The Jets held their annual draft day party last Thursday night, but it was unlike any other party that they've ever staged for their fans. That's because many wearers of the green and white got their first closeup look at their team's new stage, the New Jets Stadium that will be home beginning in August.
The reviews were of the rave variety. Here is a review of what the partygoers experienced and perhaps a preview of what's to come for the Jets, their opponents and their fans.
Current Players Impressed
More than a dozen current and former players were on hand to mingle with the folks and also, in many cases, to take the measure of the new place for the first time as an operating stadium.
"I've never seen anything like this," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "Not to compare but I've been in the Dallas Cowboys' stadium. This thing is unbelievable. The gameday experience in this stadium is going to be awesome."
"First-class," said defensive tackle Sione Pouha. "I'm just excited to play here. It's like a brand-new shoe. You've got to break it in.
Safety James Ihedigbo's succinct take on his new gameday office: "It's going to be intimidating."
An Alumnus Takes Pride
Wideout Wayne Chrebet was among the alumni in attendance downstairs and at the VIP party in the Commissioner's Club. So was a group of former Jets starters from the Sixties and Seventies — safety Kenny Schroy, fullback Emerson Boozer, cornerback Randy Beverly and guard Dave Herman.
And Gregory Murphy is a man who can wear two hats at functions like these. He was a Steelers draft choice and a D-lineman at the Jets' 1977 training camp, and these days he wears a hardhat as managing director of Skanska, the stadium's construction company.
"What I look at is we finished five months early," Murphy said. "We really got lucky with the weather when we were setting all the steel. That made everything easier to bring it in and to have them making revenue five months before the first game, It makes me feel so proud. We worked really, really hard. We're still working around the clock, tearing the old stadium down. We have to finish the outside for the Bon Jovi concert."
Indeed, half of the old Meadowlands stadium stood next door, giving a look of a monumental blueprint cross-section. But that couldn't be seen from inside the club, looking out at the silvery seats on the east side of the stadium. Murphy glanced out and proclaimed:
"Right now it's an eighth wonder."
Fans' First Impression
The partygoers seemed to enjoy the experience. Two thousand filled the Great Hall to watch the draft night activities from Radio City on a monster screen and watched and listened as Jets radio voices Bob Wischusen and Marty Lyons conducted a show on ESPN New York 1050 with an exclusive interview with GM Mike Tannenbaum back at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center and an on-stage exchange with tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.
During breaks, the fans could get autographs, mingle with the eight members of the Flight Crew accompanied by director Denise Garvey who also made the scene, and could walk down to the field-level 50-yard line opening and look out at the new place in all its stadium splendor.
"I was here last week and took a tour because I have season tickets in the upper level," said Don Murray of Oradell, N.J., Bill Parcells' old stomping grounds. "It's just very impressive — the field, the sightlines, the videoscreens. The concourses are great, much wider."
"What's nice about this," said Kevin Gilfillan of Holmdel, N.J., about the opulent main lounge of the Commissioner's Club, which then leads to individual suites, "is that I like the interaction with everybody on this level. Usually the suites are kind of boxed in. And the field is top-notch and I like the sightlines to the videoboards, instead of looking up like you do in the Cowboys' new stadium."
"It's beautiful, very state-of-the-art, very clean," said Gary Strong of Lyndhurst, N.J., proud holder of a seat in Section 106, Row 38. "It seems fan-friendly."
Other Professionals Check In
Among the Jets employees at the draft party, Chris Pierce, senior director of merchandising and concessions, had a steak — make that a stake — in how the food was and will be received.
"We have the home-food advantage," Pierce said. "That's what the fans are going to see and taste when they walk into the building. We're giving them a great variety of real food for real football fans."
An example of this variety? Pierce didn't mince words.
"The meatball heroes," he said. "It's the head chef's grandmother's recipe. Nonna Fusco's Meatballs."
One other professional we checked in with was Wischusen, one of the hardest-working broadcasters in America and a veteran of many pro and college pigskin palaces in this great land of ours, sometimes two different stadiums 1,000 miles apart on the same weekend. He loves the New Jets Stadium.
"This place has the 'wow' factor," "Shoes" said after coming upstairs from the Great Hall. "When you build a new stadium, especially in this day and age, everyone tries to outdo the other, and we've been to a lot of the new stadiums. They got it done here. This outdoes the others. Even just standing here ... I feel like I'm at the men's grill at Baltusrol — and there's a football stadium 10 feet away.
"If they were going for the 'walk in and be amazed at the product,' then they got it."