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EARLY SCORE

This is just preseason, but both teams are desperate to iron out their quarterback problems. The Eagles are going with the always exciting and always erratic Michael Vick, and the injury to Mark Sanchez means the rookie Geno Smith has to step up fast. The Jets will also have to make a quick decision as to who will be the No. 3 QB. Jets fans can look forward to: the return of Santonio Holmes, their big play receiver, and the development of rookie Dee Milliner as shut-down cornerback. This is your best bet for being able to afford an NFL game. StubHub starts at $8—not bad, even for nosebleed—with lower sideline seats going for $135. Finally, heed the new bag policy: Not even purses allowed, only a 12-by-6-by-12 clear plastic bag and a clutch. They mean it.

Thu., Aug. 29, 7 p.m., 2013

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READY TO RUMBLE

It’s a good thing the NFL preseason is meaningless, as neither the Jets nor the Buffalo Bills won a game in the first three weeks. (We went to press before the final exhibition games were played, but we don’t see much difference in 1-3 and 0-4.) The fun for Jets fans, of course, is a firsthand look at the big Sanchez-versus-Tebow competition the front office has set up and cashed in on big time. (How big is that market? When the Jets signed Tim T. last spring, Nike sued Reebok for supplying without authorization “Tebow-identified New York Jets apparel.”) So if you have the bucks, head out to MetLife Stadium for the season’s first fall football Sunday. Tickets are still available on StubHub, starting around $80 for upper deck, but be sure to bring your binoculars if you want to watch the game.

Sun., Sept. 9, 1 p.m., 2012

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GO GANG GREEN!

The rivalry between the Jets and Dolphins has been one of the fiercest in the NFL since the two teams landed in the AFC East when the AFL and NFL merged in 1970. The Jets lead the series 47-42-1 and bested the Dolphins earlier this year, 31-23, but they can’t afford to falter in the race for the all-important home-field advantage in the playoffs. If Rex Ryan unleashes Mark Sanchez and emerging star Brad Smith, there will be fireworks, but Sanchez will have to watch for pressure from Miami linebacker Cameron Wake, who has been in the NFL’s top five in sacks most of the season. The fun is the crowd and, of course, beating the hated Dolphins.

Sun., Dec. 12, 4:15 p.m., 2010

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FLIGHT ZONE

Even if supremacy in the AFC East weren’t up for grabs, the Jets would be plenty motivated by Tom Brady’s surly comments about not watching Hard Knocks, the reality show that featured Gang Green. Look for Mark Sanchez to test the New England secondary right away with Jericho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards deep—and a big addition to the Jets this year—LaDainian Tomlinson coming out of the backfield. On the Patriots side, expect Tom Brady to go to the side of the field that Darrelle Revis is on—Revis may be the best in the game, but he may not be ready after his long holdout. If you want to watch the game with a more intimate screaming mob, try Bleecker Heights Tavern on the second floor of 296 Bleecker Street (between Barrow and Seventh Avenue). No kitchen, but Five Guys is downstairs and they will deliver to your barstool!

Sun., Sept. 19, 4:05 p.m., 2010

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READY FOR TAKEOFF

All the euphoria over the 3-0 start is gone, and all the Jets are playing for now is hope for 2010. But quarterback Mark Sanchez and wideout Braylon Edwards have the potential to be one of the most exciting quick-strike combinations in the league, and with the Carolina Panthers ranking as one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL to throw against, there might be some fireworks. Also, the intricacies of Rex Ryan’s blitzing schemes are much more decipherable in person than on television, where you often can’t see whose coming from the extreme corners. Put it this way: If there’s one Jets game left on the schedule that you’re likely to enjoy, this is it.

Sun., Nov. 29, 1 p.m., 2009

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IT’S BLITZ

Both teams are mediocre, but is there any Jets fan who in his or her heart of hearts won’t admit that with a rookie coach and quarterback, their .500 W-L record doesn’t look pretty good at this point in the season? Clearly, the Jets won’t have turned the corner until Mark Sanchez gets some seasoning, and this game at home against a porous Jacksonville Jaguars defense is tailor-made to build his confidence. If you can’t make it out to the Meadowlands, our favorite Jets sports bar is Down the Hatch (179 West 4th Street) in Greenwich Village, with a great beer menu, fiery atomic wings, and nine flat-screen TVs to connect you to the action.

