I have a confession to make. I’ve never admitted this to many people, but it feels really good to get it off my chest now. I – ME of all people – was a bandwagon jumper. Years ago, I committed the unpardonable sin of a sports fan: I switched teams. At an opportune moment, in time for a championship. My argument at the time was that it was to a team that was my second favorite, anyway. And it wasn’t baseball, of course.
Let’s travel back twenty-five years. The Mets are about to win a World Series and while still reveling in that prospect, I was supremely confident that the Jets would follow suit and bring me a Super Bowl in short-order, as well. I was a fairly rabid Jets fan back then, had been since I was a kid and saw Joe Namath on The Sonny & Cher Show. Huge Namath fan. I devoured stories of the 1968 Championship year almost as voraciously as I did tales of the ’69 Mets. I rooted through the dreadful 70’s, through Namath’s departure, got roused with back-to-back .500 finishes in 1978 and’79, was onboard with Jimmy the Greek when he predicted a Jets’ Super Bowl victory over Dallas in 1980. The 1980 Jets went 4-12. That was one.
The next year, they made the playoffs for the first time since 1969, and almost advanced to the second round: Mark Gastineau failing to fall on a Buffalo fumble and an inopportune interception thrown by Richard Todd prevented that. The strike-abridged year after that, they made it to the AFC Championship game in muddy Miami, falling to the Dolphins due to another couple of Todd picks. But they were giving me such a great ride, I was giddy. It would only be onward and upward from here! Or, y’know, not… In both ’83 and ’84, they went 7-9. In ’85, Todd gave way to Ken O’Brien and they made the playoffs again, and again made an early exit. Meanwhile, the Giants had finally gotten their legs underneath them and were in the midst of becoming an NFC powerhouse. My Dad was a Giants fan since the ‘30’s, so I couldn’t help but pay parallel attention over the years. That was two.
In ’86, I was determined that “this is it,” though I had already started to not trust this team anymore. After a 1-1 opening, they started really rolling. They won nine in a row. Entering December at 10-1, Paul McGuire looked at the rest of their schedule and their injury situation and announced on the NBC pre-game show prior to game 12 that “The Jets will not win another game this year.” Damn if he wasn’t right. They went 0-5, and won one playoff game. The next game, in the AFC Divisional round, would be a huge test against a strong Cleveland team. Nursing a 20-10 lead in the closing moments of the 4th quarter, they allowed a rushing touchdown and a – literally! – last-second field goal by Mark Moseley. They lost it on another Moseley boot in double-overtime. Strike three. I declared then-and-there that I was no longer a Jet fan. I said – out loud, mind you – “I can’t do this anymore. They’ve broken my heart too many times. I cannot root for this team and remain healthy.”
So I switched. From that day forward, I am a Giants fan. I’m not proud of it, but the Giants got me to attend a winning Super Bowl — Norwood wide-right.
I suspect that for many Met fans, they’re where I was in December 1986. They’re suspicious of the ownership, of the front office, of the players, of the talent. They’re ready to bail.
Despite what the MSM wonks and their devotees from the Bronx have to say, they Mets are not that far from contending. Yes, 2012 is decidedly a longshot, even with Jose Reyes and it looks that much tougher without him. But there is young pitching, ripening on the farms and actually a smart front office and a development staff with an actual plan to nurture them along: this will not be a rehash of Generation K, I’m fully confident in saying. Keep these names in mind: Zack Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia, Jeurys Familia, and Matt Harvey. Will they all become Seaver/Koosman/Gentry/Ryan? Probably not, but you’ve got to figure on two of them panning out to be – at worst – useful, above-replacement MLB pitchers. And it’s got to start there. At the bottom, in the bushes. Let’s face it, the Mets are not the Yankees or the Miami Heat – teams that have done it the opposite way and failed to take home the title.
Hang in. It gets better.