Posted: Friday September 10, 2010 1:01PM ; Updated: Friday September 10, 2010 1:45PM
Ben Reiter
Ben Reiter>VIEWPOINT

State-of-the-art facility can't hide drawbacks of in-person viewing

Story Highlights

It took two hours to commute from Manhattan to new Meadowlands Stadium

The new stadium offers superior concessions and facilities to its predcessor

Fans are seated further from the field and can feel detached from the action

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View from the stadium seat
The view from the author's seat: We heard there was a football game being played somewhere down there.
Ben Reiter/SI
Grading The Experience

ATMOSPHERE: Strangely subdued, up where I was. It was only a preseason game, but the stadium is so massive that it doesn't seem to retain sound nearly as well as its predecessor. It was rather disconcerting, whenever a big play was executed, to be able to hear not just the roar of applause, but the clapping of individual hands, and one never had to speak above a normal volume to be heard by one's seatmates. Each time the Jets achieved a first down, the P.A. announcer, when his mic worked, would shout, "AND THAT IS A JETS ...," and the crowd was supposed to shout, "FIRST DOWN." They responded, though, with mostly mumbles. GRADE: B-

COMFORT: Not bad, once the rain stopped. My plastic seat was comfortable enough -- at 19 inches, wider than those in the old Giants Stadium -- and there was more leg room, too. The temperature was in the high 70s, and there was a nice breeze to dry the sweat that had accumulated on the brows of fans in my row from their climb past 25 steeply sloped rows. GRADE: B

VIEWING: "That's Brown, the guy who ripped his Achilles last year," my friend Paul said of a Giants running back who received a carry early in the second quarter. "At least, I think that's Brown. There's no P.A. system and we're a mile-and-a-half from the field. I'm just going by body type, really." A postgame review of the game's play-by-play revealed that the ball carrier was not Andre Brown, but Danny Ware. Our view got better when we flopped down to corner seats in the mezzanine for part of the second half -- but not much better. GRADE: D+

CONVENIENCE: New Meadowlands Stadium is exactly 6.4 miles from my apartment in lower Manhattan. It took me two hours to reach my seat from my front door. I took the PATH train to Hoboken, then battled an hour's worth of rush hour traffic after my friends picked me up in their car, then, after parking at the East Rutherford Sheraton, undertook a vaguely terrifying walk to the Stadium on a highway shoulder as cars and trucks whizzed by. The return trip was smoother, thanks to the fact that fans had started skedaddling by the second quarter, but attending the game still constituted a six-hour time commitment. I won't grade too harshly, as I could have taken the new New Jersey Transit train that runs from New York Penn Station directly to the Meadowlands -- but the trip is scheduled for 31 minutes, involves a switch at Secaucus, and I've heard squeezing on a train home can be difficult. GRADE: C+

FOOD/DRINK: Concessions stands at the New Meadowlands are almost obscenely abundant. There are 800 of them, the majority of which stood empty throughout the game. I eschewed the "Killer Chili" ($5.50), "New York Delicatessen Corned Beef Sandwich" ($15.00) and abstained from the imported beers (Stella Artois, Blue Moon, Heineken, Murphy's Stout, $9.50 for 16 ounces), and went with a stadium staple, a cheeseburger (branded a "Brooklyn Custom Grind Burger") and fries. I did not ask to "customize" the burger so that it was cold and topped with an unmelted slice of American cheese, and didn't order the fries mushy and soggy, but that's what I got, for $12.50 total. GRADE: C-

OTHER ENTERTAINMENT: Two of the massive video boards constantly displayed scores from around the league -- and while it was nice to be reminded that the Redskins had two days earlier crushed the Bills 42-17 in their preseason opener, it wasn't all that thrilling. The halftime ceremony, in which the Jets inducted Winston Hill, Joe Klecko, Curtis Martin, Weeb Ewbank, Don Maynard, and a typically wacky Joe Namath into their new, permanent Ring of Honor (which will be permanent except for every other week, when their names are taken down for Giants home games) had potential, but the fact that the P.A. system again broke before Hill's speech, leading to several awkward minutes of silence, put a damper on things. So did the swarms of moths that attacked the upper deck (attracted by the stadium lights) and flew into fans' eyes and down their throats. There were also some cheerleaders. By the time that the Rhett Bomars and Mark Brunells of the world took the field, I was punching at the phantom remote in my right hand. GRADE: C

