Steve Mendelsohn, the Jets' long-time gameday frequency coordinator, a great friend and fan of the Green & White and one of the most fascinating folks you could ever meet, has lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.
Mendelsohn, 67, died this morning at his home in Dumont, N.J.
Jets players, members of the organization and Jets fans who knew the erudite gentleman personally or through stories published on newyorkjets.com and elsewhere last September know he was a ham radio operator from way back and that his hobby took him around the globe — not only to the Navy, where he served part of his time as a cryptologist ("a spy," he said), but on to becoming a polished speaker who held a variety of offices in national ham radio organizations, as well as becoming the communications technician and pointman on a number of important trips by world leaders.
While working for CBS News, he collected anecdotes about four Presidents, was blessed by two Popes, and used to lunch with Walter Cronkite. At ABC, he won a technical Emmy, helped design a state-of-the-art fleet of Monday Night Football mobile production trucks, and was a key member of the team that developed the parabolic microphones that have been a part of the sports landscape for a long time
For the past 16 months, Steve's storybook life shifted from enchantment to survival mode. He, his wife, Heidi, and his family and friends found out in January 2011 that he was terminally ill. Yet six years after surviving a prognosis of one year to live due to a lung sarcoid, he outpaced his medical team's prognosis of three to five months due to the pancreatic cancer.
Then in March he was sent home for hospice care because he said the chemotherapy he had been receiving was no longer helping his condition and he received a new prognosis: two to six weeks.
"I've had better years, days, hours," Mendelsohn told newyorkjets.com late last month. "If things continue the way they have the last 48 hours, the chances are I won't make it to next week. But I said to Mike Tannenbaum, 'You guys have kept me alive.' It sounds like hyperbole, but Clay [senior director of operations Clay Hampton] and Gus [director of equipment Gus Granneman] have always told me, when there's that one more thing that's coming, that's almost here but not quite, it means I've got to stay alive another week or another 10 days."
Head coach Rex Ryan, director of football administration Ari Nissim, IT vice president Tom Murphy and senior manager of operations Aaron Degerness joined Tannenbaum, Hampton and Granneman among members of the Jets who had grown close to Mendelsohn, as had Mark Sanchez, Sione Pouha, Dustin Keller and a number of other players. Tannenbaum and Ryan invited him to a practice before the start of the 2011 season and at the end of the practice Ryan surprised Mendelsohn by telling him to "break down the team."
"Gents, the invitation to watch practice was honor enough," Mendelsohn emailed the GM and the head coach later, "but to be invited to talk with the team and the incredible support you two have shown me shows why, when I'm asked if I'm a Jets fan, I reply, "No, I'm a fan of the Jets.' "
And when a group of Jets visited him at home several weeks ago, Tannenbaum extended a new invitation: return to the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, attend one of the Jets' OTA practices, which began this week, and have lunch.
"It was an incredible request from the GM," Mendelsohn said. "God has made my life plentiful in these last few weeks, so I'm coming out. I don't take bad news easily, especially when I know I can overcome it. That's my story."
Indeed it was a part of his incredible tale. He didn't make it back to the Jets' training facility, but he maintained his resolute optimism, his courageous outlook and his great humor all along the way.
And he has left many admirers behind him.
"Steve was a guy who had great passion for the Jets and great passion in the way he lived his life," Ryan said this afternoon. "And we will carry that spirit with us."
Two things that Mendelsohn said last year captured his view of his life that will live on and just maybe will influence these Jets, and their fans, and those who knew him so well over the years.
On the source of his optimism, he said last year: "I have led a magic life. In spite of having cancer, the living goes on. The finger of God is still on my shoulder because of all the wonderful things that have happened to me."
And on if he's lived a fulfilling life, he was equally, typically not at a loss for words.
"When I walk out of a game with a smile on my face, I have the feeling that my life has accomplished something," he said. "It sounds corny to say, but when I go to my grave, when I close my eyes for the last time, I'll think of all those people we helped get from start to finish, and my personal criterion is: Did I leave behind a better world than when I arrived? I definitely can say yes."
Services and funeral arrangements are pending and will be published here as we get them.