Here’s a new twist on an old stadium chant: J-E-T-S, Juice, Juice, Juice.
Ever since the Jets traded for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, an undeniable buzz has surrounded the longtime woebegone franchise: Rodgers’ jersey was the best-seller in the NFL Shop in April even though he was acquired in the last week of the month. Season-ticket and suite sales at MetLife Stadium experienced a 400 percent year-over-year spike as of mid-May. Schedule-makers slotted the Jets for six primetime games, including the first ever on Black Friday.
The good vibes are so strong right now they even defeated a same-old-Jets dagger thrown by the injury gods: ESPN broke into “SportsCenter” programming for a live update from the scene Tuesday when it became clear that Rodgers unexpectedly wasn’t practicing despite many of the 40 credentialed media members being on hand just to observe his every move.
Just a minor strained calf, Rodgers later said, as exhaling Jets fans started to wonder whether maybe this time the other shoe really isn’t going to drop.
“Good vibes matter in the short term, but what builds fandom in the long term is two things: championships and having Hall of Fame-level players that fans want to put on the back of their jerseys when they go to games,” said Emory University business school professor Michael Lewis, an expert in sports marketing and sports analytics. “Aaron Rodgers can potentially deliver some of that.”
Lewis annually ranks the strength of each NFL fan base by researching social media presence, attendance, revenue generation, stadium pricing and other factors. The Jets were No. 26 before last season and will be lower in the soon-to-be-released update based on data collected during the 2022 season.
“Sports brands are incredibly powerful,” Lewis told Sports+, “so they change slowly over time.”
The Cowboys and Steelers have remained top-five fan bases throughout his decade of research. The Commanders plummeted fast. Rodgers’ impact on the Jets probably won’t be fully understood until the 2025 rankings.
“The foundation of fandom is the stories they have,” Lewis said. “For the Jets, it goes back to Joe Namath. Rodgers is unique because he can really captivate a fan base. Think about the story-telling you can do about Rodgers coming to the Jets and now [the Bills’] Josh Allen is no longer the quarterback to beat in the AFC East and Bill Belichick can’t beat him, either. Then the playoffs come and he’s overcoming the other young guns.
“The star quality matters to fans because there are going to be compelling narratives about Aaron Rodgers all season long. The added element is he has political overtones to some of the stuff he says and a great personality where he can host ‘Jeopardy!’ He creates buzz that fans can jump on.”
Lewis doubts that Tom Brady built lasting “brand equity” over three years with the Buccaneers despite delivering the franchise’s first Super Bowl or and that Peyton Manning greatly altered Broncos fandom by bringing MVPs and a Super Bowl in John Elway’s shadow.
But Rodgers could be different.
“What jersey is Rodgers going to wear into the Hall of Fame? That’s the jersey where most of the equity is going to be created,” Lewis said, referencing his Packers’ days. “But we have to come back to the fact that in the New York market, where the Jets fans have been starved for so long, it’s a unique situation. It could be totally different.”
With the Jets as an inspiration, we are doing a “Vibes Check” on the NFL.
Not to be confused with traditional power rankings, these are just six other teams that have either good vibes or bad vibes as players take the field for three weeks of OTAs and minicamp practices before splitting for the summer break:
1. Detroit Lions: In picking an opponent to visit the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs for the stand-alone season opener, the NFL bypassed two playoff rematches and traditional rivalries for … the Lions. It shows the league is sold on a team that went 8-2 after Halloween last season, benefited as much as any other from Rodgers clearing out of division rival Green Bay and is led by non-cookie-cutter head coach Dan Campbell. The Lions released three of the four players suspended by the league for sports gambling — no room for bad vibes.
2. Baltimore Ravens: The two-year contract stand-off with quarterback Lamar Jackson is over. The Ravens wisely are letting Jackson take a negotiation victory tour as the NFL’s highest-paid player while quietly celebrating internally that they are only paying him $2 million more guaranteed than the $133 million he turned down before risking his body all last season. Jackson is surrounded by better weapons than he ever has had and “loving” new coordinator Todd Monken’s offense.
3. Cincinnati Bengals: After quarterback Joe Burrow said he is not looking for every dollar in contract negotiations so there is money left over to be shared by his teammates, the Bengals let it be known they want to re-sign receiver Tee Higgins. Teammates looking out for other teammates is the Tom Brady-Patrick Mahomes salary-cap model. It produced championships for them, and the Bengals’ window is now. Bengals owner Mike Brown is not used to writing fat checks.
1. Arizona Cardinals: New general manager Monti Ossenfort hasn’t been able to deal safety Budda Baker (trade requested) or receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who is openly naming other quarterbacks he wants to join. Ossenfort is saddled with a huge contract for injured quarterback Kyler Murray that will be hard to escape if he is not a believer. And the embarrassment of ranking second-to-last on the NFL Players Association’s team-by-team report card — charging players for eating dinner in the cafeteria? — still stings.
2. Washington Commanders: An overdue fumigation appears to be coming with the pending sale from owner Dan Snyder to a group led by Devils and 76ers owner Josh Harris. Commissioner Roger Goodell is “confident” the $6 billion sale will be approved. But there still is no timetable for when the other owners will vote, which only leaves time for something to fall apart if more skeletons are allegedly discovered in Snyder’s closet from two decades of mismanagement.
3. Dallas Cowboys: Owner Jerry Jones smacked core NFL fans in the face when he defended the new Thursday Night Football flex scheduling package by saying only seven percent of the league’s fans have ever been to a stadium. If a season-ticket holder ever wanted to feel marginalized against money and the masses, that should do it. Oh, and the players hate the idea, too. The vote (24 owners approved) said enough without Jones bringing more bad vibes to the Cowboys.
