The loud “Aaron! Rodgers!” chants started almost as soon as the New York Jets quarterback stepped on the practice field.
The cheers turned near deafening Saturday when Rodgers acknowledged the fans with a quick wave.
“That’s my QB! Let’s go!” someone shouted.
“Surreal!” said another.
The Jets’ third practice of training camp marked the first session open to the public — giving about 2,000 ecstatic fans their first in-person glimpse of their team’s new quarterback.
“It’s exciting, you feel the energy from the fans,” said Claudio Juarez, a 43-year-old from the New York City borough of Queens. “It’s like, you wake up and you’re like, ‘Hello, Mr. Rodgers! Good morning!’ And everybody’s like, ‘Good morning!’ It’s hype, it’s exciting and it’s a lot of optimism that has been lacking in the past.”
Rodgers then put on a show with a terrific practice that included some precise passing and a few jaw-dropping throws.
“I’m just happy we have a competitive team,” said Phil DeMeo, a 30-year-old from the New York City borough of Staten Island. “I’m not looking for a Super Bowl or bust. I’m hoping for a playoff win. A home playoff win would be awesome.”
New York acquired Rodgers from Green Bay in April, and the four-time NFL MVP wants to help end the league’s longest playoff drought at 12 years.
And perhaps return the Jets to the Super Bowl, something they haven’t been able to do since the glory days of Joe Namath in 1969.
“Man, I’m pumped up,” said Greg Muscaro, a 30-year-old fan and eight-year season ticket holder from Staten Island. “We got this. We’re going all the way this year. Rodgers, Sauce (Gardner), Garrett (Wilson) — the boys are gonna cook. We’re in.”
The Jets have plenty of work to do before they can even think about the postseason. But this is the type of optimism having a quarterback with the credentials of Rodgers, even at 39, breeds among a fan base that’s hungry for a winner.
“I’m hoping we turn over a new leaf,” said Ira Max, a 72-year-old season ticket holder for 45 years from Wyckoff, New Jersey. “Everything we’ve done so far hasn’t quite worked, but I think this may be the time it’s all going to work out. The stars are aligning.
“If you keep coming back 45 years, you have to have hope, right?”
That’s what Rodgers represents to so many frustrated fans who have been patiently waiting for the Jets to be a true Super Bowl contender again.
“For a lot of the folks who have been through the roller coaster, it’s been rough, it’s been fun, but never consistent,” said Juarez, the founder of the Jets fan club Gotham City Crew. “The type of excitement, the long lines and how early folks have been here, you could feel it. You could see it — the hairs (on his arm) are sticking up because it’s a very strong chance we’re going to the Super Bowl.”
Tickets — which are free — for the first four training camp practices were distributed earlier this week in three minutes. Fans will have a chance to get tickets for the five other sessions later this summer.
“I love it when the fans come,” coach Robert Saleh said. “It’s easy for a coach because now those guys are excited to show out, but you try to keep them focused and level whether fans are there are not. … But I love when they get the chant going.”
With the cameras from the “Hard Knocks” crew rolling, several “J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!” cheers cropped up throughout practice.
While the capacity hasn’t changed from previous years, the Jets made some adjustments to the fan experience. They include improving sightlines as well as providing additional sun protection and shade. That has helped with the high demand this summer from people who particularly want to watch Rodgers practice.
The main viewing area for fans includes stadium-style seating and an overhang. There are several other viewing areas for fans, including a two-level structure, with a total of 1,500 seats available. Fans can also stand along the outskirts of the fields during practices.
Rodgers got the fans fired up when he threaded a touchdown pass to Tyler Conklin in red zone team drills, and then zipped a throw to Corey Davis for a 2-point conversion. He ended practice with a toss on which Mecole Hardman made a pretty leaping grab for a TD.
“I’m just really excited to have a really good team,” DeMeo said, adding general manager Joe Douglas greatly improved the roster in the offseason. “Rodgers just kind of parachuted in, so hopefully he’s the guy because he’s been the guy his whole career.
“We’ve needed a quarterback, and hopefully we have one right here.”
Gardner gifts Rodgers a No. 8 in diamonds
Gardner hinted Friday he would present Rodgers a gift to officially welcome him to the Jets but wouldn’t divulge what he got for the quarterback.
On Saturday, the team tweeted a video in which Gardner and Rodgers appear to be in the gym at the facility and the second-year cornerback has a small shopping bag. Gardner explains to Rodgers that his jeweler is a big fan of the QB and wanted to make something special for him.
Gardner — who made a fashion statement last year at the NFL draft while wearing a diamond-encrusted “SAUCE” medallion — pulls out a chain with a big No. 8 medallion in white diamonds, outlined in green jewels.
Rodgers tells Gardner to put the gift around his neck and the quarterback strikes a pose.
“Thanks, man. I appreciate it,” Rodgers says while giving Gardner a hug.
NOTES: The Jets placed LT Duane Brown on the physically unable to perform list. Brown played last season with a torn rotator cuff and had offseason surgery, from which he’s still recovering. Brown is eligible to come off PUP and begin practicing at any time in camp.
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