Football has long been a proxy for the smoldering war of words between New York and New Jersey, and Super Bowl XLVIII has brought back a bit of the old fight. (It's in New Jersey, by the way.)
For decades, the long and often tortured relationship between New York and New Jersey has played itself out on the gridiron of football.
That gridiron, however, has been in the wetlands of New Jersey since the 1970s – 10 miles west of the globally bright Manhattan skyline, in the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J., population 8,978. The complex is a lonely concrete island of parking lots just off the turnpike, still surrounded by bogs and marshes, and holding a horse track, an indoor arena, and the new MetLife Stadium – the Garden State home of the Jets and Giants and site of Super Bowl XLVIII.
Though America’s most celebrated television event is officially sponsored by both sides of the Hudson, and though the NFL says it has scheduled more events in New Jersey, the Super Bowl is regularly referred to as just New York’s – the identity of its two NFL hosts.
There’d be a nice alliterative ring to the “Jersey Jets” or “Jersey Giants,” of course, but, truthfully, neither team’s owners would ever give up their famous brands with the New York City cachet. The legend of “Broadway Joe” Namath, the most famous of the Jets, just wouldn’t be the same if he were “Hoboken Joe.” And how giant would the Jersey Giants be in the shadows of the biggest – and some would say most arrogant – city in the country?
Though other professional sports teams have stadiums outside their civic namesakes, too, New Jersey’s status as a geographical sidenote in this interstate rivalry ticks off those on the western side of the Hudson – especially those famously brash, smash-mouth Jersey politicians.
Take Sunday’s introductory press conference, when Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll casually referred to his years with the Jets in the early 1990s, including one season as head coach of the team that went 6-10 in 1994 season (and every season, it seems to its weary fans).
“I’ve always loved to play in New York,” he said. “To have a chance to be a head coach in New York is an extraordinary honor, because of the history and the following and that goes along with that.”
Minutes later, however, a retired Jersey City cop, in a distinctive “r”-less Jersey voice, piped up from the back: "Coach, I just want to say something. I'm Rich Boggiano with the city council. You said yowah glad to be back in New Yawk. I just want to remind you, yowah in New Jersey. Awlright?"
“You’re right, my bad,” Coach Carroll sheepishly replied. “I’m talking to all the people on the West Coast who don’t care about that. But you’re right.”
Yeah, they don’t care about that. A mea culpa that became an injury to an insult to an injury. It’s as though, when it comes to football, everything west of Boston and north of Philly is all about New York. And while its football teams kept their names and identities after moving across the Hudson, when the New Jersey Nets – who played for years at the Meadowlands – moved to Brooklyn, well, that identity was quickly dropped.
“I passed miffed a while ago. I mean this is ridiculous,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D) of New Jersey said Monday on “Good Day New York.” “I watched the Pro Bowl last night, and so frustrating, every time they talk about the Super Bowl, ‘We’ll see you in New York.’ Well, they’re not playing in New York, they’re playing in New Jersey.”
The state’s senior senator, Robert Menendez (D), too, was miffed about the design on Super Bowl tickets and the official program cover, in which a shimmering Lombardi Trophy, awarded each year to the Super Bowl champion, sits on a high-rise ledge at Rockefeller Center, overlooking Manhattan's gloaming southern exposure.
"For all of those who are geographically challenged, welcome to New Jersey, welcome to the home of Super Bowl XLVIII," quipped Senator Menendez at a press conference last week. Only “a tiny sliver of Jersey City” is in view, he complained. “You’re kidding, right?”
But in the past, such complaints – and anger – have come from the New York side, as well. When the Giants won Super Bowl XXI after the 1986 season, Mayor Ed Koch refused to grant them a permit to hold a ticker-tape parade down the famous “Canyon of Heroes,” saying, “If they want a parade, let them parade in front of the old drums in Moonachie,” a reference to a desolate area adjacent to East Rutherford.
The Giants were wooed by New Jersey officials in the early 1970s, and the team moved to the Meadowlands in 1976 – with the stipulation that New York remains in the team name. The Jets followed their NFC counterparts in 1984, also keeping their New York identity.
At the time, New York pols were outraged. A Queens councilman even proposed a resolution that called on the Jets, who had been playing at Shea Stadium, which is in the borough of Queens, to change their name, severing ties with their New York identity. The resolution even proposed the Jets change their name to the “New Jersey Flowers.” The Koch administration, too, said it would consider forcing the Jets to change their name.
Yet, since then, New Yorkers have mostly become indifferent about their home teams’ actual Jersey address, and the Giants (and presumably the Jets, some day) were tickered and taped in the Canyon of Heroes in southern Manhattan after their two subsequent Super Bowl championships.
The mayor of East Rutherford, however, a season-ticket holder for regular-season New York Giants games, doesn’t even have a ticket for the big show that will be played out in his own marshy back yard this Sunday.
“I understand the game would not be here if not for New York," said Mayor James Cassella to USA Today. "I get it. I enjoy New York, too. I go there a lot. And in East Rutherford I expect to get disrespected, but the state of New Jersey is being left out of the mix.”