Wednesday, January 19, 2011

STEELERS VS JETS INVOKES BAD MEMORIES FROM DAYS OF YORE


ABOVE: Yes, it truly has been a long time since the New York Jets have had anything to cheer about (now 42 years). Let's hope that the Steelers remember full well that the Jets beat them at home earlier this season!

On the heels of a fantastic comeback win against the hated and despised Ravens last week and with, lo and behold, an unimaginable Jets victory over the "invincible" Patriots in Foxboro, we now find Pittsburgh, fortunately, being the location of yet another AFC Championship game. Of course we all know that this game has never been a "lock" for the Black & Gold.

Although it would have been nicer to have not had such a terrible first half last week, we'll instead try to keep as a long-lasting memory, the incredible second half that the Steelers came up with to enter this final step before as yet another SuperBowl. 

Speaking of long-lasting memories, since the "high-flying" Jets are now coming to town, I'd like to share with you a Jets-Steelers story from a long time ago...

The year was 1979, 32 years ago, and I was publishing a Pittsburgh sports tabloid named...you guessed it, "Pittsburgh's Black & Gold". The Steelers had just come off of their fourth championship at the end of the prior season and were now the most storied team in NFL history. That following summer, the Steelers were still going through the interminably-long six game exhibition season when I noticed that they had an exhibition game scheduled for the then "brand-new" Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey. In retrospect, I guess one way that you know that you're getting old is when you see stadiums that you saw built being torn down for new replacements. Out with the old, in with the new, right?

ABOVE: The thirty-year-old "junky" original Meadowlands Stadium (right) sits next to the then as-yet-unfinished New Meadowlands Stadium a couple years ago.

Anyway, my news editor, Ben Mount, contacted Joe Gordon of the Steelers and put in a request for two media passes. Joe, as usual, came through for us and when Ben went down to the stadium to pick them up, he was given two regular seats on close to the 50 yard line. Joe explained that the New York media had had so many requests for credentials that the Jets' press box was full. If we were to attend, the best they could do would be two tickets on the 50 in the first level of the stadium.

Sure, I would have preferred sitting in the press box, but they were at least taking care of us. The game was being played on a Saturday night and in order to save a considerable amount of money, I decided that Ben and I would make the drive to New Jersey.

At this time we were dealing with a major gas-shortage problem. Rationing became the rule of the day and depending on whether you had and "odd" or "even" number to start your license number would determine if it was your "day" to get gas. Since I had an even number and it was my day to be able to get gas, I filled up prior to leaving. I would get gas after the game, I reasoned, before the trip back home.



As we left Saturday morning, the trip east was thankfully, uneventful...until we got to the Meadowlands exit. Then it became utter massive gridlock, some of the worst I've ever seen. In fact, it was so bad that after initially being very early for the game, we barely made it to our seats by kickoff.

The Jets had a horrific team. Everybody knew this game was going to be a first-class blowout and true enough, soon the rout was on. The Steelers were "laying the lumber" big time in this game as there were many incredible defensive hits that took place. Then, after halftime, the real game started...

I have never seen anything remotely as bad as what took place in that stadium that night. Whether it was alcohol-induced or because their team was being shellacked by the Steelers, this crowd suddenly became very ugly. One after another fights were breaking out all over this stadium. At various moments, when there was nothing going-on on the field, you would hear a small roar and when you would look around, invariably you would see two guys throwing punches at each other.


ABOVE: Take it from me, if you ever find yourself in this situation, you'll agree that it is not the place to be.

The way that the stadium police responded was almost laughable. They would allow the two combatants to first beat themselves silly, then they would arrive en masse: ten to twenty officers with billy clubs and beat the daylights out of them. In one notable confrontation, I saw a phalanx of officers toss one ever-feisty combatant down a flight of concrete steps into the awaiting arms of some batons awaiting below. Amazing as it may sound, the fights in the stands became more interesting to watch than the Steeler rookies who were now on the field in this blowout game.

"Fortunately we're sitting in the good seats," I said to Ben. There's no riffraff in these seats". Wrong.

ABOVE: Your travel tip: Beware of hot dog vendors in New York area stadiums.

Just after we had watched the mop-up procedure of the guy who had made an unplanned trip down the steps inside Meadowlands Stadium, I saw a hot dog vendor walking down the steps in our section. Since we were sitting on the end of a row, it was very easy to conduct my transaction. The vendor put down his heavy metal steam cabinet and while he was getting our hot dogs, I noticed a few people lining up behind him in order to get their hot dog. It was then that I started hearing the complaints: "Hey sit down." "Hey idiot, I can't see." Then, "Hey, why don't you shut the hell up!" Then came the obligatory, "Hey why don't you come over here and try to shut me up?"

Before I knew it, I was smack dab in the middle of one of these stadium "bar fights". I ducked down in my seat as the punches were being thrown all around me. It seemed that they were coming from three or four different directions. After the militia came in and restored order, I said to Ben, "Let's get out of here. We'll beat the traffic and get in line to get gas. This game is over anyway and it's only an exhibition game. I don't need to get killed over it." He heartily agreed and we beat a path to the already-gridlocked parking lot.

It was already now after ten p.m. and it took us well over an hour to get out of the once-again gridlocked stadium area. We had about 40 minutes to still get gas and the first station I saw, I got into a very, very long line. Every five minutes or so you would move forward about 15 or 20 feet. I kept looking at my watch as the line crawled forward. By the time I got to the pumps it was now, incredibly, 12:15 a.m. . I kept hoping that no one would notice that I now had the wrong numbered license plate.

ABOVE: A typical late 70's gas station line. What a nightmare this was!

As I pulled up to the pump, the attendant came back to my window and said, "Sorry buddy, but you have the wrong number."

I responded back, "I've been in this line since 11:20. My number was good then."

He said, "See that car over there? That's an unmarked car. That guy in there is just waiting for me to give you gas."

I said, "I'm an out-of-state traveler, your state has a reciprocal agreement with Pennsylvania  to give gas to out-of state travelers."

He answered, "New York has that agreement, New Jersey does not. All that I can do is sell you one gallon of gas."

Needless to say, I was really steamed over this. I paid for my gallon of gas and took off, worrying about how I was going to get home. As I got onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike I became fixated on the gas gauge. When would I run out of gas? Would I be in the middle of nowhere when it happened?

ABOVE: Something you don't want to have staring at you for three hours.

I stopped at a station on the turnpike at around 1:30 a.m. and got the same, "No gas, you've got the wrong plate" from the attendant. This time I couldn't even use the "out-of-state" line, because I no longer was! Interestingly, I saw another unmarked car parked not too far from the pumps with an officer inside. I managed to get one more gallon of gas and I was then sent on my way.

As you would expect, this did nothing to move the needle on the gas gauge, and I went back to driving under this same incredible stress. Finally, about an hour later at 2:30 in the morning, I pulled into another station, our car literally running on gas fumes by now and drove right up to the gas pump. As you can imagine, traffic on the road had really thinned-out to a trickle. The attendant began filling up my car and never said a word about my plate. There weren't even any cops around either. Thank God for bad employees!

So whenever I think about the New York Jets, I invariably recall that awful night where I unwittingly got in the middle of a stadium brawl and spent the next several hours dealing with the gas crisis of the 70's. Let's hope Sunday's game will help to develop a newer and more pleasant set of memories.

Oh, by the way, when I got home, I learned that on the local telecast that Sam Nover had said that, "The fights in the stands were better than the game on the field."... I can certainly vouch for that, depending on where you were sitting of course!

LEFT: Former Channel 11 sports anchor and occasional Steeler broadcaster, Sam Nover. He knew a good fight when he saw one!