The question is often directed to me: "Since you were not born and raised in NYC why do you love the NFL and why do you support the NY Jets?" Well, the answer to the first question is easy: Football is quite possibly the world's greatest game, and certainly the only one that demands such a combination of intellectual and physical prowess. But the answer to the second question is a little more complicated. Ultimately, it has to do with the striking connections between the NY Jets, Gang Green Nation and the Greeks. Consider the following:
The Shadow of Past Glory.
In an infamous article (well, infamous to us Greeks), The Onion once profiled Greece as a country "2,500 years past its prime." Maybe, but the glory that was Greece remains relevant. Think of the singular contributions made in the fields of philosophy, politics, science, literature and the arts; and lest we forget, the concept of democracy is also Greek.
The signature glory moment of the NY Jets also lies in the past. The franchise's sole Super Bowl victory took place way back in 1969. Now, every year one team is guaranteed to be showered in confetti; and no disrespect to teams such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or last year's Baltimore Ravens, but although their SB victories certainly meant a lot to their cities and fans, they had no wider significance. Super Bowl III was different. It probably represents the greatest upset in SB history, beating an 18 point spread. But more significantly, the victory of the upstart American Football League's team guaranteed that the then NFL and AFL would merge. In other words, the NFL as we know it today is the direct result of Joe Namath's famous guarantee and the Jets' victory (the story is wonderfully told in Ed Gruver's From Baltimore to Broadway Joe: Joe, the Jets and the Super Bowl III Guarantee). Just as the glory of Greece still matters, so does that of the NY Jets.
Greeks are hard-working people but they also know a thing or two about having fun. In many ways, dancing and singing is culturally imprinted in them. Thessaloniki, the town where I was born was selected by Lonely Planet as one of the top five party cities in the world. Simply put, the spirit of Dionysus is alive and well in Greek communities; but so is it with NY Jets fans and players.
There are countless examples. Remember Mark Gastineau's "Sack Dance"? (to end it, the NFL had to change the rules); or think about the rowdy, riotous NY Jets fans presence guaranteed to steal the show in every NFL draft; or visit any tailgating part outside Met Life stadium; or think about the cheerleading squad or Rex Ryan. Gang Green Nation is neither austere nor conservative. It knows how to have fun and it is often envied for it.
There are not that many people of Greek descent around the world; and since Antiquity, Greeks have had to contend with bigger and more powerful states, such as the Persian or the Ottoman Empires. Occupations, titanic struggles and catastrophes took place too often for comfort. The result has been an unyielding, unshakeable sympathy for the underdogs of this world. Now, the NY Jets had to share a city with the NY Giants, a much older and established franchise; they had to contend with the humiliation of playing for far too long in Giants Stadium; and they had to start everything from scratch, while often being the target of unmerited ridicule and enmity. The NY Jets are the quintessential underdogs and the Greeks cannot but love them for that.
Greek history has been dramatic, traumatic and tumultuous. In the 20th century alone, Greece confronted two Balkan Wars, two World Wars, the 1923 Asia Minor Catastrophe, a mass population exchange with Turkey, fascist and Nazi occupations that included a deadly famine and the annihilation of its Jewish community, a disastrous Civil War, mass immigration abroad, numerous coup d' etas, several major dictatorships, the 1974 Cyprus events and near military confrontations with Turkey in 1976, 1987 and 1995. On the economic front alone, Greece went bankrupt in 1932 (and also in 1827, 1843 and 1893 during the 19th century) and faced acute economic problems during several periods, including the 1940s and early 1950s. Today it is facing an acute economic crisis.
But the history of the NY Jets is no less dramatic, traumatic and tumultuous. Think of the more than four decades without a SB win; of the Rich Kotite 4-28 era; of Bill Belichick almost being the head coach; of the defeats in the AFC Championship games of 1982, 1998, 2009 and 2010; of opting not to select Dan Marino in the draft; of Vinny Testaverde tearing his Achilles tendon in the season opener of what was supposed to be SB run year; of releasing Chad Pennington to make room for Brett Favre, only to then see him make the playoffs with the Miami Dolphins and receive the Comeback Player of the Year Award; of the weirdness of Eric Mangini or, last year, of Mark Sanchez's justly ridiculed butt fumble in front of a nation-wide audience on Thanksgiving Day.
It is worth keeping in mind, though, that after every catastrophic phase, after every setback, both Greece and the NY Jets have managed to survive, recover and, on occasion, prosper. Both Greeks and Gang Green nation are nothing but truly resilient.
So there you have it: Given their past glories, a shared underdog mentality, an ingrained sense of fun and an otherworldly resilience, the conclusion is inescapable: Greek Americans should be rooting for the NY Jets.
Dr Aristotle Tziampiris is Visiting Fellow at New York University's Remarque Institute.