The seasoned Jets fan is a unique animal. After a lengthy Super Bowl drought and decades of heart-wrenching losses, loyal fans have developed a remarkable arsenal coping mechanisms. These skills are passed down from generation to generation and have been perfected over time. The end result allows dedicated spectators to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of gut-churning trauma that would leave fans of any other team in the fetal position.
Over time, Jets fans have learned an invaluable valuable lesson: wear your green emotional life preserver at all times, and when the teamís chartered ship inevitably takes on too much water, youíll at least manage to swim back to shore.
When it comes to selecting a protective measure of choice, there are countless options. Some fans convince themselves that the team is not nearly as talented as it actually is, so that lofty expectations never go unrealized. Some recognize the team's inherent talent, yet hold their breath during each game, waiting fearfully for the other shoe to drop. Still others opt for the scapegoat tactic, identifying a sole individual whose ineptitude will lead to certain doom for the team.
Of course, the overly cynical New York media does its share to reinforce fans' pessimism and stoke these flames of neuroses. Local beat writers generously hand out pitchforks and torches to the frothing mob, and serve up heaping portions of fresh goat whenever their readers are hungry.
On the flip side is Jets Head Coach Herman Edwards. Ever the optimist, Herman does an admirable job of assuring fans that these toxic winds of negativity fail to permeate his airtight locker room. In an odd cross between Confucius, Yogi Berra and Dr. Seuss, the Coach delivers curious, fortune cookie-like quotations each time he's handed a microphone. Once deciphered, these Hermanisms invariably contain a plea for outsiders to believe in his team. But despite Hermís best efforts, faith remains a rare commodity among the fan base of this snake bitten franchise.
As a result, when the Jets faced off against the 15-1 Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round of the playoffs, fans predictably prepared themselves for the worst. Gearing up for a psychologically tormenting affair for the ages, they wrapped themselves in cloaks of titanium emotional armor. After all, the Steelers were a prohibitive favorite and nothing short of a miracle would have allowed the Jets to leave Heinz Field with a victory in hand.
But something strange happened that evening. It began with Santana Moss's electric punt return for a touchdown, followed by Reggie Tongue's improbable interception return, and continued with the timely fumble by Jerome Bettis. As the game wore on, an unfamiliar feeling of unbridled hope swelled within Jets fans.
For the first time all season, almost anything seemed possible.
For the stubborn few who blindly refused to see victory coming into focus, David Barrettís interception return with less than two minutes remaining in regulation provided the decisive play. Now, there was no turning back. With adrenaline rapidly coursing through their green-blooded veins, Jets fans collectively tossed their emotional life preservers overboard. They defiantly ripped off their psychological armor and exposed their soft underbelly, wretched battle scars and all.
Jets fans believed.
Regrettably, kicker Doug Brien did not. Familiar, crushing disappointment soon set in for Jets fans. Once again.
For these tortured souls, the deep wound left by Brien's errant kick will heal just like others from years past. Soon, the sting from this nightmare will fade and ultimately be filed alongside the other horror stories that comprise Jets lore.
When Jets fans emerge from hibernation this upcoming season, they'll once again don their pain-retardant jerseys and, this time, will likely throw extra parachutes into their packs for good measure. Loyalists will try hard not to notice that their playoff-ready team is bound to improve as talented, young players continue to mature. Others will continue to watch games with a hand covering one eye, shielding themselves from impending disaster. And some will scramble to anoint a fresh scapegoat, perhaps looking for Herman Edwards or Chad Pennington to fill the dubious vacancy left by Paul Hackett.
Will these precautionary measures be enough to stave off more heartache? Unlikely.
Like a moth drawn to a flame, the Jets fan is unable to completely distance himself from the perils of rooting for this franchise. And for good reason. In due time, Jets Nation will ride off into the sunset with the Lombardi Trophy raised high in the air. But fans are aware of one thing: unless you take off your crash helmet, you canít enjoy the wind through your hair.