There will always be a special place in my heart for the Jet football games of my youth, played in their one, true home, Shea Stadium. Shea Stadium officially opened in 1964 and was named for William A. Shea, a well known attorney instrumental in bringing back a National League baseball team to New York with the Mets, after the Dodgers and Giants left for the west coast a few years earlier. He was rewarded with the stadium named after him rather than the planned name, Flushing Meadow Stadium. The stadium was one of the first to have escalators bringing fans to different levels.
In 1964 the Jets opened the season at Shea beating the Denver Broncos 30-6, with quarterback Dick Wood throwing 2 touchdown passes. After that season, the Jets always seemed to open the season on the road. In fact, because the Mets were the primary tenants at Shea, the second class Jets always took a back seat just to use the facility. In their 1968 Super Bowl season, the Jets first three games were on the road. In the month of September the Mets infield remained visible and in a kind of weird way you could see a baseball diamond overlay as part of the football field.
Another memory of Shea was the volume of the planes from Laguardia Airport, only a stones throw away. The planes were so loud and seemed to fly so low during the games, that the fans were often rendered not only mute but terrified.
The most impressive thing about Shea Stadium was going to a game in late November or December and trying to stay warm in the upper deck. Somehow the way the Stadium was configured caused the winds to swirl in a kind of Wizard of Oz fashion as when Dorothy was about to leave Kansas. Small wind whirlpools were the regular norm within the stadium carrying empty paper cups, napkins and hot dog rolls in their wake. It was challenging to come out of these games trying to feel all ten toes! The upper deck had an open area at the top with a kind of metal grill about six feet wide going around the whole circumference of the stadium. They put a canvas on the grill trying to redirect the wind but by the first week of December this canvas was in a shambles every year. At times, the wind could be as loud as the planes passing overhead.
I attended a game in December 1967 with one of my brothers and my parents. The Jets were playing the Kansas City Chiefs and it was the coldest I have ever been in my life! Of course, our seats were in the last row of the upper deck and the wind was beyond comprehension. A lot of the seats were empty but not because people weren’t at the game. Many of the spectators were crammed into the 54 restrooms around the stadium holding their hands up to these small space heaters hanging from the ceiling. I remember going into one of the bathrooms fighting my way through the crowd close to the space heaters just to get to a urinal. Oh yeah, the Jets lost the game 21-7.
After I graduated college my first job was as athletic director at a community center. Part of my schedule was that I had to work every Sunday. I couldn’t bear missing my Jets so I approached the director of the community center with the great idea of setting up a trip to watch the Jets play. He agreed, but when I suggested we attend five games, he knocked that down to three. So for the next two years part of my job was setting up these trips to Shea renting a bus and selling tickets to members of the community center. When you like something and put your mind to it, is amazing what you can accomplish. I sold out all the six games we went to over the course of two seasons.
The Jets played at Shea Stadium for nineteen years before Leon Hess moved the team to the Meadowlands in New Jersey. Mr. Hess gave the excuse that he moved because of the condition of the bathrooms. In reality, the rumor was that New Jersey was going to purchase Monmouth Racetrack from Hess, who owned this money losing business, if he moved the Jets.
People that remember the Jets playing at Shea Stadium have some of the best memories. We all remember that little green and white Jet plane that would go up and down the sidelines. And if you went to a lot of games you saw a band that was a regular called the Bob Cleveland Orchestra. I saw a lot of games at Shea and early on I remember the Jets had a number of Saturday night games. The most famous New York Jets game at Shea Stadium was the 1968 AFL Championship game against the Oakland Raiders. It was played on December 29, with the Jets wining 27-23 going on to win the 1969 Super Bowl. I didn’t attend that game but I remember listening to it then watching a replay at midnight.
The last Jets game I went to at Shea Stadium was in 1981 against the Miami Dolphins. My wife who was pregnant with our first son at the time got the tickets as a surprise birthday present. Luckily we were three to four rows under the mezzanine as it rained most of the second half. The Jets won 16-15 and Richard Todd threw a TD pass to Jerome Barkum.
The memories I have of the Jets playing in Shea Stadium are many. I loved going to the games there in spite of the air traffic from the airport and the cold swirling wind. It wasn’t the nicest home but it was the Jets home and in some ways was my second home. I loved every game I ever saw my New York Jets play at Shea Stadium.
Marty Schupak has been a New York Jets football fan since 1964. His blog and Podcast is at: www.JetsRewind.com