PRICE: Ticket ($76.50, including StubHub commission and handling fee); round-trip PATH fare ($3.50); one-third share of parking fee at Sheraton ($8.33); cold burger and soggy fries ($12.50). Total: $100.83. A Benjamin and change for a rather bare bones experience -- a bad seat, no memorabilia, no program, not even a beer. GRADE: D+

OVERALL GRADE C-

-- B.R.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Blood spurted from Eli Manning's forehead early in the second quarter of a preseason game between the New York Jets and the New York Giants -- great crimson geysers of it, dripping onto his shoulder pads, splashing onto the artificial turf as he hurried toward the sideline.

Of course, I only received a full picture of what had happened to the Giants' quarterback, in all its 12-stitch-requiring gruesomeness, more than three hours later, when I finally made it back to my apartment in Manhattan and flipped on the highlights on my HDTV. From my vantage point inside the New Meadowlands Stadium -- Section 328, Row 26, Seat 4, one of the worst seats in the house (capacity: 82,566) -- all I could see was that a number of tiny figures had converged, and that one of them might have been left holding a hand to his forehead. From up there, even the picture on the 40-by-130 HD video boards positioned in each of the stadium's four corners looked small and fuzzy. All one could make out from the replays shown on them that Manning had botched a handoff to -- was that Brandon Jacobs? -- and had subsequently been sandwiched between a pair of onrushing Jets, and seemed to have bumped his head. The gore, the concerned look on Manning's face, the play's particulars: all of that was lost.

Judging the modern experience of attending an NFL game in person based upon a preseason game -- even if it's Giants/Jets, in a brand new stadium -- is something like assessing the current state of American cinema through a single viewing of Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties. Still, when I received the assignment, I vowed to approach it with an open mind. Things started well enough, when I managed the afternoon before the game to score a trio of tickets off StubHub -- for myself and two old friends, Paul (who has attended every Giants home game but 10 since the end of the 1987 strike, when he was seven) and Mitesh -- for $76.50 apiece including fees, $18.50 below face value. My mind started to close when I stepped out of my apartment at 6 p.m. to begin my journey to the 8 p.m. game, just as a soaking, torrential rain moved over New York. It closed further as we sat in bumper-rubbing rush-hour traffic, as Paul, behind the wheel, aired his grievances about the new stadium -- particularly about its exorbitant Personal Seat Licenses.

"Just be honest with me," Paul said. "The Giants are in an arms race with the rest of the NFC East, and Giants Stadium was one of the league's oldest stadiums. It produced a fraction of other teams' club seating revenues. I understand that.

"But don't try and tell me that you're building the stadium for the fans when you are screwing 80 percent of the fans with the deal. Don't lie to my face. My seats are 100 feet further from the field, and I had to pay $1,000 to keep them. It's gotten to the point where I don't even want to go anymore. Tell me what I should be excited about? So there are more places to buy a $160 jersey? I just want to be as close to the action as possible, be able to get in and out of the stadium and get a beer and get to the bathroom as quickly as possible. That's it."

Mitesh, who had just committed to a season's worth of tickets for the first time, sat quietly in the back seat. Surely, checking out the new, $1.6 billion stadium would be a worthwhile experience, right? And it's Jets-Giants! Fun!

Whatever optimism I'd retained slipped away once we finally reached the New Meadowlands Stadium -- after picking up the tickets from the StubHub desk at the nearby Sheraton Hotel, parking the car there and completing a death-defying walk across a highway and through various swamplands to the stadium. It was new, and it was shiny, and that various lights and LED boards can be changed from green to blue, based upon whether the Jets or Giants are playing (they were on this night green, as it was a Jets home game) is a clever touch. But then we hit the escalator -- and another escalator -- and another escalator -- and then we climbed and climbed the stairs to our last row seats. Then we turned around, and the view was something like that on a coach's tape, if the video camera boasted half a megapixel and a fish-eye lens. Perhaps the only thing down on the field that was clearly visible with the naked eye was Rex Ryan.

"I'm getting dizzy," Paul said, looking distressed.

The guys sitting to our left seemed to be true old-time Jets fans. One wore a hearing aide and a thin, V-necked T-shirt of the lighter hue of green that the Jets used to have. The other peered through binoculars. "Oh, flea flicker!" V-neck kept exclaiming, trying to follow along with the far-off action. "Nope," said binoculars. "Just a handoff."

