The Jets waved goodbye to Shea Stadium on Tuesday evening and then the San Francisco Giants followed by being shut out. With that double, consider Jets Night a smashing success.
The Green & White, who called Shea home from 1964-83, got their alumni moving before the first pitch. The Killer Bs — Emerson Boozer, Randy Beverly and Greg Buttle — joined up with Marty Lyons, John Schmitt and Wesley Walker to sign autographs in the picnic area. The lines were long as hundreds met some of their heroes and posed for photos with the Jets' Lombardi Trophy and the Mets' 1969 World Series Trophy.
"It's exciting and at the same time it's sad because we played so many years here," said Schmitt as he was hurried though the tunnels and onto the field for a special pregame ceremony prior to the Mets' 7-0 baseball triumph over the Giants. "Some of the guys from the '69 Mets came in and we're enjoying the night together. It's really fantastic. It's just a great honor to be a part of it."
Schmitt, an outstanding center who played 10 seasons for the Jets and was a starter on their championship squad, played in the team's first game at Shea, a 30-6 thumping of Denver on Sept. 12, 1964, and its most important game, a 27-23 toppling of Oakland for the '68 AFL Championship.
"You always dream of getting to the Super Bowl, you dream of winning the Super Bowl. But the first thing you have to do is get there," said the Hofstra product, who was initially awestruck by the big crowds on the pro level. "That game against the Raiders got us our ticket to Miami, and then we did the best thing we possibly could do and that was beat the Colts that year."
Before Lyons, Buttle and Walker were handed balls for a ceremonial toss, Lyons took in batting practice and told a group of reporters a great old Shea locker room story.
A group of five to 10 Jets would typically arrive early at Shea for home games and Lyons recalled someone had brought a boombox to one contest. The music must have been blaring because head coach Joe Walton came out of his office and turned the sound down. When Walton vanished, Lyons, a member of the renowned Sack Exchange, pumped the volume up once again.
"About that time, Pat Ryan went over to look at the boombox," Lyons said of the Jets' then-backup QB. "Right after that, Joe Walton came out of his office and he was not happy. I noticed Joe was coming out and I yelled over to Pat, 'Hey, Pat, can you turn that down? Some of us have to play the game.' And Joe went over to Pat and says, 'Pat, why are you turning this up?' "
So many Jets fans have passed through those turnstiles at Shea — people like Chris "Boomer" Berman, the ESPN broadcasting icon who was on hand for Tuesday's festivities as well.
"When the Jets moved here in '64, I was 9 and my brother, Andy, was 7," Berman recalled. "My dad, Jim, said, 'You know, I'm going to take my sons to pro football games.' "
That first year, Berman said the family went to one or two games. Then they took the Shea plunge.
"We bought season tickets the next year. Oh, by the way, Namath was a rookie in '65. Our four seats were in the upper deck — Section 20, Box 776-B," he said as he pointed from the field to his spot seemingly miles away. "We came since I was 10 — 1965."
Berman and his classmates loved Namath so much that they wore white shoes in junior high school and high school.
"Namath played 70 games at Shea and I was at 62 of them. The Jets won when I was in junior high school, in eighth grade," he said. "When the Jets won the Super Bowl, they gave me a standing ovation going in homeroom. They were my team. Joe Namath and Willie Mays — interesting the Giants are here — are the two reasons I do what I do, if you really want to boil it down to two guys."
Lyons, who played at Shea from 1979-84, enjoyed several things about the place: playing on the infield dirt early in the season, the planes flying to and from nearby LaGuardia, and a crowd that was right on top of the action.
"You had that football atmosphere even though baseball was the sport here," he said. "When we walked out in pregame warmups or when we walked out early to the field, you came out through the tunnel and you walked right out of the first-base dugout," he said. "It was like a throwback era."
Shea brought the players and the fans together. All the memories in Flushing weren't made on the field.
"After the game, we were able to walk right out into the middle of the tailgate parties," Lyons said. "Win or lose, the fans were always very supportive."
"We'd go upstairs after the game in the Diamond Club, sit down with the fans and have dinner with them," added Schmitt. "This is home, this is really home."
If home is indeed where the heart is, then Shea Stadium will certainly remain a part of the Jets forever.