By Peter Schwartz
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Ed Anzalone still bleeds green. Despite reports to the contrary, he attends every Jets home game with his family though hasn't been "Fireman Ed" since some fans gave him a hard time on Thanksgiving night in 2012 and he decided to hang up the helmet.
"I've never stopped loving them," Anzalone said. "I love them more than ever. I'm at every game. I've never missed a game."
But it's a lot harder to pick him out of the crowd at the Meadowlands.
Now, he tries to keep a low profile at the games. He no longer wears a jersey, so instead he dons a Jets shirt and sunglasses. But sometimes, during a critical time in a game, Firemen Ed still has the itch to make an appearance.
"When I'm at the games, my wife has to grab me at times," said Anzalone, who for many years led the "J-E-T-S" chant at both Giants Stadium and MetLife Stadium. "There have been times where I've thought this is where we gotta get them going and I'm ready to run down the aisle again."
But that era is over.
Despite a website (www.BringBackEd.com) calling for his return and a petition that now has almost 3,500 signatures, Fireman Ed's days of climbing up on someone's shoulders are history.
"Would I come back like I used to?" Anzalone said. "No, that will never happen. I'm 55 years old. It's pretty much over for me. They want to see this thing continue and I'm in total agreement with that. Ultimately, I'm not going to be able to do it, but there are plenty of guys that have the passion that I do."
Without question, the atmosphere at Jets games hasn't been the same the last few years. Any attempt the organization has made to continue the chant has not been effective.
"It's the greatest chant in all of sports," said Anzalone. "To watch it the way it is has been a killer."
Numbers don't lie. The fans have spoken -- and they want Ed back. It's not going to happen, but the man famous for wearing the Bruce Harper No. 42 jersey is appreciative of the support.
"That was very humbling," Anzalone said of the petition. "I'm honored that they would even feel that way to start a petition. I know there's a lot of love out there from the Jets fans. Ninety to 95 percent of it through the years has been good. There's always been that five or 10 percent that can ruin it for you."
I'll be honest. I've had my issues with Anzalone over the years and we had a very public back-and-forth war of words last August. Sometimes it's downright silly to hold a grudge, especially when it comes to something as trivial as arguing over a chant among other things.
But thanks to "Bring Back Ed" website founder Jason Koeppel, Ed and I connected over the phone last week and we had a terrific chat. We talked for about half an hour, both on and off the record, and we cleared up a lot of things.
Let me also say that I signed the petition to bring him back. Not that a fan can make the difference in winning and losing, but I think the atmosphere has been abysmal without him.
So what are the Jets to do?
They want Ed back as well. The team took him out to lunch last April to get his feelings on coming back and gave him a few months to think about it. The Jets talked to him again in July when he made some suggestions on how to help fix the game day atmosphere.
Ultimately, the Jets decided to hold a contest to pick fans to lead the chant. However, these guys didn't have the same working conditions as Fireman Ed.
"Some of those guys could have been very good but they handcuffed them," Anzalone said. "They didn't give them the opportunity like I had. They put them in one stationary position."
It sounds like these new chant leaders could use a mentor: Someone with plenty of experience in getting 70,000 people on their feet, coaxing all of them into complete silence, and then gesturing to get them to scream "J-E-T-S! JETS! JETS! JETS!"
Maybe Fireman Ed can make a cameo or two and show these guys how it's done.
"I would never say never," Anzalone said. "If I could help that chant in any way, whatever it might be, I would absolutely do it. We'll see where it goes but I'll never turn my back on the Jets or the fans. I'll be at the games. Now as far as it being Fireman Ed, who knows? I don't know what's going to happen."
Now if Fireman Ed does decide to return in a limited and mentoring role, he's going to need someone to hoist him up in the air like old times. Since we've turned the page on our past differences, I extended the olive branch of offering up my shoulders if he agrees to come back.
"You got it," said Anzalone. "It would be my pleasure!"
There you go! Let's make it happen!
There have been many things written and said about Ed Anzalone over the year. Much is simply not true. But one thing is for sure: Jets games have not been the same without him.
The Jets seem to be cornering the market in bringing people back to the organization. First there was Darrelle Revis. Then Antonio Cromartie. Now we need Fireman Ed.
Even if it's to show the new guys the ropes.
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