Wednesday, August 12, 2009

If Woody had just stayed at Hofstra, none of this ever would have happened

Even Woody Boyd would have built a practice facility with bleachers and dorms.

If I was Mitch Albom, this is what I would have written six months ago for posting today:

The Jets get their long-awaited respite from the drudgery of training camp in New Jersey tonight, when they make a brief return to a campus setting with an intrasquad scrimmage at Hofstra.

Well, that would have made me look pretty foolish, because that sentence is about as accurate as a Browning Nagle pass. Though as the chief executive officer, managing editor, staff writer, proofreader, creative consultant and head butler of Defiantly Dutch, I wouldn’t have subjected myself to the intense internal investigation (hooray alliteration!) that Albom received.

The Jets are back at Hofstra today, but they’re traveling here from SUNY-Cortland, not Jersey. And their brief return is even briefer than anticipated, because the intrasquad scrimmage has turned into an hour-long walkthrough. Other than that though, it’s exactly as I would have described it in February.

Of course, I still wouldn’t look as foolish as Woody Johnson, who spent $75 million to build the Jets a year-round training complex in Jersey, only to realize a few months (and one head coaching change) later that the Jersey complex wasn’t suitable for holding training camp.

I could almost understand it if the move was made entirely to appease new head coach Rex Ryan, who wanted a more remote setting to build team chemistry. Still, though, you’d like to think the owner would politely but firmly tell the first-time head coach—even one whose dad could beat up your dad—that sorry, but he spent $75 million so the guys are going to have to play hide and seek and roast S’mores in Jersey.

But the Jets also had to find another place to train this summer because the Jersey complex has neither bleacher seating for fans nor housing for the players. Gee Woody. You think you might have been able to FIGURE THAT OUT BEFORE YOU SPENT $75 MILLION ON A COMPLEX THAT HAD NO BLEACHERS OR DORMITORIES!!! Or, better yet, before you left a COMPLEX THAT HAS BLEACHERS AND DORMITORIES!!!

This is the type of expensive foolishness that you and I can never hope to comprehend. This is like buying a house, closing on it, moving in and going “You know what? We need six more bedrooms, three garages and a farm-sized backyard.”

If you and I tried pulling that, we wouldn’t have to worry about not liking the house, because our better half would kick us into the street. Alas, such expensive foolishness is par for the course for an owner who mimics the Wilpons and a franchise that comes to resemble the Mets more with each passing day.

I used to think of the Mets and Jets as kindred, endearing souls. They’re 1960s expansion teams who have never been able to escape the shadow of their iconic crosstown rivals. They shared Shea Stadium for a couple decades. They, of course, shocked the establishment by winning world championships in 1969.

It’s been a long time since championships for both franchises, leaving fans no choice but to be satisfied with miraculous comebacks that nonetheless leave their favorite team short of the ultimate goal. In the 1999 NL Championship Series, the Mets stormed back from a three games to none deficit to force a sixth game, during which they fell behind 5-0 before Al Leiter recorded an out in the first inning yet blew leads in the eighth and 10th inning before falling in the 11th. The 2000 Jets performed the Monday Night Miracle, yet lost their final three games to miss the playoffs.

But even the mini-miracles have disappeared over the last several years under new ownership (Johnson bought the Jets from the Hess estate in early 2000 and the Wilpons bought out Nelson Doubleday in August 2002). Now the teams collapse down the stretch on an almost annual basis and are run by silver spoon sons who meddle in personnel decisions despite reputations to the contrary, have built or inhabited stadiums that pay little or no homage to their respective teams and whose concept of a long-term plan is signing the biggest name players and hiring the polar opposite of the most recent ex-manager/ex-coach.

The Mets threw gobs of money at Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana, all of whom were supposed to bring the franchise credibility—just like the Jets hitched their wagon to Chad Pennington, who beget Brett Favre, who was supposed to sell PSLs for the new stadium, at least until Mark Sanchez became that guy.

Bobby Valentine talked too much and didn’t play well with others, so the Mets fired him and hired milquetoast Art Howe. After two years of abject failure the Mets fired him and replaced him with humorless drill sergeant Willie Randolph. Two-and-a-half years of mixed results followed before the Mets clumsily executed Randolph in the middle of the night and replaced him with Jerry Manuel, a quote machine who lacks the conduit between brain and mouth.

Al Groh, who was Bill Parcells minus the personality and championship pedigree, was allowed to leave for Virginia after one year and replaced by Herm Edwards, who was a champion at the podium and considerably less skilled on the sideline. Johnson fired Edwards following the 2005 season and went back to the autocrat in hiring Eric Mangini, who won three Super Bowls as an assistant to Bill Belichick in New England. Mangini was Belichick minus the personality and championship pedigree, and when his Kremlin-like demeanor wore thin after just three years, Johnson canned him and replaced him with the gregarious and non-secretive Ryan.

Anyway, since Woody can’t seem to commit to an organizational plan for the Jets nor build a training facility at which his team can actually prepare for the season, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when he manages to muff the Jets’ token visit to Long Island. Coming down here for an hour is like promising to meet an old friend for a dinner at a fancy restaurant and then changing plans at the last second and meeting for a glass of water at a rest stop instead. It’s so insulting, why even bother?

The funny thing is I was starting to buy into the conspiracy theory that Hofstra didn’t really put up much of a fight to keep the Jets because the school wanted the land the Jets were occupying for the new medical school. I wanted to think you might not have been the bad guy in all this, Woody, but you just make it impossible. You obviously have no Hofstra—wait for it!!!—pride, so stay in Cortland, join the Red Dragon booster club (what is served at Cortland football games? Liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti?), do whatever it is that people do in the middle of nowhere and don’t bother getting on I-81 South next summer. After all, we can’t miss the Jets if you won’t go away.

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