Nothing is better than a good origin story. The history of the J-E-T-S Jets!Jets!Jets! chant is no different.
Before Brian Costello, the literally challenged Manish Mehta and Calvin Watkins, there was only Rich Cinimi. Before the age of social media, NFL stars like Mark Gastineau were unrecognizable to the public. I base this on the time I saw Gastineau in a Giants Stadium parking lot. It was before a game in the 1980’s and he was a huge star, but nobody recognized his face.
However, this isn’t the story about “how things have changed,” this is the story about a man in his mid-sixties, who’d spin a white towel, stand up on a staircase handrail and rally Jets fans in the the 300-section (the cheap seats). A time before Fireman Ed had his own tickets.
The exact section I sat in was Sec. 324 Row 16 Seat(s) 1-8. The tickets belonged to a good friend of my Father, “Big Jimmy.” When “Big Jimmy” died in a car accident driving drunk, on his way home from the funeral of a friend who died in a car accident driving drunk, the Widow of “Big Jimmy,” sold the seats to my Father. At the time passing season tickets this way was the only way to subvert the waiting list.
My Dad and I would sit in seats 1 and 2, but seats 3-8 would change every week to whomever my father could scalp his remaining tickets to. We’d stop on the side of the road. My father would put on his Vietnam Veterans t-shirt and hat and I’d wait as he scalped the tickets. A lot of the time the fans we’d watch games with weren’t Jets fans at all. Most often they were Giants or Dolphins fans. They were never Patriots fans, as there weren’t many Pats fans during that time.
Once we got to our seats and kick-off was about to begin is when he’d first appear. He’d stand on the staircase handrail, one, two, three, maybe four stair cases down from us. You’d never know where he’d pop up. He was an old white guy, with a gut, in a tight Joe Klecko Jersey. He’d perch, quiet us down, raise and drop his arms to the most epic chant in football, “J-E-T-S, Jets! Jets! Jets!.”
“That’s all he’s got,” Zip would tell me. Zip sat one row in front of us and was a regular too. We’d joke that he probably had some boring straight-laced job. That nobody knew that his other life was that of the “Unofficial Jets Cheerleader.” I could feel the people in the expensive seats looking up at us. They must have wondered what it was that got us so organized. They never showed the “Klecko guy” on the big screen.
The season the New York Jets hired Bill Parcells everything changed. After the 300-section did the chant, the lower seats began to be raised into a kerfuffle. Now, they had a cheerleader too, Fireman Ed. This time the more cleverly marketed Ed, dawned in fireman’s cap, became the “darling” of the big screen.
The upper-deck dueled the lower-deck in “J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets!,” chants for many seasons. Being a 300-section guy meant something, but time went on. The team changed ownership. Leon Hess died and Woody Johnson took over. The “Klecko guy” has been all but forgotten. The new age ushered in “Fireman Ed” as the official mascot. This would soon be followed by Personal Seat Licenses. Most of the 300-section got priced out like my Dad and me.
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