Sun., Nov. 15, 1 p.m., 2009

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TAILGATE TIME

Let’s admit this up front: The first six games have proven conclusively that Brett Favre is mediocre, that the Jets (3-3) are mediocre, and that there isn’t going to be any Super Bowl at the end of their season. That said, this game against the Kansas City Chiefs could be Jets’ fans last chance in 2008 to do a genuine autumn tailgate before the weather gets unruly. (They play the St. Louis Rams at the Meadowlands on November 9, and then no more home games till the Denver Broncos on November 30.) With Jets’ enthusiasm cooled by Sunday’s loss at Oakland, this might be a good time to look for tickets. As we go to press, StubHub still lists more than 3,400 ranging from $34 to $17,144. With the economy the way it is, you might get a better deal from fans hawking their tickets in the parking lot.

Sun., Oct. 26, 1 p.m., 2008

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Jet Engine Brett Favre

My favorite quote from Brett Favre—the one that I think defines the man and his values—came in the spring of 2006, when the Green Bay Packers were agonizing over what they should do with their fading star. Was it time, some were asking, for the Packers to start developing a new, young quarterback? Perhaps, a bold sportswriter suggested, it might be time for Favre to take a backup position or maybe even think about retiring. No, snickered Brett, he was going to stay right where he was and call his own shots. “What are they going to do?” he asked rhetorically. “Cut me?”

The Packers didn’t cut Favre this spring or summer, but they could have if they’d been willing to swallow the rest of his contract and allow him to jump to their division rival, the Minnesota Vikings. Brett’s “I vant to retire/I vant to play” psychodrama distracted his team all through the preseason and resulted in the ugliest split since Lieberman and the Democrats. After forcing Green Bay to waste a draft pick on an extra quarterback and all but demanding that they either make him the starter or release him, Favre finally got himself sent to the New York Jets in one of those rare deals which pleased everybody. The Packers got rid of a soon-to-be-39-year-old prima-donna pain in the ass and were finally free to get on with the business of finding out if Aaron Rogers is a legitimate NFL quarterback. The Jets got . . .

Well, actually, it isn’t certain what the Jets got, aside from someone who can sell more jerseys than anyone since Joe Namath. They do have a media star—Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t interrupt his busy schedule of glad-handing babies and kissing rabbis to meet just any old quarterback. Favre does have more TD passes than any QB in history, but then he also had the most interceptions. He was never the best passer in the league, even when he was young; despite the three MVP awards, he has never led the NFL in either passer rating or yards per throw.  

What can Jets fans expect this season? Coach Eric Mangini and GM Mike Tannenbaum have worked mightily to build a strong offensive line, but no one really has the slightest idea how it’ll perform. Last season, Chad Pennington—probably a better passer, given adequate protection, than Favre—was knocked down by either sack or hit on nearly 20 percent of his pass attempts, the worst rate in the league. If that happens to Favre, he won’t hold up till Halloween.  

Favre and the Jets had the good fortune to open the season against Miami, the worst team in the league last year. Now it appears they will also have the luck to play the AFC’s best team, New England, without Tom Brady. If they split their two games with the Patriots, it’s a 50-50 chance that they’ll get to the playoffs. But will any of it matter if they don’t make it to the Super Bowl, which was the point in paying out for Favre in the first place? If they make the playoffs, given Favre’s uninspiring 12-10 postseason record, what are their chances then?

This infatuation with Favre is so Jets. Their only championship came 40 years ago this coming January—the year Favre was born! Over that time, the Yankees, Mets, and Giants have won 11 championships. Every other team in the Jets’ own division—the Patriots, the Dolphins, even the Bills—have had some kind of dynasty. The Jets are the only team in their division that has never really had an “era,” a period of dominance even in their own conference.

Like the plane in that Twilight Zone episode, the Jets seem stuck in an eternal holding pattern, always on the verge of rebuilding but never quite getting there. To paraphrase George Clemenceau on Brazil, the Jets are the team of the future—and always will be.

