FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- If you rebuild it, will they come?
If they do, will they root against the home team?
This already is a strange year for the New York Jets, and it could take a sharp turn toward surreal for the home opener Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Considering the circumstances -- low expectations, 0-2 start, "Suck for Sam," etc. -- many fans already have checked out for the season. A good number won't show up. Those who do will be conflicted, torn between idealism (always cheer for your team) and realism (2017 is hopeless and you want the No. 1 pick next spring).
There's also a chance the place could be populated by Miami Dolphins fans.
The sights and sounds won't be pleasant for Jets management: Empty seats, lots of aqua and orange and -- dare we say it? -- perhaps a mixed crowd reaction if the Jets win the game.
"It'll be a weird vibe there," said a longtime season-ticket holder who didn't want his name used. "Honestly, I think most fans want them to lose. If you talk to 10 people, two or three will tell you they want to see them win some games, but no more than one or two because it would jeopardize the draft pick. The rest of them want them to lose every game."
For the first time since 2005, the Jets will play their home opener with a losing record. That, of course, isn't the reason for fan apathy. Management ripped apart the roster in the offseason, starting a long-overdue youth movement that could take years to come to fruition. Acting owner Christopher Johnson insisted the team isn't tanking for a top quarterback, but the fan base has a hard time believing that.
Ed Anzalone, who was "Fireman Ed" from 1986 to 2012, said he went "berserk" when linebacker David Harris and wide receiver Eric Decker were released in June. That, he said, left a sour taste because he felt it was strictly cost-cutting.
Salary dump notwithstanding, Anzalone is still a die-hard and can't fathom the notion of a true fan rooting against the green and white. He might understand it late in the season, if the team is in contention for the No. 1 pick, but not this early.
"There's no way," he said. "Anybody who tells you that isn't a true fan. We don't even know if [USC quarterback] Sam Darnold is going to come out. There's so much that can happen at this point. You're going to root against the Jets? On opening day? When we're playing Miami? Come on, it's a joke. Don't go to the game."
Plenty won't. Lost of tickets are available on StubHub, with prices as low as $43 for upper end-zone seats. In a letter to season-ticket holders this week, the Jets were selling 300-level seats on a single-game basis for the remainder of the home dates. "Bring friends and family members to MetLife Stadium this fall," the letter said.
Ownership knew there would be ramifications when it chose this direction for the team, but it probably didn't anticipate the tanking sentiment to reach this level. Part of it is because of an unusually strong class of college quarterbacks. Many fans have their eye on the future, even now. Anzalone said he wants to see the young players on the field, ASAP.
How this season unfolds will be fascinating on so many levels. Johnson sounded sincere when he said his biggest challenge is to "earn the trust of the fans." Asked if he's concerned about fan apathy and massive no-shows, he said:
"I hope that the fans will buy into our plan, and I’m looking forward to seeing growth. I’m extraordinarily excited about seeing the development of our young players, especially. I think they’re going to see this team grow before their eyes. I think that that’s exciting. I can’t say whether they’re going to stay home, but I hope they don’t. I think it’s going to be an exciting season. I can’t wait for this first home game."
It should be memorable, but maybe not in a good way.