CORTLAND, N.Y. (AP) - Ed Anzalone never wanted to hang up his helmet.
The New York Jets super-fan known as Fireman Ed simply grew tired of the increasing harassment in the stands at MetLife Stadium. Some cursed at him. Others spit on him. Beer was also tossed his way.
“It was just guys who decided, ‘Hey, we’re going to mess with the fireman,’” Anzalone said.
The tipping point came on Thanksgiving night in 2012, when the Jets were getting romped by the New England Patriots. Anzalone went to a rest room at halftime and two men confronted him. Sensing a bad situation brewing, Anzalone took off before it escalated.
“It was time to go,” Anzalone said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “I said, ‘If it’s got to come to that and we’re getting to that point, it’s over.’”
And just like that, Fireman Ed was no more.
The familiar face of the fan base, the leader of the J-E-T-S chant, was G-O-N-E.
“I’ve still got plenty of energy and plenty in my tank, but it was for the best,” Anzalone said. “We had a nice time, I had a great run and I didn’t want to go out in a negative manner. I didn’t want to end up on the front page of a newspaper.”
Anzalone became a fixture at home games, leading the J-E-T-S chant for 27 years - from Shea Stadium to Giants Stadium to MetLife. He would climb on the shoulders of his brother Frank, and later his buddy Bruce Gregor, silence the crowd of 80,000 and then rock the stadium with the deafening chant that fans all over the NFL came to recognize.
“It was an honor and I was humbled by it,” he said. “As much as there were haters, there was nine times more love. It was all because I spelled out four letters. If they had me spelling Buccaneers, I would’ve been out of business.”
His absence as Fireman Ed has been felt. Anzalone, who turns 55 next month, was approached by the Jets about returning, but declined. The Jets recently announced that they’re holding a contest to find eight chant leaders. Season ticket holders are being asked to submit videos of themselves leading the J-E-T-S cheer, and fans will be able to vote for their favorites on the team’s site.
In a sense, it’s a search for the next Fireman Ed.
“I’m happy they’re doing something because I want to see it go on,” he said.
Anzalone and his brother are entering their 40th year as season ticket holders, and they still attend Jets games. They sit in a different part of the stadium, though, and Anzalone is no longer decked out in his familiar Fireman Ed garb - his firefighter helmet and, for years, a No. 42 Bruce Harper jersey before switching to Mark Sanchez’s No. 6.
His absence has angered many fans, who accuse him of quitting on them and the franchise, despite Anzalone writing an open letter published in Metro newspaper in 2012 announcing his reasons for stepping away.