for a true shot at a title.
The Mets were in the World Series six years ago, and the Giants of Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin did take those two Super Bowls from New England, back when Tom Brady and Bill Belichick shared the same side of the field. The Rangers reached the Stanley Cup final in 2014. The Knicks reached the Finals in 1999.
The Jets haven’t reached a final since Richard Nixon was sworn in for his first term as president. They haven’t even reached the playoffs since 2010, and they are working on five consecutive losing seasons, including last year’s 2-14 meltdown. At 0-3, they have effectively eliminated themselves before the Yankees have settled their own wild-card fate.
“It’s embarrassing,” Rastiello said when asked what it is like being a long-term Jets fan. “You get made fun of. ‘You’re a Jets fan?’ They laugh at you.”
Over the years the Jets have tried a whole bunch of new quarterbacks and head coaches in an attempt to replicate what Namath and Weeb Ewbank did to the Colts in Super Bowl III. Now they try rookies Zach Wilson and Robert Saleh, not to mention the rookie offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. Jets fans are being asked to put up with more and more losing for a long-term payoff that may or may not come to be, and they don’t even have the same luxury afforded Giants fans, who can call for the firings of Dave Gettleman and Jason Garrett.
It’s too early to fire important Jets figures in Year 1 of this latest rebuild, though Joe Douglas should remember that it’s not Year 1 for him. His Jets were unacceptably bad in Denver, and they have now gone eight straight quarters without a touchdown.
“It’s tough,” Wilson said after the game, “but it’s making us stronger. It’s making me stronger.”
Jets fans have been hearing that same song from different voices for so long. Rastiello mentioned Sam Darnold’s play with Carolina and shook his head. He mentioned the superstar players around the NFL and wondered why his Jets never seem to have one. “Where’s our face of the franchise?” he asked.
A good question with no good answer. Once again, the Jets are putting their fans through hell. And once again, those fans are skeptical that there will be any gain to go with their pain.