After the Jets scored their first touchdown -- Mark Sanchez to Brad Smith, the video board replay revealed -- it was time for one of the Jets' beloved in-stadium traditions. "It's Cowboy Bill! Or whatever you call him?" V-neck exclaimed, as the bald, muscular superfan Ed Anzalone -- better known as Fireman Ed -- rose from his lower-level seat to lead what he seems to consider his loving minions in a chant of "J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS!" He scowled and he peacocked on the big screens, and didn't seem satisfied with the first effort, so he insisted that everybody try again. It wasn't much louder. The stadium -- which has 2.1 million square feet of space, up from the old place's 900,00 -- simply doesn't seem to hold sound nearly as well.

By the time the brand new Public Address system broke down at the end of the first quarter, there wasn't much sound of any sort, making it difficult indeed to determine what was going on down on the field. The only way we could determine who had been involved in a play, without the announcer's cues, was to try to catch a jersey number on the big screen replay, and then look it up in the glossy pamphlets that had been distributed at the front gates.

The silence seemed particularly deafening at the quarter's very end, when we were treated to a three extended stoppages in play, and 20 or so total seconds of action. The Jets' Nick Folk kicked a 36-yard-field goal. TV timeout -- the players stood around on the field, doing nothing for a couple of minutes. Folk kicked off to (my program told me) Andre Brown. TV timeout (several more minutes of standing around). Manning passes to Ramses Barden for six yards. Quarter over; another break. You forget, when you're watching at home and a commercial means that you can flip to another game, or another show, or call a friend, or check your e-mail, or go to the bathroom, or grab a sandwich, how boring and how plentiful these TV timeouts and such are when you're at the stadium.

It seemed a perfect opportunity for Mitesh -- the only one of us with a wi-fi-enabled phone -- to check out the stadium's highly-publicized smart phone application. "NO NETWORKS FOUND," his phone told him. Perhaps, to be fair, we were doing it wrong.

Stadium walk
The "pleasant" walk from the Sheraton to the stadium.
Ben Reiter/SI

"If there's one good thing I can say so far," said Paul, who had acclimated to the altitude, "it appears that they used better concrete than they did at Yankee Stadium.

As halftime approached, after Manning had staggered off the field for good and the scrubs started to take over, we walked around the stadium, checking out its ballyhooed amenities. There were many, many obnoxiously branded food stands (see sidebar). The bathrooms were plentiful and clean, even if they featured strangely shaped, undoubtedly water-efficient urinals that seemed to confuse some fans ("What, are you supposed to do the other thing in there, too?" asked one fan in a Giants cap with a mesh back). We ended up eluding a vigilant usher to take some seats in the corner of the mezzanine level -- and the view here was better, and the atmosphere too, but not nearly as good as the seats a few sections over to our right, which were monitored by ushers who were beefy, scowled and had little hair. The seats there were 21 inches wide -- that's three extra inches! -- and offer a midfield view. Tickets there cost up to $500 each, and require a purchase of a $12,500 Personal Seat License. But, you know, the seats are padded.

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Some legitimately exciting stuff happened in the second half, after we'd hired Sherpas to lead us back up to our last-row seats. A Giants receiver named Victor Cruz -- the P.A. system was working again -- went nuts, acrobatically catching six balls for 145 yards in the span of about 17 minutes of game time, and becoming the first player with three touchdowns in a preseason game since Terrell Owens in 1998. Cruz, an undrafted rookie from UMass, probably assured himself of a regular-season roster spot. But not many fans saw him do so in person. The stadium was well over half empty by the time he made his first grab, a 64-yard-score -- it was approaching 11 p.m. on a work night, after all, and people wanted to beat the traffic, and to catch up on all they had missed on TV during the six hours (in my case, anyway) they had devoted to attending the game.

V-neck and binoculars were still up in Row 26 of 328, though, and, as they stood on their toes to peek over the concrete wall behind them, and out at the Manhattan skyline, they pondered an important question.

"You think if you jumped off this thing, you'd kill yourself?" asked V-neck.

"Nah," said binoculars. "Look there -- even if you jump out far enough, there's a little ledge about 30 feet down."

 
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