The Jets joined with their fans and supporters today at Cipriani Wall Street to celebrate the unofficial start to the 2011 season at their 11th annual Kickoff Luncheon. Proceeds from the event are given to the Alliance for Lupus Research, the world's leading funder for lupus research, and the New York Jets Foundation, the team's charitable initiative that has raised over $10 million to promote youth health, fitness and education in disadvantaged local communities.
"Coming down here every year, it's fantastic," said center Nick Mangold. "All the people come out and give us tremendous support. We do charity stuff all year long, but this is one of the ones that we really look forward to."
The full roster of players, the coaching staff and general manager Mike Tannenbaum joined owner Woody Johnson at the event.
"Our mission has never changed," said Johnson, speaking as the founder and chairman of the ALR. "And that is to cure, treat or prevent lupus."
Since its founding in 1999, the ALR has raised $55 million for lupus research.
Among the dignitaries at the event were New York real estate icon Donald Trump and investor and philanthropist Paul Tudor Jones, the founder of Tudor Investment Corp. and the Robin Hood Foundation, a charitable organization that fights poverty in New York.
"Woody and the Jets organization have been an inspiration in their quest to help young people here in the New York area, as well as to try to conquer this devastating disease," said Jones.
As attendees ate lunch and mingled with current and former Jets, the five team captains for the 2011 season addressed the crowd.
"Today we are gathered by an individual who surrounds himself with people of character," defensive tackle Sione Pouha said of Johnson. "We are celebrating our ability to uplift humanity. We are not only football players but individuals with character to accomplish our own goals."
One of those goals is common for all current Jets.
"Just because we were there the last couple of years doesn't mean we expect to be there again," said Pouha said of reaching the past two AFC Championship Games. "Last year is past. Two years ago has nothing to do with how we're going to perform this year. Everything we're going to do this year is predicated on how we practice, how we prepare, and how we start off on Sept. 11."
Opening night is exactly what brought everyone together this afternoon in the first place. A new season brings with it new expectations and rekindled enthusiasm.
"Finally, we get to play some real football," said WR Derrick Mason. "It seems like the preseason has been a rush. Players are excited. This city is excited."
Toward the end of the luncheon, three lavish trips to Super Bowl XLVI were auctioned off, garnering a total of $105,000. While that money will be put to great use, head coach Rex Ryan believes a trip to the game will be free for his squad.
"This really is the Kickoff Luncheon," said Ryan. "It kind of gets the blood flowing. Woody is so humble, but he gives Mike and myself all the tools we need to win a championship. That's why I can stand up and I can tell the world that 'Hey, we're going to win the Super Bowl, and we're going to do it right now. We're going to do it this year.' "
Amid the excitement, Pouha put the entire afternoon into perspective during a quiet moment with reporters.
"The most important thing is to understand that you have to be well-rounded and understand the circumstances that surround you," said Pouha. "The world doesn't revolve around you; it revolves around your character. An event like this is something that truly defines what the organization is about, what Woody Johnson is all about. I think that's what keeps us grounded."
Grounded off the field, yes. But according to Ryan and the empathies of fans at today's event, nothing will keep the Jets grounded in 2011.