If the Jets don’t win something this year, next September they’ll be faced with a 40-year-old Favre pulling down $13 million of precious salary-cap money. Where will the Jets’ rebuilding plans be then? They’ve mortgaged their future on a quarterback in his John McCain years who combines the intellect of Li’l Abner with the ego of Matthew McConaughey.

But what are they going to do? Cut him?

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Likes Rudy, Likes Booty

Rudy Giuliani’s city-subsidized love trysts, celebrated in the “Driving Miss Judi” hoopla of recent weeks, appear to have inspired imitators. We already know all about Bernie Kerik’s highest-form-of-flattery mimicry—his infamous seizure of a Ground Zero apartment, set aside for first responders, for a juggling act of escapades with two, as Rudy would put it, “very special friends.” And then there’s the saga of Ed Norris, who rose to deputy commissioner for operations at the NYPD in his mid-30s under Giuliani and became Baltimore’s police commissioner in 2000.

Norris, who was still at NYPD headquarters when the Judi Nathan adventure began in 1999, pled guilty to federal charges in 2004 that he had used a supplemental police fund in Baltimore as if it were his own ATM, “financing romantic encounters with several different women.” The original indictment referred to eight women entertained by the police chief on the public tab, but that was later reduced to six. Prosecutors also claimed that the married Norris used the apartment of his chief of staff for workday liaisons that were called “naps,” sometimes occurring several times a day. Within months of taking over as police commissioner, he billed an October 2000 stay with “female number one” at the Best Western Seaport in New York to the fund, according to the indictment. The estimated $20,000 in playtime billings included luxury hotels and gifts from Victoria’s Secret, and his final plea included admitting to looting the funds and not paying taxes on the income.

A folk hero in certain quarters of Baltimore, Norris returned to the city after doing six months in federal prison and became the top-rated radio talk-show host there, declaring in one newspaper interview that all some people know about him is his supposed penchant for “gifts for girls all over the United States.” A shaved-head look-alike for Kerik, Norris is a regular on the HBO series The Wire, playing a homicide detective often furious with Baltimore’s powers that be. He was such a successful police commissioner that Republican governor Robert Ehrlich Jr. made him the head of the Maryland State Police in 2003, just months before his indictment.

Norris was an NYPD deputy commissioner for nearly five years under Giuliani, in charge of developing and implementing anti-crime strategies. “I met with Rudy every Thursday,” briefing him on the week’s crime data, Norris said in a Voice interview. As recently as late 2006, Norris saw Giuliani at a political fundraiser for Ehrlich, who is the mid-Atlantic chair for Giuliani’s presidential campaign. “I was emceeing the event,” says Norris. “Rudy gave me a big hug. He was very happy for me.” Fresh from prison at the time, Norris was still on parole, which will not end until next month. When Politico.com broke the story about how the Giuliani administration hid costs associated with providing then-mistress Judi Nathan with police escorts, Norris went on the air to defend Giuliani. “I said that I didn’t know what the real allegations were. He was entitled to 24-hour police protection anyway, and I can’t imagine he knew how it was being billed,” Norris says. “I definitely defended him. I know what it’s like to be falsely accused.” A recent Times story raised doubts about just how much of the hidden Giuliani expenditures were attributable to these Hamptons trips to see Judi. But no one doubts that, regardless of how the trips were billed, the city spent a small fortune between 1999 and 2001 to bring the new lovers together.

Norris told the Voice that he was forced to plead guilty to the playtime expense charges even though he “absolutely” maintained his innocence, because the feds had him on an unrelated charge involving a false mortgage application that he could not beat. Asked if that meant he did not have “female number one” with him at the Best Western in 2000, Norris said he could not answer that question “because we are in the middle of fighting” those allegations. Asked if that meant he had filed a civil suit against the federal prosecutor—a frequent target of Norris barbs—Norris said there might be unspecified legal actions “in the future.” Norris has publicly appealed for a pardon from the Bush White House.

Asked if Giuliani recommended him for the Baltimore job, Norris said: “He must have,” recalling how he and the Baltimore mayor visited Giuliani after the Ravens beat the Giants in the 2001 Superbowl. “Rudy was always very good to me,” said Norris.

