When I was growing up, I was the little brother, which made me the Jets, Mets, Nets and Islanders of our household (and since I was the middle child, my younger brother would have then been the Devils, though I don't recall him winning three Stanley Cups or having any Lou Lamoriello-like qualities to him). Like the Yankees, , Knicks and , my older brother came first. And he was much more successful than I was - he was a star athlete, had teen idol-like looks that drew the chicks to him and possessed a bold, outgoing personality. He might as well have had 27 World Series banners hanging in his bedroom. I was little, shy and as for looks, just take a peek at my accompanying picture. And like the Jets, I didn't even have my own "stadium," as I had to share a bedroom with the other little brother (though we never thought to try and sell the naming rights to it or gouge our friends with PSLs when they came over). All of this is to say, I know what the newer New York-area teams have had to deal with when it comes to the "little brother syndrome."
This topic is much in the news these days, because the Jets have a chip on their shoulder as big as Rex Ryan's mouth. They're sick and tired of living in a New York Giants town, not to mention having to share a venue with those guys. They finally got their "own" stadium, as they've been tenants of the Mets and Giants for the length of their existence, but even now they still have to share it. And some are still calling it Giants Stadium out of habit (the Post even listed last week's game in their TV section as "New York Giants vs. New York Jets at Giants Stadium"). Seemingly every day, the Jets are squawking about making New York a Jets town, and taking over the city. They're tired of being second-class citizens. And who can blame them?
Things can change after all, since there is historical precedent. The Yankees are the most popular team in town these days, hands down. There's no debate, no argument, not even a sliver of doubt. And it's always been like that, hasn't it? Um, no. New York was known as a National League town for decades, with two teams predating the upstart Yankees, though that also split up the natural fan base. The old Giants were the kings of attendance in the teens and even outdrew the powerhouse Yankees in the latter half of the 1940s. Ebbets Field only held approximately 32,000 fans, so the Dodgers never really had a chance to compete, attendance-wise. For the first 29 years that the Mets played in Shea Stadium, they outdrew the Bombers in 21 of those seasons, though. And in 1987, the Mets were the first New York team to bring in over three million fans. But that's obviously old news by now, as ever since the mid '90s, when the Yankees started winning consistently again coupled with the Mets' ineptitude, they've retaken the city, and the stranglehold on fans' loyalties.
So attendance and popularity have ebbed and flowed over the decades giving the Jets some hope that things will change in their favor. But while they swagger around the tri-state area telling everyone they come across that they're going to be kings of New York, that sentiment is the last thing on the mind of the Mets these days, as they have plenty of troubles and problems elsewhere to keep them occupied. Maybe the Amazin's need the bluster of Rex Ryan instead of the "ummming" and hemming and hawing of "leaders" Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya. But the way things stand right now, there is no hope in sight for the Mets to wrestle control of New York from the Yankees.
The Jets, Mets, Islanders and even Nets have all had chances to gain control of the city (though it will never happen for the Devils, as they're strictly a New Jersey concept, and there's surely nothing wrong with that). As the Giants spent all of the 1970s as a terrible football team, the Jets had a chance to reign over New York. Big Blue was boring and old-fashioned, and even moved out of the city, while the Jets were colorful, and led by the flashy, charismatic Joe Namath (Fu Manchus! White cleats! Guarantees! Dating Ann-Margret!). But, unfortunately, for Gang Green Nation, the Jets peaked in January of 1969, and were never the same again during the Broadway Joe era. And the Giants quickly turned themselves into a powerhouse in the '80s. The setup was similar for the Mets in the late '60s/early '70s. The Yankees were bland and mediocre, while the Mets were taking not just the city but the whole nation by storm in 1969. They did a little better than the Jets in sustaining their popularity and success with another unlikely World Series run in '73, but it was back and forth for the two teams over the next two decades, with the Yankees finally taking over for good after the Bobby Bonilla/Vince Coleman era. The Knicks and Rangers have two things on their side that the Nets and Islanders can never surpass: Madison Square Garden and a Manhattan address. The Islanders built one of the greatest teams in NHL history, winning four Stanley Cups in a row for Pete's sake, and still couldn't overtake the Rangers. While as the Knicks were saying goodbye to legends Willis Reed and Dave DeBusschere and Walt Frazier and Bill Bradley started to age, the Julius Erving-led Nets (talk about colorful) were winning ABA championships in '74 and '76 (and still playing in New York). But when the Nets had to sell Dr. J in order to afford to enter the NBA, that was all she wrote for the Nets' chances. Even two finals appearances in the early Aughts, coupled with the Knicks becoming a joke, didn't do the trick.
Fans (and even some players) of the older, more popular teams love to rub it in the faces of their little brothers. Whether they came by their fandom honestly or by jumping on the bandwagon doesn't matter - many feel obligated to root with a sense of entitlement. "At least I don't root for those losers across town," they can say. Hey, just like in real life, acting like the bullying big brother. But that's all part of the fun. Can things change? Will it ever be a Jets town? Can the Mets reclaim what they had when they were the toast of the town in the roaring '80s? Maybe. And should I have strutted around the house when I was kid, Rex Ryan-style, boasting that by the end of the winter I'd have my own room with my brothers having to be the ones to share? That I would be king of the household? I guess I could have. The Islanders, Nets and Mets are nestled comfortably in their familiar place as the little brother, but right now it's the Jets who are having their "Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!" moment. The older teams have entrenched themselves in the area's consciousness with decades of history, and have fans that have been handed down through the generations. And winning alone doesn't necessarily change things, as we've seen with the Islanders and Devils (and to a certain extent the Mets and Nets), so it will be an uphill battle for the Jets. But there's nothing wrong with trying.
For in-depth coverage of all the local teams, check out SB Nation's Amazin' Avenue, Pinstripe Alley, Gang Green Nation, Big Blue View, NetsDaily, Posting and Toasting, Lighthouse Hockey, In Lou We Trust and Blueshirt Banter. And click here, for Howard Megdal's column Top Five Times Jets Started, Then Failed To Overtake Giants.