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Aaron Leibowitz | The Fan

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Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 08:11

To an outsider, Fireman Ed was always equal parts annoying and endearing. Whether the Jets were winning or losing, their unofficial mascot would lead the home crowd in his signature chant — “J−E−T−S! Jets! Jets! Jets!” — like his life depended on it. He was always proud of his team. He was always loud.

For many years, Fireman Ed reflected what was unique about the Jets’ fan base. The team had its troubles, and the Giants always loomed large as the Big Apple’s Big Brother. But Jets fans’ loyalty was unwavering. They maintained their New York swagger, even when there seemed to be little to cheer about.

That’s why, when Ed Anzalone announced on Sunday that he will no longer attend Jets home games as Fireman Ed, it was indicative of a much larger problem for Gang Green. Their swagger has disappeared. Their pride has turned into embarrassment.

With the Jets trailing the Patriots 35−3 on Thanksgiving night, Fireman Ed left MetLife Stadium at halftime before deleting his Twitter account. In a guest column for Metro New York on Sunday, Anzalone explained that he left not because of the Jets’ poor performance, but rather to avoid confrontations with other fans, which had become a common occurrence this season.

Fireman Ed always had the power to unite Jets fans, to help them form one voice in support of their team. Now, even he can’t lift their spirits.

The Jets’ 4−7 record certainly doesn’t help, nor did their pathetic performance on Thursday, which included a stretch of three Patriots touchdowns in 52 seconds. But Fireman Ed has watched his share of ugly games and lost seasons. He didn’t decide to call it quits until now.

Quite simply, the Jets have succeeded in isolating their fans. (I’m a Knicks and Mets fan; I know it when I see it.) Though several factors have led to that isolation, it’s impossible to underestimate the impact — and the sheer stupidity — of the team’s decision to bring in Tim Tebow.

Tebow not only has done nothing on the field, but he has stolen the spotlight while ruining what little was left of Mark Sanchez. None of this is Tebow’s fault, per se — he’s just a guy who loves God and isn’t that good at playing quarterback. But the Jets and owner Woody Johnson chose headlines at the expense of wins, and it’s coming back to bite them.

Not to be overlooked, of course, is the Jets’ signing of Sanchez — whose Total Quarterback Rating this season ranks 32nd in the NFL — through 2016.

While Thursday’s loss was a wake−up call to the Jets that their team stinks, and that changes have to be made, the loss of Fireman Ed should be a wake−up call that it’s time to start treating their fans right.

The two are closely related, and the Jets can achieve both by building a winner. To do that, they might have to start from scratch. They might need to fire head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum. They might need to cut Mark Sanchez. They might even need to cut Tim Tebow.

While that’s a lot of money to throw away — Tebow’s base salary in 2013 is over $2.5 million, and Sanchez is guaranteed $8.25 million next year — it may be what it takes to show Jets fans that winning is the top priority. More importantly, it may be what it takes to win.

It’s the least the Jets can do. They’ve lost Fireman Ed, and they may never get him back. But they can still give the fans back their pride.

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Aaron Leibowitz is a junior who is majoring in American studies. He can be reached at Aaron.Leibowitz@tufts.edu.

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