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A Good Sport Spoiled

Thirteen thousand people showed up to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night a few weeks ago. It would have been a sign of the apocalypse if that had been the total attendance at a Knicks game, but on January 20, those numbers were a solid success: It was, as all 13,000 were repeatedly reminded, a historic day, as “the fastest city in the world collides with the fastest sport on two feet.”

A mayoral announcement was read, officially declaring New York Titans Day; the lights were dimmed; small fireworks went off (dramatic, but sulfury); the visiting Chicago Shamrox were booed, as were the referees, preemptively; and the

players dashed onto the field to robust applause, then shifted and bounced nervously while a woman from one of the
Law & Orders sang the national anthem.

It’s not every day you get to witness the birth of a franchise, even if it is in a sport whose existence you weren’t aware of two weeks earlier. The National Lacrosse League, or NLL— not to be confused with the independent and outdoor Major League Lacrosse, or MLL, which includes your Long Island Lizards— consists of 13 teams, from Rochester to Edmonton to San Jose. They play indoors, on hockey rinks; at the Garden, workers simply laid green carpeting on top of the ice.


The team got its share of press in the days leading up to its debut, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say the whole city was buzzing about it. When I told friends I was going to the Titans’ historic home-opener, their responses varied widely, from “New York has a lacrosse team?” to “There’s indoor lacrosse?” to “Is lacrosse the one with the sticks that have nets on the end?”

The Titans themselves weren’t sure what to expect. As an expansion team, they’d only had a grand total of two games and three practices together, none of them at the Garden, before heading into lacrosse history. But their two biggest stars—Casey Powell, 30, a lacrosse legend who made his name at Syracuse, and Ryan Boyle, 25, who dominated at Princeton—were looking forward to the challenge.

“We’re gonna try to be the 51st best moment in Garden history,” said Powell, a true lacrosse
evangelist. He’s determined to “launch it into the mainstream”—if possible, one day, to the level of baseball or football.

The Duke lacrosse scandal “certainly didn’t help,” said Boyle. It’s not easy to market an up-and-coming sport when the first terms its name brings to mind, for wide swaths of potential fans, are “rape allegations,” “withheld DNA evidence,” and “simmering class and racial tensions.”

“I’m not one to judge on the case,” said Powell. “It’s . . . publicity . . . ?”

I think it’s safe to say we’ve found the limit of that old adage.

Powell always knew that he wanted to spend his life in the game, though before he realized playing professionally was an option, he thought that would mean coaching. “Professional lacrosse was never something we dreamed of,” he says. “I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because there’s no money in it, there’s no fame in it, and it wasn’t televised.”

Boyle, on the other hand, was initially less focused. A psychology major at Princeton, he was pre-med for a time (“That didn’t go through”) and was contemplating culinary school when he found himself drafted by the MLL Philadelphia Barrage. He didn’t consider indoor lacrosse until the assistant GM of the San Jose Stealth “basically called me every week, like I was his girlfriend.”


Lacrosse has had a longstanding image as a rich, prep-school game—but as far as professional sports go, it’s decidedly blue-collar. Tickets at the Garden range from $15 to—for a premium front-row seat—$50. The average NLL salary is in the $12,000-to-$15,000 range, and the league minimum is considerably less. Well-known
names like Powell and Boyle can play in both pro leagues and supplement their income with other lacrosse-related ventures and endorsements, but most of their teammates have day jobs.

The January 20 Shamrox game featured a stellar performance from the Titans’ goalie, Curtis Palidwor, a solidly built, mustachioed man who flies in to join the team every weekend from Vancouver, where he works as an electrician. “It does make it a little bit tougher,” he says of the five-and-half-hour flight, “but my boss back home gives me enough time off, so I usually fly in a day early to get over the travel.” Forward Roy Colesy teaches in Chappaqua, and Pat Maddalena is a chiropractor.

The players live all over the country and only get to practice as a group the night before a game. They fly coach and don’t have any groupies (yet). Even Powell and Boyle are only recognized in public once in a while, though they were both approached at the 2006 Lacrosse World Championship by members of the team from Japan, where they are, apparently, big.

