"We're all fired up!" said head coach Rex Ryan before letting his players loose on the Jets Runway at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center this morning to greet fans as part of Sprint's Kickoff Week.
On a foggy Saturday, college gameday for most teams, the Hanover Park High School band played as Green & White followers awaited the arrival of the players. Fans came out early to show their support and send off the players with a final hoorah.
Banners were up all over the towns of Florham Park and Madison in the days preceding the event and the estimated 415 fans were pleased with what they saw. Jets radio voice Bob Wischusen introduced the team and even "Fireman Ed" Anzalone came through the Fan Runway to get fans hyped up with a chant of "J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!" before Ryan and Kerry Rhodes' brief remarks.
Rhodes is ready to put "all the hard work" from this off-season and preseason on display at Houston's Reliant Stadium against the Texans on Sunday. "Thanks for coming out and thanks for the support," he said.
"This is the most excited I've been in a while about them," said Jets fan Tom Nolan, who grew up in Queens, N.Y., and now lives in New Jersey. And Tom's aunt Pat, who has bought season tickets since 1975, also has high expectations. "Over thirty years — I can't wait any longer," she said.
Gary Mack, who lives nearby in Livingston, was also there with his two sons: Jake, a big fan of Sanchez, and Josh, whose favorite player is nose tackle Kris Jenkins.
"I think they're pretty much encouraged, I think they're getting that little extra from us," Mack said, "and I'm glad we could be here to do that for them."
The Jets Flight Crew was on hand as well, cheering the players one more time before saying goodbye until they meet again, when the Jets take the Meadowlands turf for their hope opener Sept. 20 against the Patriots.
Rhodes was the first player to approach the fans as players gave high-fives and shook hands. He was followed by Mark Sanchez — who will make his pro regular-season starting debut vs. the Texans — Thomas Jones, Jerricho Cotchery, Leon Washington, and the rest of the Jets. Fans were just close enough to see the excitement in the eyes of players heading into their first game.
The players completed their trip through the Runway and into the facility to shower from the morning's walkthrough, grab their things and then head to the buses that would take them to Newark Liberty Airport. Before they got in, Fireman Ed had a brief chat with Sanchez encouraging the Jets quarterback on.
"I want to see the team stay healthy," said Ed, "and see the kid just grow — that'd be real exciting — and see Rex do his magic with the defense. To have that aggressive style defense is huge. It's going to fire the whole crowd up."
Ryan has no doubt about that.
"We're really going to give you a team to be proud of," coach said. "We're excited to have an opponent to show you guys who we are on the field."
Update from Randy Lange, 5:45 p.m. CT: The Jets have arrived in Houston. They're at their hotel for tonight's final preparations — meals with teammates, family and friends, followed by team meetings and some inspirational words from Ryan before hitting the rack for a good night's sleep. Then it'll be up early for Sunday's 12 noon (1 p.m. ET) kickoff against the Texans.