By Kasandra Gonzalez
The countdown starts early.
By 5:30 p.m., football fans starving for a new season have already set up tents around the parking lot of MetLife Stadium, in East Rutherford, N.J. Mass chattering and the clinking of beers flood the parking lot as fans exchange greetings at their tailgates.
Inside the stadium, both teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Jets, warm up. On the home side, Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg swiftly passes to wide receiver Anthony Kelly. The crowd starts filing into the stadium as selfies are showcased on the Jumbotron.
Jets kicker Nick Folk practices some field goals before exiting towards the locker room. The Flight Crew cheerleading squad skips to the middle of the turf and dances a number, with director and choreographer Denise Garvey watching from a distance with a clipboard in hand.
The Jets make a splendid entrance as they run out of their tunnel, green pompoms and an enormous roar greeting them as fans jump from their seats. When the environment is settled, US Army ROTC members march towards a platform, followed by 11-year-old actress/songstress Bobbi Mackenzie. The temporarily shushed spectators then face the American flag, cheering for Mackenzie as she finishes her performance of the National Anthem. Following the coin toss, players position themselves, and the crowd begins to roar as Folk kicks. The game is on.
First quarter, 13:04: Jaguars RB Chris Ivory (a former Jet) is tackled by linebacker David Harris. 12:50: Jets linebacker Jordan Jenkins pushes Ivory off the field. 12:22: Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis receives a penalty for “illegal block above the waist.” Jets defensive linebacker Sheldon Richardson helps Ivory after tackling him, both men exchanging a pat on the neck before running away to their own worlds. Jaguars kicker Jason Myers makes a 33-yard field goal, giving Jacksonville a 3-0 lead. The clock reads 8:33.
On the Jets’ first drive, Ryan Fitzpatrick, a 33-year old quarterback and former Harvard student, passes short right to Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Fitzpatrick had a hard time agreeing on a contract during the offseason; no team was willing to give him the sums of cash he wanted. The Jets announced the one-year, $12 million deal on July 27.
Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Miller III costs the team a penalty at 7:23, and Fitzpatrick throws an incomplete pass to wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (6:43). Jacksonville defensive end Yannick Ngakoue sacks Fitzpatrick at 5:58. Jets defensive linebacker Deon Simon is given a penalty; New York groans. With 1:34 left in the quarter, Ivory scores a touchdown, followed by Myers’ extra point. Jaguars 10, Jets 0.
The second quarter begins with a touchdown by Jets running back Bilal Powell, followed by kicker Folk’s extra point. New York is now three points away from being tied.
As the Jaguars maneuver to score and the Jets protect their turf, the Flight Crew cheerleaders, divided into four groups, continue to shake their pompoms. The squad was originally formed as the Jets Flag Crew in 2006; it was renamed the Jets Flight Crew in 2007. Directed by Garvey ever since then, the cheerleaders perform a variety of numbers throughout the game. The current ladies are going through the last steps of tryouts to make the team for 2016.
Back to football. Jacksonville adds a field goal, but before the half ends, Jets QB Geno Smith throws a touchdown to wide-receiver Charone Peake. For a moment, upset Jets fans boo as the officials review the play. The ruling is confirmed, and, at halftime, the Jets lead 14-13.
By the 4th quarter, many fans are already on their way home. Nothing much had happened after halftime: The Jets extended their lead to 17-13, but the main thing that kept the crowd moving was when the staff threw T-shirts around. By the two-minute warning, much of the stadium was empty. Yet many clapped as a message was shown on the screen: American swimmer Michael Phelps had just won his 22nd career Olympic gold medal in the 200M individual medley.
With one minute left, Jacksonville threatens to win, moving into Jets territory. But then, Jets safety Doug Middleton intercepts Jags quarterback Brandon Allen at 0:08. Announcer Joe Nolan’s voice roars across MetLife Stadium as Middleton prevents a touchdown. With lightning visible, the game ends: Jets 17, Jaguars 13.