It was 11:30 A.M., about an hour and a half before kick-off. As the connecting New Jersey transit train from Penn Station slowed down alongside the parking lot at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, the doors opened and rapid seas of green, black and yellow spilled out onto the platform.
I wrapped my scarf tighter around my neck as I stepped into the crisp, fall air, and the smell of fire pits and barbeque hit me as I walked through the parking lot to the Pepsi Gate. Going to a college with no football team, I couldn’t help but grin to myself as I strolled by fans tailgating from the trunk of their cars.
I realized I hadn’t been to a football game in almost a year. It was Nov. 9, and it was game day. The New York Jets were about to take on one of the hottest teams in the NFL this season, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Walking into the stadium, I trailed directly behind my dad, who was decked out in his official NFL hat and jacket, to a side entrance on the bottom level that read “Coach’s Club” in giant letters. This entryway was solely for the family members of coaches, suite members and any VIP guests attending the game.
At the double glass doors that were lined with green silhouettes of quarterbacks and wide receivers in action, Clay Hampton, long time friend of my father’s and Senior Director of Football Operations for the Jets, smiled and trotted over with a giant smile on his face to greet us.
“Frank G! How are you man?” he said as he shook my dad’s hand. I had never met Clay before. I watched them talk for a few minutes before Clay reached his hand out to me and said, “Regina! What a pleasure to meet you!”
Before I knew it, we were on the sidelines of the field. The New York Jets were doing pre-game stretches right before my eyes, assistant coaches and staff were seen prepping for the game, and the referees stood in a circle conversing. Shivers went down my spine.
I had been on the sidelines before, but now being a journalism major and aspiring reporter, it felt different this time. At that very moment all I could think about was hopefully being on this turf again some day, but in front of a camera, waiting to go live for a pregame interview. We could only stay a few minutes as the coin toss and kick-off were approaching, so I quickly snapped a picture of my football crush, wide receiver Eric Decker, and exited the field with my dad and Clay.
We then got into an elevator that took us to the top level of the stadium, and got off at a floor that looked like I was suddenly taken to an office building. With carpeted floors, glass windows, and rows of people from both teams with headsets and laptops, we were in the press box.
Clay introduced me to Caitlin Cass, an alumnae of University of Colorado at boulder who majored in marketing, and was now doing seasonal media relations for the Jets. She guided me around the entire vicinity, explaining the positions of certain operators and representatives.
I got to meet some of the employees that were recording stats and updating the website for the Jets’ official page, sports writers from the Daily News, and official announcers for the game. I followed her as we passed individual rooms that had a view of the game to do live radio broadcasts from the Jets’ official station to ESPN Deportes Spanish channel.
Right as my private tour was coming to an end, it was time for the National Anthem. It was an honor to view the sight of the large, beautiful flag through the long windows that looked out onto the entire field.
I was having the time of my life being surrounded by so many people with such significant roles to airing and operating the game. As the clock started and Jets affiliates began typing on their keyboards, I respected that they had a job to do and said my goodbyes, walking away with a few new contacts in hand.
To provide some background information on how this experience was even possible for me, let’s just say I have been subjected to the game of American football since I was basically a baby. My dad has always been a die hard Jets fan due to the fact that he has worked specifically with the team and staff in the car business through his position at Nissan. Through that he made friends with people in the industry.
He has been to every Super Bowl since the year 2000 and gets the opportunity every couple of weeks to work in the NFL command center and violations room at their headquarters in New York City. As he developed a significant role and name for himself in the business, we have been lucky enough to get great access and opportunities at games that not many fans are able to experience. He has always breathed football, and growing up his idea of bonding time was taking me to Jets games and training camp where I would get to meet players and coaches. For years I absolutely hated it. All of my guy friends were jealous and would kill for the experiences I got to have at games, and I was not impressed whatsoever. I could never understand the plays and couldn’t comprehend what the big hype was about this confusing game where men purposely tried to hurt each other over a ball.
Over the course of my high school career, I developed a profound love for writing and journalism. With my dad’s love for the sport and half of my friends making up the defensive line up, I reluctantly agreed to cover high school football games to finally try and perceive what the game was all about.
By the time I was a junior I loved it. It was the thrill, suspense, and dedication to a team that created a deep passion for the game. My enthusiasm quickly turned into me following the NFL and closely watching female reporters on major sports networks such as ESPN.
My dad was shocked and proud at my sudden interest, and our trips to training camps and getting all access opportunities that I once dreaded became a learning and networking experience for me to see how the sports industry worked,especially now being a college student. This game was one of those opportunities.
With a stadium hotdog and giant Pepsi in my hand, I watched the game with my dad, baffled at the fact that the Steelers were getting dominated by a team that was on an eight game losing streak.
After one quarter, the Jets had 164 total yards and 17 points, while the Steelers had zero points and a grand total of five yards. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had been close to unstoppable over the past two weeks, turned the ball almost endlessly, and Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham, managed to miss a 23-yard field goal.
Sitting next to the high school football coach of Steelers’ Linebacker Jason Worlids, I thought he was going to throw his pizza at somebody in anger at their surprisingly mediocre performance.
With the final score of 20-13, the Jets were able to put a second victory in their book, and I was able to put a commendable experience in mine.
Regina Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org