It is always a treat to connect with fellow Jets fans on a personal level and form connections. Twitter is the gateway to these connections, but there are also many other outlets. Without my trip to Canton, Ohio for the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction I may have never talked to Justin. His uncle had a strong interest in the idea of the website and said that he would enjoy his nephew taking part in it. When I read Justin's first article I knew he would become a vital part of the NYJOTP family. For many of these 'Featured Fan of the Week' articles I usually put my input on every section of the submitted piece. For Justin I think since he is a talented writer I am going to let everyone enjoy his story as is. Here is Justin Baldinger's Jets story, enjoy.
In many ways my route to Jets fandom is typical. My grandfather has been a season ticket holder since 1972, he started taking me to games when I was four years old, and I’ve been a die hard fan ever since. I have gone to the vast majority of the team’s home games over the last 20 years.
Over those 20 years I have had my guts ripped out more times than I can remember. From Vinny Testaverde blowing out his achillies in 1999, to Chad Pennington breaking his hand in the 2003 pre-season, to their epic collapse in 2008. Quite simply, being a Jet fan means waiting for the other shoe to drop, it’s just a way of life.
Throughout my life I’ve always had the opportunity to jump to the “winning” bandwagon; my dad and his entire side of the family are Giant fans, die hard Giant fans. I could have easily been a Giant fan, or at the very least rooted for both New York teams, but as hard as I tried when I was young, I never connected with the Giants like I did the Jets. Despite the Giants recent success, I have never had a shred of regret about my allegiance. The best part of sports is the chase, and when the Jets finally do break their storied title drought, it will be one of the most cherished moments of my life. Besides, I’ve had plenty of great moments as a Jet fan.
My favorite game I ever attended live was December 29th, 2002, when the Jets faced the Packers with a win propelling the Jets to an unlikely AFC East title.
The 2002 Jets were my favorite team of all time. After getting off to a brutal 1-4 start, they rode the wave of new starter Chad Pennington, who brought them into the Packers game at 8-7. They were the hottest team in the league, and at that point would be the team nobody wanted to face in the playoffs if they were to make it. The most stressful part of the day was the fact that at kickoff, the game could have been rendered meaningless. They needed the Patriots to beat the Dolphins in the 1 pm game to make their 4 pm game matter. At kickoff, the Dolphins-Patriots game was still going on and few people were actually watching the game they had paid good money to attend; everyone was huddled into the back rows of their section watching the end of the 1 pm game. At around 4:30 Adam Vinatieri, the Patriots kicker who was a Jet killer for so long, kicked the game winning field goal to lend official meaning to the game in front of us. The crowd went crazy, cheering and chanting for minutes straight even though nothing of consequence was occurring on the field. It was a truly wild scene. The Jets, despite their long and storied history of doing so, wouldn’t disappoint, they crushed the Packers 42-17 to win the AFC East. Confetti poured down, people were jumping up and down hugging in the aisles, and the best part? I was there with my grandfather, like I was for every single home game of that up and down year.
My other favorite Jets moment happened 500 miles away at my home away from home, Ohio University, where I attended college. January 9th, 2010 the Jets faced the Bengals in the first round of the playoffs. By then I was a senior and I was used to being one of, if not the only Jet fan at the bar I watched games at on Sundays. But this day had a whole new meaning as they were facing one of Ohio’s teams. Knowing I’d be in the vast minority, I did what any self-respecting New Yorker would do: Embracing being the bad guy. I enlisted 5 of my friends who were Browns fans (the Bengals chief rivals), armed them with Jet jerseys, and went down to the local “Bengals bar” two hours early to grab bar seats and sit front and center for the game. As you can imagine, it was an ugly scene, and most of the words that were hurled back and forth for the next 3 hours aren’t suitable to be published. The outcome was wonderful though; the Jets thrashed the Bengals, moving on to the next round of the playoffs. That night, my friends celebrated with me as though they had been Jet fans their whole life, a few of them still root for the Jets today because of it.
I’m in the vast majority of Jet fans my age when I say that my favorite Jet of all time is Curtis Martin. Despite putting up some of the greatest rushing statistics of all time, Martin isn’t really considered and “all-time great” in the same way we talk about Jim Brown, Walter Payton, and Barry Sanders. I think a lot of that has to do with the workman-like nature of his game, producing at such a high level without the flash and self-advertising we’re so used to from today’s players. The qualities that made him great are all the more evident now given that two the of the team’s biggest problems going into this season are consistent production from the running backs (Martin had 10 straight seasons of 1,000 plus yards) and issues with leadership and character.
More often than not, being a Jet fan isn’t easy, in fact, a lot of the time it’s REALLY hard. I think that challenge is a big part of what has made me so passionate through the years, and what will make it all the more fulfilling when they raise the Lombardi Trophy some point in the (hopefully) near future.
Some other fun facts about Justin Baldinger, the Jet fan:
Least favorite All-Time Jet: Brett Favre. I hated the retirement drama, I hated that his arrival came at the expense of one of my favorite Jets, Chad Pennington, and I hated that he suckered me into liking him when they got out to an 8-3 start in his only year only to spectacularly collapse late in the season.
What I miss most from the past: The Old Meadowlands (I refuse to call it Giants Stadium.) Yes, it was horrible structurally and parking was a total mess, but when the crowd was hot, that place sounded like no other, it was one of the biggest home field advantages in sports. The new stadium doesn’t get nearly as loud.
Best Call: I was at the 2002 draft when the Jets drafted Bryan Thomas. I lamented the pick and was even quoted in the New York Post that they should have taken Ed Reed (I still have the article saved.)
Worst Call: At this time a year ago, I said that after the 2011 season, Mark Sanchez would be considered the best quarterback in New York.
Favorite Interaction with a Jet: I had the opportunity to interview Chad Pennington for my high school newspaper. He was as knowledgeable and friendly as he appears on camera, and even offered to help me with my writing if I ever needed it, as he was journalism major at Marshall.
Biggest hope as a Jet fan: That I can one day attend a Super Bowl with my grandfather that includes the Jets.
As always I wish that this website not only brings you Jets knowledge but friendships as well. If you have a story like Justin’s please feel free to reach out to myself at @koda522 or any of our other fine staff including Justin himself. Thank you again because without fans like you we would not be doing what we love!
You can follow myself Rich Wilhelm on Twitter @koda522 our "Featured Fan of the Week" Justin Baldinger @J_Baldinger and also our website @nyjoverthepond. Also please visit the site again at www.nyjetsoverthepond.com