Under normal circumstances, the New York City sports fan would have to work a lot harder to find satisfaction these days. The Yankees just got clocked in the minimum allowable time, the Mets’ eradication still lingers in the air like a freshly extinguished chemical fire, and the basketball and hockey seasons have just started and have not yet generated the requisite and inevitable bitterness and angst. Football? Please.
And yet here we are. The Giants and Jets, signal flares for the bottom of the NFL’s cave of winds, have the second and fifth best records in the league as we sneak up stealthily on the midway point of the season. (Not only that, Geno Smith, the most traumatic Gotham-linked quarterback of recent times, is adamantly not failing in Seattle.) Say what you want about their bake-off quality schedules (the Jets have the fourth-easiest schedule through seven weeks and the Giants are 21st), and go on and on about small sample sizes and “wait until the weather turns—if it ever does.” The Giants and Jets sharing the same rarefied air is an extraordinary thing for their fans, and their inherent rivalries based on nothing except geography and the minimal differences between green and blue in their retinal receptors—and I can hear them ready to argue about which is better, rods or cones—means that for the immediate moment they can enjoy football together, relieved in the knowledge that other cities have the worst owners and quarterbacks for a change.
It’s the shared space part that makes this temporarily special. The Giants and Jets have existed beside each other for 63 years, with the Giants as the patricians who played at Yankee Stadium and the Titans and then the Jets at the decrepit Polo Grounds and then the football-unsuitable Shea Stadium. They didn’t make the playoffs in the same season until 1985 and got knocked out by the two eventual Super Bowl participants, and the next year the Giants won it all so the Jets couldn’t enjoy their two playoff games. They didn’t converge again until 2002 and then 2006 but neither stayed long, and even in 2011, when the Giants won the Super Bowl, Jets fans could take no solace in knowing that they at least beat New England.
No, these have been two garbage scows passing in the night, the Jets far worse by any measure. Their mutual lack of history makes them as relevant in juxtaposition as Jacksonville and Detroit. Their fans hate each other only out of cultural obligation, because “You suck!”/”So do you!” isn’t a genuinely satisfying tavern argument.
And now, as it dawns on each team’s fan base that maybe their own teams are potentially good, they can allow themselves the next-level acknowledgement that the other guy’s team is potentially good, too. The bar argument can morph into “The Eagles suck!”/”So do the Bills!” Football New York can become Disneyland.
Of course it won’t. Both the Giants and Jets are led by their defenses, which is the less cool way to win games, and in the modern NFL usually insufficient, and until we clear their bye weeks and get to December, every week is a land mine with party decorations tied to the pilings. The Giants and Jets have been bad more often in this century than not, and the back end of the season typically makes that clear. But poor teams are generally easier to fix via their defense until the quarterback they never deserve arrives by accident. For the moment, though, New Yorkers aren’t particular about their teams’ joint method for not sucking. They just enjoy the non-suck of it all.
Besides, they can work out their frustrations on the crash-and-burns their baseball teams have just completed. New Yorkers have football, and it is … well, it is not necessarily good, but it is at least not foul on sight. And how about that Geno Smith?