Coping With A Jet-Less Super Bowl

NFL SundayC.C. Glenn Still reeling from the Jets’ playoff loss, the author considers some Super Bowl viewing options.

As the 2011 NFL season comes to a close with a Super Bowl clash between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, there’s a detached air in New York City. There are no more random battle cries of J-E-T-S. Rex Ryan’s personal league-wide vendetta is a thing of the past. Green jerseys lay balled up in the back of closets or the bottom of dumpsters, stained with beers and tears. There’s a game left, but for us –– that is, Jets fans in the East Village and other parts of New York City –– the season’s over. We’re tired. We’re confused.

For the first time since August, we have nowhere to turn. Since the football season began in August, many of us have gravitated toward the Jets, with their scrappy play. For New York City transplants, the gradual adoption of the Jets meant defecting not only from the Giants (the other “New York” team that plays in New Jersey) but also hopping fickly from less fortunate childhood teams in other states and cities.

Throughout the team’s improbable playoff run, it felt like every New Yorker was a New York fan, every bar was a Jets bar.

Even Nevada Smiths, on East 12th Street, renowned locally as the sort of saloon that only broadcasts football of the European, South American and Asian variety, joined in the pseudo-religious fervor. Daniel Searls, a bartender there, said that during the Steelers-Jets AFC Championship two Sundays ago “the place was absolutely packed, insane.”

At The 13th Step, a recent East Village addition on Ninth Street and Second Avenue, rooms were filled during the Jets-Steelers and there was a line around the corner. The Village Pourhouse on 11th Street and Third Avenue, usually a team neutral site, served green Bud Light drafts throughout the game.

But the Jets-centric party is now over and people who feel compelled to watch the Super Bowl have limited options.

A) The Steelers, who just 12 days ago, held off a second half Jets surge and won 24-19.

B) The Packers, a small-market team from a town about the population of Williamsburg.

C) Try to watch the game without taking sides.

For most dyed-in-the-wool football fans, of course, the third option is not really an option at all. So, in an unscientific poll conducted recently in local taverns, we asked people how they would handle the reality of Jets-less Super Bowl.

Eric Christensen, a manager at the Village Pourhouse, is going with the Packers. “I bet on them the beginning of the season,” he said. “I didn’t even watch them too much. They had 12-to-1 odds.”

IMG_0221Claire Glass Signs at the 7B Horseshoe Bar promote Sunday’s game.

One of his patrons, Matthew Alexander, wants Pittsburgh to win motivated at least in part by a contrarian streak. “I’d imagine most people are cheering for the Packers,” he said. “They all seem to think Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks of all time.”

And with fans picking sides, it seems only natural that bars would, too. Would New York bars temporarily align with the Packers, if only to capitalize on the resentment many New Yorkers might feel for the Steelers? Or would they cast in their lot with the Steelers, adopting the rationale that while Pittsburgh is by no means geographically close to New York, it is less distant than Green Bay?

But The Local has found that many East Village establishments are avoiding any declaration of allegiance. Randy Shehady, manager and part-owner of The 13th Step, explains. “We’re a new bar. We show every game every week. We’re not going to pick sides or hang up a Green Bay flag.”

Most East Village bars aren’t sponsoring a Super Bowl contender. And perhaps that should not come as much of a surprise, the East Village, after all, unlike the Upper East Side, has never been known as a bastion of sports fandom.

Still the football fans who live in the neighborhood are likely to pack the local bars whether or not the bars have aligned themselves with a team, if only because it’s the last time they will be able to enjoy a competitive football game until the late summer.

But maybe loyalty does have something to do with why so many of the football friendly bars of the East Village have avoided jumping on the Steelers or Packers bandwagon. A lot of them are already dedicated to a team.

Professor Thom’s at 14th Street and Second Avenue, for instance is a Patriots bar. At Kelly’s Sports Bar, Avenue A near Houston, a Buffalo Bills helmet is mounted in front of the hard alcohol.

The 13th Step Patrons IIGreg Howard Patrons at The 13th Step.

There are even places for supporters of West Coast teams to find refuge. Just steps away from Professor Thom’s lies Finnerty’s, a diehard 49ers bar. Painted on Finnerty’s glass exterior is a gigantic mural of the San Francisco Giants logo, a signal for any Frisco fans that happen by. Inside, a painting of the Golden Gate Bridge spans the length of the bar top.

Brian Stapleton, Finnerty’s owner, told The Local that fans are the ones to determine bars’ allegiances, not the bars themselves. But so many New Yorkers are a fickle group when it comes to sports, maybe because so many of us have histories with other cities and other teams. At the first hint of disappointment there are those among us who forget, or cheat, or bail out. There are fans who glibly race to the finish of every season, jumping from bandwagon to bandwagon, and then suffering crushing defeat after crushing defeat. Maybe, though, we should be as loyal to our chosen teams as some of our local bars are. Maybe we should remember that there’s always next year.