The New York Jets Taste of the NFL received a facelift this year and all the Jets players, staffers and fans who descended on Manhattan's SoHo district were extremely pleased with the results.
"This is an unbelievable event," said center Nick Mangold, certainly biased since he served again as co-host of the fundraiser, this year with defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.
"I've never been to an event like this," said tight end Konrad Reuland. "This is incredible."
One element of the incredibility was the spacious adjoining halls at 82Mercer, the first-time venue for "The Taste" that gave just the right amount of room to hold all of the eventgoers and restaurant stations yet gave everyone that intimate party feel.
And within the dazzling, very-New York physical space was room for new attractions: a DJ to fill the aural spaces with pleasing tunes and a "studio" for ESPN New York 98.7FM to host the weekly "Inside the Jets" show during the event.
Then there was the first Taste fashion show, with players modeling looks from Saks Fifth Avenue's private menswear collection. Among the Jets fashion plates: Geno Smith, Willie Colon, Demario Davis, Stephen Hill, Calvin Pace, Bilal Powell, Austin Howard, "perfect" Nick Folk and Mangold.
"I've got a very nice blue pinstripe here, with a green tie to support the Jets," Mangold said. "I do appreciate the good people from Saks for making me look somewhat decent."
Mangold was asked which of the players would win the nod from the crowd as top model.
"It all comes down to the catwalk," he said. "You can look good standing around, but if you're not working it, that's going to ruin it."
The serious purpose for the night of food, drink, threads and celebrity was the same: to benefit the New York Jets Foundation and New York/New Jersey food banks to tackle hunger and promote health and wellness, with the support of Saks and MasterCard.Colon was surely working it in his impeccably tailored outfit. "I feel I could fight crime in this," he said.
"I think it's great," said Wilkerson of his teammates' turnout. "We're brothers in the locker room, on the field and off the field, too. It's great that we can be with the guys tonight and enjoy this victory we had from yesterday. And it's great that the fans have a chance to mingle with myself and my teammates, get autographs, have a successful night and a fun night, with all the proceeds going to a great cause."
The Jets Taste of the NFL not only changed venues but also places on the calendar, moving from early May to the first day of the bye. And no doubt adding to the festivities was the good feeling from our 26-20 win over the Saints the day before.
But some Taste particulars never change. Bob Wischusen, radio play-by-play voice of the Jets, hosted the event — and the radio show! — and the live auction, then announced the winning numbers for the pick-a-prize auction that closed the event. Dignitaries such as team owner Woody Johnson, general manager John Idzik, alumni Freeman McNeil, Greg Buttle, Tony Richardson and Chad Cascadden strolled the floorspace along with the current Jets, fans and eight members of the New York Jets Flight Crew, with Eric Allen and Jets Talk Live dropping in at the different stations for interviews.
The strolling was required to get a "taste" of a signature dish from each of the restaurants at the event such as Lavo, Nobu, Tao, Delmonico's and Wildwood BBQ.
"I'm over at Dizzy's — they're serving fried chicken sliders," Reuland said. "You can't really go wrong with fried chicken or sliders, and when you combine them, it's just heaven."
Then, showing his foodie side, Reuland raved about the dish from Lure.
"They have a shrimp ceviche with an avocado mousse on top," he said. "It reminds me of back home in Southern California. One of my favorite restaurants there is Javier's, a Mexican place, and they serve a dish very similar to this."
Dos Caminos even turned Wilkerson on to something new at its guacamole bar.
"I'm not a guacamole guy," he said, "but I tried it for the first time and it's pretty good. So I think I'm going to get stacked up on guacamole tonight."
Colon, the big right guard, was asked about his favorite food of the night. "I treat them all like children," he said. "I love them the same."
Bottom line, Mangold added up 82Mercer plus 20 players plus 20 restaurants plus a great cause that raised $150,000 to fight hunger in the metro area and came to one conclusion: "You couldn't be at a better event."