[


Indoor lacrosse expects big things from this team. A previous foray into the tristate area in the form of the New York Saints—three words the Titan players are instructed not to mention—failed in 2003. NLL teams tend to relocate often; the Baltimore Thunder became the Pittsburgh CrosseFire and then the Washington Power before taking on their current incarnation as the Colorado Mammoth, all in less than two decades. But the Titans, playing half of their home games at the World’s Most Famous Arena, are supposed to be different. “The lacrosse world sees this team as having the ability to transcend the sport,” as Boyle put it.

There are still a few production kinks to be worked out. The team announcer insisted fans wave their complimentary Titan towels with a fervor bordering on hostility (“Wave those towels! Is that the best you can do?! This is supposed to be New York City! Celebrate that goal!!”). And the mascot resembles a peppy, neon-orange Darth Vader. The Titans Dance Team was selected just two weeks before the first game (by an odd panel of judges that included Titans defenseman Matt Alrich, Jets safety Kerry Rhodes, former American Idol contestant Constantine Maroulis, and Christie, captain of the Knicks City Dancers), and has only had time to learn two routines, though they plan to debut a third at Nassau Coliseum
this weekend.

That said, the game itself is fast paced, energetic, and easy to follow, even for the uninitiated. Lacrosse evolved from a centuries-old Native American game, but Canadians put the finishing touches on the indoor version, and in its essentials it’s extremely similar to hockey, with a little soccer and a touch of basketball thrown in.

As in the NHL, indoor lacrosse teams usually have a “goon”—hockey players prefer to be called “enforcers,” but NLL defenders don’t get to be so picky—who’ll fight opposing players when necessary in order to protect their more talented teammates and fire up the crowd. The best offensive players aren’t supposed to fight, because their team can’t afford to have them get injured or land in the penalty box, but for those same reasons, opposing teams are constantly trying to provoke Boyle and Powell. “You’ll get gooned up, but you have to keep your composure,” said Boyle, which led to the following conversation:


Boyle: You hope that your goon comes in and messes with their goon, and they goon each other out.

Powell: And you hope your goon is tougher than their goon. Or you
will
get gooned.

Boyle: Right, exactly. Because otherwise their goon’s gonna beat up your goon, and then that goon’s just going to keep beating the hell out of you.

Powell: Gooning.

“We don’t have a certified goon yet,” added Powell. It turns out that this is just one of the many interesting wrinkles that come with being an expansion team. Oddly enough, no one had volunteered.


The Titans won their home debut 11-9, a close, tight game that put their season record at 1-2—”Everyone talks about how historic this game is,” said Boyle, “but we just needed a win.”—and afterwards they endeared themselves to their newborn fans by staying on the field to sign autographs for more than half an hour. It’s amazing how much goodwill an autograph can generate; kids who couldn’t have named a single player on the team were thrilled beyond words. Powell estimated that he signed a few hundred, while Matt Alrich complained good-naturedly that his wrist hurt (passing teammate: “That’s not from signing autographs!” Alrich: “I walked right into that one”).

In their small, spartan locker room, down a long hallway from the Knicks’ and Rangers’ areas, the players buzzed happily about the game, the turnout, and the Garden crowd (which had included hundreds of friends and family members, as well as a wide selection of Roy Colesy’s students). Everyone admitted to having some variety of “jitters” at the outset.

“This is my seventh year in the league and I actually had a bunch of butterflies,” said Palidwor. “When I found out we were going to play our home-opener here, I was so excited, and so were the guys.” Asked by bemused sportswriters if goaltending was more stressful than his weekday career, he smiled. “It’s slightly more stressful, but at the same time, I play with live power, so . . . that can be stressful too.”

They were still goonless, and the Titans would be heading back to their day jobs bruised, with ugly scrapes and burns from hitting the unforgiving playing surface, like something out of Fight Club.

[

In the same drab room where all Garden head coaches hold forth, Adam Mueller was asked if this game had been a “must-win.” Welcome to New York, Adam. “My goal is to get these guys to compete in every game this season, and to limit their mistakes. We’re still learning,” he replied—sounding, actually, not unlike Isiah Thomas.