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New York Jets Flashback: Shea Stadium

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Shea Stadium will always hold a special place in my heart as a fan of the New York Jets since it was quite the place to see football back in the day. I became a Jet fan because it was the new game in town. My parents and older siblings all rooted for the “other” team of New York, whom I will refrain from mentioning here. The Jets, then the Titans, were a part of an exciting new football league coming into New York. For me it was as if the circus was coming to town! I drove my dad nuts by continually asking him if he would take me to a game.

That was 1960, and although I was still very young, my father finally relented. He packed me up one Sunday and we drove to the Polo Grounds to witness my first football live action. The stadium was enormous to me, the crowd was pretty sparse back then, but they cheered for their new team loudly and boy, was I hooked!

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Sporadically my father and I made the trip to the Polo Grounds until 1964 when the Jets joined the New York Mets in their brand new home, Shea Stadium. By 1970, my father had become hooked on the Green and White as well and surprised me with season tickets, which became truly mine at his passing.

The pilgrimage to Flushing was a short one for us as I was born and raised in Queens Village. The excitement leading up to a Sunday game at Shea was hardly containable in those early years, but I digress a bit, this story is about the stadium.

Shea Stadium broke ground in October 1961 and was the first stadium built in NYC since 1923. It officially opened on April 16th 1964, one year later than scheduled due to 17 separate labor strikes. Originally the Stadium was to be named Flushing Meadow Stadium, but prior to its opening, a movement was started to name the stadium after William A. Shea, a prominent attorney who was the driving force in bringing back a National League team back to NYC.

The first game to be played in the stadium was played by the Mets. In typical Met fashion, they lost their opener 4-3 in front of 50,312 fans. The seats back then were made of wood and the new stadium caused major traffic snarls in Queens as the parking was not fully opened.

Jul 27, 2013; Cortland, NY, USA; General view of a New York Jets helmet during training camp at SUNY Cortland. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Shea was built as a multipurpose stadium and the Jets joined the Mets in the shiny new structure. The Jets played their inaugural game at Shea on September 12, 1964 against the Denver Broncos. The starting quarterback for the Jets that day was Dick Wood who provided 8 completions on 18 attempts and 2 touchdowns. The Jets won the game in going away fashion 30-6.

Shea Stadium held 70,000 fans for football in a five tier construction. It was the first stadium of its kind to feature an escalator system to provide an easy flow of fans in and around the stadium. Shea contained 21 elevators and 54 restrooms at its opening. It also featured a 86 foot high by 175 foot wide score boards which was one of the largest in the nation at the time. In addition, it had 4 restaurants to provide food and beverages to its fans.

In 1974 and 1975, Shea Stadium boasted three professional teams that called it home. In addition to the Jets and Mets, the New York Yankees also called it home while Yankee Stadium was being given a major overhaul up in the Bronx.

The Jets played at Shea Stadium for 19 years before owner Leon Hess moved his team across the river to Giants Stadium. The Jets played their final game at Shea Stadium on December 10th 1983, ending an era in NYC sporting history. Shea Stadium ceased to exist in the winter of 2009 when it was demolished to make way for additional parking for the newly built Citi Field.

If you ever attended a football game at Shea, two things likely stand out in your mind. Built in a horseshoe shape and opening up onto the bay, the first thing you likely remember is the swirling winds. The layout of the stadium caught the wind, and the wind did its best to freeze you out of your seats! Those same winds played havoc with the players as well as there was no such thing as a chip shot field goal at Shea Stadium, kickers dreaded the place. Those that played quarterback weren’t the biggest fans of the wind either. Shea Stadium was not for soft fans, which explains why Jet fans are such a hardy bunch!

The other thing that was unforgettable about Shea Stadium was the noise over head. Built on the flight path to LaGuardia Airport, the low flying airplanes made a deafening roar as they flew low over the stadium. As the story goes, when scouting the location for Shea Stadium, flight paths had been changed due to weather and no one considered how loud it would be. Regardless of the reason, the noise was loud! It even shook the seats!

Shea Stadium served the Jets well in its history as I have very fond memories of the many Sundays I spent there, but that is another story. I miss the “grand ole lady.” Do you have a favorite memory of Shea Stadium? Feel free to share it below by leaving us a comment and as always, Let’s Talk Jet Football!!

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