This is one Twilight Zone of a Jets training camp, with practices taking place in North Jersey, not Central New York, no two-a-day practices, and veteran players not required to head for the dorms each night because many of them are well, right at home.
But tonight a touch — and a taste — of the way things used to be back in the good old days of 2009 and 2010 has arrived again. Doug's Fish Fry is in town.
Jets fans will recall Doug's, a Green & White oasis three hours from Florham Park, N.J., on Route 218 in Cortland, N.Y. Many Jets players, front office people and reporters showed up to sign the huge Jets Fathead on the wall, read their clips laminated on the wall, and share in the great food and ambience.
This year, with the long offseason labor negotiations reducing their time to make the big summer move north, the Jets reluctantly decided to keep training camp at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. But a representative high up in the organization made sure that if the Jets couldn't come to Doug's, Doug would come to the Jets.
"The first time I heard definitely that we were invited to camp, it came from Mike Tannenbaum," said owner and super Jets fan Mark Braun. "The fact that he called, I was just overwhelmed. It kind of took the sting out and I kind of forgot that they weren't going to be in Cortland this year."
Packing up the restaurant for a road trip isn't as monumental a task as it sounds. Doug's Fish Fry caters a lot of charity events and sets up shop each year at the New York State Fair.
This trip to the Jets was to provide lunch to the Jets business staff and reporters, then clean up and relocate downstairs to serve the players dinner.
For this adventure, Braun brought with him a staff of 11 — including his wife, Linda, and daughter, Tessa. And into his two red Doug's Fish Fry trucks he packed a feast:
■ 400 pounds of potatoes
■ 175 pounds of fish
■ 90 pounds of scallops
■ 40 pounds of shrimp
■ 25 pounds of onion rings
■ 6 gallons of clam strips.
■ Enough peanut oil to fry it all up to crispy perfection.
One of the diners today was the radio voice of the Jets, Bob Wischusen, who's partaken of Doug's bounty before.
"My stomach has never been so happy. I can't say the same about my arteries," said "Shoes." "I'm a happy man. This is a touch of Cortland right here in Florham Park."
"As a fan, when we found out the Jets were coming to town that first year, it was great," Braun said. "I met Mike, Terry Bradway, people in the front office, people in the media and maybe a dozen players. I really got an appreciation for the staff and the organization."
Braun was a fan way before the Jets buses pulled into the college. He was born in Englewood, N.J., and remembered at the age of 9 seeing the old Mark Gastineau commercial in which there's a video of No. 99 doing a sack dance or two, then saying on camera, "I swear by my Norelco," with his mother chiming in, "It's not nice to swear, Mark."
Then he watched a Jets game, saw his first live Gastineau sack, and said "I've been a diehard ever since."
He's held season tickets for 10 years, in the old Meadowlands and now at New Meadowlands Stadium, and he usually makes the 400-mile round trip usually with his son, Coby.
How is Braun looking forward to the 2011 season that will start sizzling in less than a month?
"I think the Jets are really heading in the right direction," he said. "I never question anything Mike T does. I'm such a Tannenbaum fan. He does what he does very well, and then he turns it over to Rex Ryan. They're getting recognized as being a powerful team. They're almost there. You can just taste it."
Yes, Mark, in more ways than one.