Today’s back page
⚾ Yankees undone by disastrous seventh inning in ugly loss to Orioles
🏈 COSTELLO: There could be a major flaw in Super Bowl talk around Jets
💪 MARCHAND: Roger Goodell’s ‘Thursday Night’ flex plan is straight-up greed
The age-old Showalter lineup questions
The year is 2043, and Mark Vientos is about to join Francisco Alvarez as a baseball immortal enshrined in Cooperstown.
The duo had plenty of success hitting in the middle of the lineup together as Mets teammates over a decade-plus, but they still sometimes are haunted by unanswerable questions.
What if they both had played every day as rookies in 2023? What if the Mets hadn’t instead stayed loyal to veterans Omar Narvaez and Daniel Vogelbach? What if relying heavily on one rookie who became a great Met in his own right — Brett Baty — had not been enough for manager Buck Showalter? Could one of the most heartbreaking seasons in Mets history have ended differently?
This dramatization of the present conundrum facing the Mets has been brought to you by the 1995 Yankees.
Laugh all you want at the idea of that rosy future, but it’s not very funny when you think of it this way: The Showalter-managed Yankees lost the 1995 American League Division Series to the Seattle Mariners by the slimmest margins — a 6-5 defeat in 11 innings in a winner-take-all Game 5 — with two all-time great players looking on.
Mariano Rivera — the only player ever to receive a 100 percent Hall of Fame vote — was pulled after 12 pitches in favor of tired starter Jack McDowell, who allowed the tying and winning runs in a blown save.
Derek Jeter — who has the sixth-most hits in MLB history — was inactive for the series and most noticeably seen hopping out of the dugout to celebrate a big Yankees hit as Tony Fernandez manned shortstop.
The Yankees just didn’t know what they had. Showalter — who entrusted a young Andy Pettitte in big spots that season — didn’t know what he had.
By the next fall, Jeter was the American League Rookie of the Year, Rivera was MLB’s most dominant relief pitcher and the Yankees were World Series champions under manager Joe Torre. If you thought that regretful experience might make Showalter eager to find out about young players as soon as possible …
Well, nearly 30 years later, Showalter’s Mets lineups are subject to daily questioning because of his reluctance to play the three top prospects — Baty (third base or left field), Vientos (third base or designated hitter) and Alvarez (catcher) — at the same time.
Alvarez did not start Tuesday despite a team off day Monday, and replacement Gary Sanchez allowed two passed balls in a 7-2 loss, which begs the question of whether Alvarez will be the starter, the backup or (gasp!) sent back to Triple-A when the season-opening duo of Navarez and Tomas Nido return from the injured list.
Alvarez homered in his first at-bat Wednesday in an eventual 4-2 defeat to the Cubs.
But Vientos did not start Wednesday for the third time in seven games since he was called up — sporadic at-bats that can’t be good for his development.
“The thing that separated Manny [Machado] and Jonathan Schoop and some of those guys was their ability to defend,” Showalter once said when challenged on why he played some young players but stuck with other struggling veterans like Robert Andino over other prospects as Orioles manager. “Guys are going to struggle offensively.”
That could explain the defensively challenged Vientos’ absence except … the National League now has the designated hitter! And Showalter still opted to start the left-handed hitting Vogelbach over the right-handed-hitting Vientos against Cubs right-hander Marcus Stroman (whose antics didn’t go unnoticed).
How did the classic lefty-right platoon play out?
Vogelbach (0.2 wins above replacement this season) struck out and weakly grounded out against Stroman. Vientos hit .327 with 11 home runs and a 1.105 OPS against right-handers at Triple-A prior to his promotion.
Until Showalter eventually commits to all three young players — Baty alone is not enough — the questions will keep coming. Better to ask than to wonder in 20 years.
No hearts breaking for Boston
Perhaps the worst part about New York sports fandom over the past 10 years wasn’t the wayward direction of so many local franchises in the four major pro sports leagues. It was the simultaneous success of the Boston-area franchises that prevented misery from finding company.
The Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI title in February 2012 remains New York’s last big-4 championship. The Rangers are the last team to play for a title, losing the Stanley Cup Finals in 2014.
Meanwhile, the NHL’s Bruins, NBA’s Celtics, MLB’s Red Sox and NFL’s Patriots each have played for a title within the past five years: The Red Sox won the World Series in October 2018, the Patriots won Super Bowl LIII in February 2019 for their third championship in five seasons, the Bruins lost the Stanley Cup Finals in June 2019 and the Celtics lost the NBA Finals in June 2022.
Well, the worm could be turning in both cities.
The Giants ended a five-year playoff drought, and advanced in the postseason for the first time in 10 years.
All five local NBA and NHL teams made the playoffs in the same season for the first time since 1994 — the Knicks and Devils each won a round.
Both the Yankees and the Mets would be in the playoffs if the MLB season ended today (the Mets are tied for the final wild-card spot) despite neither playing to potential so far. And the Jets have Rodgers.
As for Boston?
The Bruins wasted arguably the best regular season in NHL history with a crash-and-burn that could go down as the biggest playoff series upset of all time — and nowhave to tortuously watch the No. 8 seed Florida Panthers play on for the Stanley Cup.
The Celtics fell behind 3-0 to the No. 8 seed Miami Heat, and will try to stave off elimination again in Thursday’s Game 5 (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT). No team has a harder time winning at home in the NBA playoffs.
The Red Sox are tied for last place in the uber-competitive American League East, and are flirting with missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.
The Patriots, who have missed the playoffs twice in the first three seasons since Tom Brady left town, are projected for the fewest wins in the AFC East (7.9, according to NFL analytics), which would mean the first last-place finish since head coach Bill Belichick’s first season in 2000.
Now if only the Phillies and Eagles could stop bringing big games to Philadelphia …