The co-owner of the New York Jets football team is Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson IV. He and his brother run it, and I did not see him on television at the game Sunday, when the Buffalo Bills beat his Jets in come-from-behind fashion. Mr. Johnson, a prominent donor to Republican Party causes, is also the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain. Perhaps that’s why he was elsewhere.
There is a lot about football these days to anger a fan who prefers to be merely a viewer, watching from the comfort of the couch. Concussions, labor relations, racial imbalance of authority, wages, too many commercials, the National Football League’s self-indulgent posture on its relevance to the country’s history as the NFL celebrates what it thinks is its centenary — it was founded in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association – 10 teams, and only the current Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals can trace their lineage back that far – that Kaepernick fellow, the cheerleader issue, another looming lockout, performance-enhancing drugs, any follower can make a list as long as mine.
What gets me seething, though, are those end-of-game views of the owners of the teams. Occasionally we can see him take an item from a dessert cart in his skybox. Somehow we never see a view of paying customers lined up for beer or the restrooms, only the most comically-dressed paying customers braying after a touchdown. The owner is typically a guy, not a young guy, wearing a coat and tie to the football game.
Who the hell wears a necktie to a football game? The owners wear polo shirts and comfortable pants at “owner’s meetings,” regularly held in some of America’s finest desert resorts. For games, though, they must dress like, well, owners, a term the NFL is attempting to curtail, in lieu of “management.” It recently dawned on “management” that “owner” harkens back to images of plantation days.
We proletariat dress for football games in authentic and sub-authentic “game gear,” produced and sold by the National Football League, and there was plenty of it on display this weekend, despite the Bills game being conducted in New Jersey. The many saloons along Hertel Avenue in Buffalo welcomed Bills fans eligible to drink to a mile-long daylight pub crawl, and it was something to see – young men and women crowding the street, all in some sort of blue or blue-inflected Bills regalia, more-or-less paying attention to the game but mostly wandering around with plastic beer cups in hand. They halted traffic, waved at traffic, stopped at outdoor televisions to attempt to stay abreast of developments and generally behaved like Bills fans, but on the move.
It’s like this, so I am told, every night on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, but this was a new one for me. In fact they were celebrating nothing more than the start of another football season, but the more conscious among them seems to be enjoying themselves. I have been through many football seasons – I was nine when the Bills entered its new league – and the ups and downs of 59 seasons makes me feel – well, this must be what a bad marriage feels like.
This is Western New York’s Mardi Gras, its hope-springs-eternal moment, featuring three-mile walks from the parked car to the stadium seat, and back, and all the irrationality that comes from tailgate parties. The meat vendor at Wegmans, an emigre from Brooklyn, told me he’d never seen party orchestrations such as those of Bills fans, even if the game is to be watched on television. Exotic meat by the pound, and around the corner of the deli there’s exotic cheese.
Granted, our lives would be bereft without our football team, and it’s hard to cheer for a General Motors plant or a casino no matter how large and productive, or a great waterfall, no matter how alluring to tourists and anyway, Niagara Falls is on all day and all night. So we follow the Bills, in some people’s minds the area’s only repository of national recognition.
I attended games at the Rockpile when I was younger. We stepped over massive electrical cables traveling from massive vans, identified as from “NBC Sports,” to open stadium windows. I helped christen what was Rich Stadium in 1973. I’ve been in that hangar-like practice facility, the ADPRO Training Center, entering and leaving without ever learning what an ADPRO is. I’ve watched the new quarterback, young Mr. Allen, try to sell me a car by throwing a ball to an old wide receiver and special teams lifer, Mr. Tasker.
These days I’ll watch parts of games from my living room, and reserve the rest of the time for living a life. That team owner in the skybox is not only in a necktie, he is likely the oldest person in the stadium.
Contact Ed Adamczyk at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.