TO GLENDALE, FOR WHAT?
For most of America, the Arizona Cardinals’ 28–3 victory over the New York Jets on Monday Night Football was just another prime time blowout. For one intrepid, misguided NFL.com employee, it was a doomed odyssey into enemy territory and eventually into numbing madness. This is his story.
After a long Sunday of watching football games for a living and eating company-sponsored food, I laid myself to rest with a sense of anticipation and optimism. Tomorrow, I’d see the Jets play.
It had been roughly three years since I had been in a stadium to watch my hometown team play, and in a impulsive moment of wild optimism and daring during the week, I urged myself to descend upon Glendale, Ariz. to take in New York’s Week 6 clash with the Cardinals. Seeking to minimize the impact on my millenial wallet, I booked an Airbnb near University of Phoenix Stadium and chose to rely on Uber for transportation around the desert grid.
Upon arriving in Phoenix the next morning, sporting a Leonard Williams jersey and wool Jets socks, I immediately regretted my decision to wear jeans — why is it 90 degrees in mid-October anywhere in this country? I becried the absence of “football weather” to my first Uber driver, who, upon learning I worked for the Shield, rattled off every player on his two fantasy teams and told me three times that he hoped Carson Palmer can make up his 41-point differential against New York’s triple-A secondary. I smiled and nodded, assuring him that he would, and dreading the reality that against this iteration of the Jets defense, anything is possible.
Airbnb is a useful tool for travelers who want to travel on the cheap, but your overall experience is ultimately unique to your host’s availability. Unfortunately when I arrived, my host was nowhere to be found. Texting her with no response, I waited outside in the desert heat, anxious to head over to el stadio, but instead found myself fighting off for 30 minutes a Glendale-area hornet who had made it his mission to sting me.
When my host arrived, I made it clear of my intentions to get to the game, but instead she took the time to introduce to her three pets: a pug named Zane, a sleepy tortoise who didn’t have the courtesy to greet me and a yellow bearded dragon that she insisted I pet. I obliged. Before I took off, she showed me a grave in her backyard where she recently had laid to rest her pet iguana, the favorite of her four creatures. I said a prayer for the fallen lizard — and for Matt Forte to find a fucking crease.
After enduring another Uber ride with someone unfond on day laborers, I arrived at the glorious University of Phoenix Stadium, the Mecca of Packers Playoff Defeats, presented by Tostitos. Taking a lap around the monstrosity, I took in the sights (cornhole, everywhere), the sounds (‘Get Low’ by Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz) and the smells (cigar smoke and lukewarm Michelob Ultra). It smelt like home, which is to say it felt like football.
After paying homage to the immortal Pat Tillman, I entered the silver-plated coliseum, ready for sports. I first began to feel uneasy watching the Jets warm up, sans defensive leader David Harris who was in street clothes for the first time in 121 games. New York was once again wearing its hunter green, not-made-for-TV pants and their normal green facemasks. Always one to be superstitious, I took their attire as a prediction of things to come.
Everything looks smaller from the nosebleeds: the players, the fans, your sense of place in this world. In retrospect, I was glad that I distanced myself as far away from the pathetic carnage that was to occur. But in the moment, I was all the way up in the stands (Sect. 401, Row 9, Seat 3) behind the south end zone with as close to an all-22 vantage point as I had hoped to achieve.
I was soon surrounded by a sea of red as Cardinals fans of all shapes and temperaments occupied the adjacent seats before kickoff. A young family of six sat next to and behind me, asking if I wanted to switch seats away from them — the couple’s four children were all under the age of seven and had a sweet tooth for sugary gummies and unbridled attention. But because #FootballIsFamily, I declined politely — a mistake I would soon rue.
From the very kickoff, things were ugly. Penalties abound on ticky-tack fouls. An all-too-quick Jets three-and-out. And then, David Johnson.
The moment the second-year back made his first cut past Erin Henderson, I knew he was gone. His blistering speed and cutting ability were all the more impressive from my POV up high on Mount Sadness, and the sudden score shocked me into a numbness that persisted for the following three hours.
You know how the rest of the game went. Led by HARVARD GRADUATE Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Jets punted nine times and scored just three points, failing to muster a running game. The aforementioned Johnson scoffed at New York’s supposed top-tier run defense, recording three scores. Charone Peake was decapitated by D.J. Swearinger. And yes, to the delight of impatient Jets fans and Twitter trolls, Geno Smith entered the game in the fourth quarter and committed nearly two turnovers, a performance so more inspired than Fitz’s that it has ignited another quarterback controversy in Florham Park that looks to persist for the rest of this damned season. UPDATE: THE GENOCOASTER IS IN MOTION.
All the while, these cute kids, hopped up on the good stuff, were screaming their soft skulls off, excited by the Cardinals’ easy victory and the fact that they got to stay up late on a school night. Meanwhile, I sat glumly beside them, paralyzed by my own disappointment and my inability to curse in front of the youths.
The game ended thanklessly, and I slinked out of the stadium slowly, aimlessly. I had just witnessed the worst Jets performance in all my years as a supporter, and the first I’d attended completely on my own dime. Worse than the Victor Cruz Christmas spectacular. Worse than any game Brooks Bollinger quarterbacked. Even worse than the Butt Fumble game.
The feeling was of utter deflation, that the Jets’ opening six-game stretch, which everyone knew could sink their season out of the gate, had gone as poorly as it could have. And worse, that in Todd Bowles’ second season, the team had regressed from game to game to miserable game.
I slept soundly upon my return to the Airbnb, ready for the night, and the season, to be over. I left my lizard-loving host a kind handwritten thank-you note; her hospitality had been the one rewarding aspect of the 24-hour descent into this hellish desert. I boarded a plane filled with Cubs fans heading toward Los Angeles with optimistic eyes, and caught myself thinking, “How lucky Cubs fans must be.” I had reached a new low.