Watching the New York Jets live for a lot of people is a weekly occurrence. For me, a fan of around 20 years, watching them live has long been a dream that I've been unable to fulfil. For one reason or another, when I visit New York, it's either the off-season or the Jets are on the road, that's just the way it's been. So to finally be able to not only see the Jets live, but see them dominate a divisional rival, exceeded any expectations I may have had.
I've been to the International series many times, and I'll be returning to see both the Bills/Jags and Chiefs/Lions games this year. But this one was special. I set off with a couple of buddies early on Sunday morning, and despite a train delay of 55 minutes, arrived in plenty of time. The atmosphere was buzzing, and the host of NFL jerseys were as varied as possible. I saw every NFL team, a number of NCAA teams, a CFL jersey or two and even some old NFL Europe numbers. Everyone was in good spirits with Jets/Dolphins fans chatting away over a few beers.
From experience, I knew that the organisers at Wembley would try and make this as Dolphins centric as possible, after all it was technically their "home game". So I wasn't really looking forward to getting in the stadium to see the gigantic flags, or the teal and orange decorations surrounding the tunnel. Each seat had a Dolphins flag (that I quickly disposed of before sitting down) and despite a lot of Jets jerseys in the crowd, the Dolphin fans outnumbered the Jets pretty easily.
We have to remember that the NFL really started to take off in the UK in the 1980's. That was a time where games would be shown on channels free to air for everyone. It was also a time where Dan Marino reigned supreme and the Dolphins routinely made the post-season, including a Super Bowl appearance in 1984. The Dolphins have also been over to London on two occasions recently, so it was only natural that they would pick up new fans along the way.
However the Jet fans were in full voice. With Fireman Ed in the stands, the J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS chant could be heard throughout the game and after watching the playback of the game this morning, I was happy to hear it come through clearly in the TV coverage as well. A lot of neutral fans want to see a good game, so the Jets were cheered at the start and the Dolphins cheered at the end, when the possibility of a comeback was still there.
We've been over the actual game already here on GGN, so I won't focus too much on that. Seeing Ivory up close and personal was pretty special, the pure power and physicality he rushes with comes across on the TV but in person, it was even more evident. Revis was exceptional and I tracked his coverage on a couple of plays to just appreciate how good he is. He seems to allow a little cushion, almost baiting the throw, before closing it in an instant. I also got to see Eric Decker score a touchdown and for anyone who talks to me on a regular basis, they'll know that's a pretty big deal.
The Jets got a great reception in London, from the Tower of London flying the Jets flag to the positive response on the field. I was sitting directly behind a New Orleans Saints fan and a Dallas Cowboys fan, both of whom were actively routing for the Jets. If the merchandise stand is anything to go by, I think there will be considerably more items of Jets apparel in the UK going forward.
On leaving the game everyone was in good spirits. Obviously there were a few unhappy Dolphin fans, but most appreciated that we'd seen a pretty good game. I ran into a few chaps who'd made the journey from New York after the game in the pub and as he put it "3-1 is a hell of a lot better than 2-2 huh".
I know a lot of people don't like the international series, and I get that. Nobody wants to see their team travel abroad, meaning they likely can't go. However for me, this experience was one that I'll never forget. The Jets coming over for the first time enabled me to see a team I've loved for a long time and a team I've covered on a daily basis for over 5 years now, live, and I guarantee the Jets picked up some new fans in the process.
I don't know if they will extend the series, there are plenty of rumours about them doing just that. Would I love to have 6 or 8 games instead of 3? Absolutely. The more live football the better, but for now...I'm a happy man just to have seen the boys in Green do what they do. Play physical hard-nosed football that resulted in a win and a beatdown of a divisional rival.