Behind the plush purple folding chairs continued the sounds of construction — the whine of drills, the drone of truck engines, the beep-beep of one truck backing up — of a well-ahead-of-schedule New Meadowlands Stadium.
Then at 1:59 p.m. today, some new sounds were heard in front of those chairs, "less than a football field away" from the stadium, by the reckoning of NJSEA chairman Carl Goldberg: a more powerful locomotive engine slowing to a stop, the clang-clang of a mass transit arrival.
Almost 33 years since pro football was first played in the New Jersey Meadowlands, the first train had pulled into the complex's first train station.
To be specific, the station is the new Meadowlands Rail Station and the train was NJ Transit's first on the new rail link connecting Secaucus Junction and the sports complex. And many took that inaugural trip today, among them Jets owner Woody Johnson.
"It's a beautiful ride," Johnson told reporters, elected officials, sponsors and others sitting in those seats under a hot July sun at during the station's ribbon-cutting ceremony. "You're seeing the Meadowlands from a different perspective than most of us have ever seen it. Just from that standpoint it's going to be exciting."
"I couldn't be happier to have this as part of our ongoing journey."
Johnson and Giants owner John Mara thanked N.J. Gov. Jon Corzine, NJ Transit, the Sports Authority and the politicians, and they in turn thanked the NFL teams' owners for the rail line that will move 10,000 to 12,000 people per hour to events at the current Meadowlands stadium as soon as Sunday for the Gold Cup soccer championship game, and, next year, to the new venue.
Trips from Hoboken Terminal are expected to take 23 minutes, and from Secaucus Junction it's a 10-minute hop.
"It's a very, very important day," said Gov. Corzine, "recognizing a dream that was laid out many, many years ago, coming to fruition at an appropriate time as we have this great new stadium. ... Between the Jets and the Giants, we are sure to have a Super Bowl, and we need mass transit to get all the people back and forth on a regular basis to this great stadium and complex."
The rail line is expected to help in several different ways. For the Jets, it will be an important link for many of its Long Island fans as they venture from home to the stadium and then is expected to slash the time required for what has been for years a long, painful trip back home in heavy traffic.
"I think it's big for commuters, especially from Long Island," said wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, one of four players on hand to help deliver today's message. "That's a tough commute, especially after a game — you're talking about almost three hours. Now if you can get on a train after the game, you're saving hours, you're saving yourself a lot of stress."
For the Giants, their fans in New York City, Westchester County and Connecticut will be similarly served. And for the fans of both teams, Johnson made a great point.
"It's going to help make the idea of coming to the game and leaving the game more pleasant," he said. "We believe the fans will stay longer, root for the team longer and get their money's worth. They'll stay through the end of the fourth quarter — and that's when you really need the fan, in the fourth quarter when it's a close game."
Cotchery was joined on the dais by Jets offensive tackle Damien Woody. The Giants were represented by tackle Kareem McKenzie (the former Jet) and guard Rich Seubert.
Among the other dignitaries in attendance were NJ Transit executive director Richard Sarles, state transportation commissioner Stephen Dilts and NJSEA president and CEO Dennis Robinson.
For information on taking the train to the game visit: www.njtransit.com/jets
Busy Day for Mr. J
Johnson's prestigious events for the day didn't conclude with the Meadowlands ribbon-cutting. By 4 p.m. he had joined Jets head coach Rex Ryan, general manager Mike Tannenbaum, and Green & White great Curtis Martin down on Wall Street in Manhattan. The occasion: Johnson and company rang the New York Stock Exchange's closing bell.
Just the hint of a Jets presence at the NYSE (we tweeted the event in the morning) seemed to do the trick for the business day: The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 104 points to 8,848.