One of the chief off-the-field elements missing from the Jets attack all last season was the absence of the man with the stern visage, the fireman's hat and the No. 42 green jersey sitting atop another fan's shoulders and uniting 78,000 fans as one in a legendary chant.
No, Ed Anzalone's season on injured reserve didn't cause the Jets' 4-12 travails. But he was missed.
And now we at *newyorkjets.com *want to be the first to give you this four-alarm news:
Fireman. Ed. Is. Back.
"I'm going to return, full-fledged. I'm looking forward to it. I'm excited," Anzalone told me the day before the Giants game. "I wasn't there last year. I'm hoping the fans didn't forget me."
Forget him? Hardly. You can love the Fireman, you can hate the Fireman. But to metaphorically remove his headgear and change his neckwear, when Rev. Ed raises his hands up from his lower-tier pulpit, you rise and you open your hymnals:
"J! E! T! S! Jets! Jets! Jets!"
Anzalone didn't create the chant, but since 1985 he has been its caretaker, its public face. It is a sight and sound to behold, as one football observer, unaware of Fireman Ed's power, told me for my book "Stadium Stories: New York Jets":
"It's amazing. Fans are making all kinds of sounds, then one guy stands up and everybody gets quiet and he starts moving his arms, forming letters, and a whole stadium spells out the team's name as one."
If there's one thing that Ed wanted Green & White fans to know in his recent interview, it's that the Jets' record had nothing to do with his absence.
"People think I was giving up, I didn't want to come. It wasn't that, believe me," he said. "Whatever the record was, it didn't matter. I was biting at the bit every Sunday. It was killing me that I couldn't be there."
"I've Still Got That Passion"
Anzalone was hurt fighting a fire. He underwent knee surgery on the eve of the 2007 season, but the injury that kept him away from the crowds was his neck. Doctors wanted to perform surgery but Anzalone decided to "rehab like crazy."
The rehab got him back, but not in time for the season. "I thought I might try to come back for the last couple of games," he said, "but my wife talked me out of it."
This year is different.
"I'm 49. I don't feel 49," he said. "Of course, between me and the other firemen playing ball all those years, the body's getting worn down. But the heart is still ticking. And I've still got that passion, I've still got that burning desire.
"Besides, I'm not the one who's on the bottom."
That would be Bruce, Ed's section mate who a few years back replaced Ed's brother as his foundation from which to lead the chant. And Anzalone, despite his season on the sideline, hasn't forgotten his sense of timing.
"You've got to have a feel for the game," he explained. "When a touchdown is scored, that's obvious. So many other times you have to pick and choose. You don't want to tick people off during the game.
"And the defensive chants are the hardest to come by. You've got to get people up from sitting on their butts. It's a homefield edge. The players feed off that."
Needless to say, the Jets and their fans will be nourished by a number of new additions to the squad over the past eight months or so. Fireman Ed has noticed. He loved what he saw of a certain No. 4 at last week's final open practice of training camp, which he attended incognito (if that's possible for him).
Great Time to Be in Green & White
"Watching Brett Favre that close, he just zips the ball," Anzalone said. "Other guys throw a pass that won't be that tight a spiral. It happens. But it seems like every single pass with him it's a tight spiral. If you wanted to teach a kid how to throw a ball, that would be the guy to show him. And take the gray hair away and that guy is awesome shape, tremendous shape.
"But you know what's more refreshing than anything with Favre? I'm just amazed at his humbleness. A guy with all those accolades, at that level for so long a time, to be as humble and grounded as he is ... We went from a guy like Chad [Pennington], who just represented the organization so well, to another guy who's on the same level, even a better, more accomplished guy."
Anzalone admires not only Favre but all the other additions to the roster, all the on- and off-field happenings that have given the Jets, at least in the minds of their closest followers if not yet the local and national media, some extra juice heading into the coming season.
And the juice will be flowing at the Meadowlands on Sept. 14, when we hear the first Fireman Ed-led chants, at his first appearance since the Oakland game on New Year's Eve 2006, before the kickoff at the home opener against the Patriots.
"The stadium for New England is going to be in a frenzy," Anzalone said. "Man, I'm so fired up. I can't wait.
"This is a great time to be a Jets fan."
Many things will have helped make that so, including the presence of the man with the stern visage, the fireman's hat and the No. 42 green jersey sitting atop another fan's shoulders and uniting 78,000 fans as one in a legendary chant.