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Jets fans worry the party's over

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The target precisely 40 paces in front of him, Scott Bancroft takes a tiny step forward and simultaneously swings his right arm back, launching the toilet seat into the air.

It slides along the blacktop, ricochets off a beer can and lands exactly where he had aimed -- under the middle of the green New York Jets plastic folding chair.

Ringer.

"I'm like the all-time grand champion at this," Bancroft modestly says about his talent for toilet-seat horseshoes. "I can't even remember the last time I lost."

"Whatever," his buddy, "Mez," shouts back. "Just shut up. I'm tired of listening to you."

Bancroft, Mez, the rest of their friends from Stamford, Connecticut, and their game of toilet-seat horseshoes is the heart of entertainment in Section B8 of the Meadowlands parking lot.

These guys compliment one another on the spectacular texture of their green Jello shots. Pass around bottles of Jaegermeister and cans of Budweiser as if they were bottles of water and cans of Coke. They entertain onlookers with their heated battles of who can toss a toilet seat more accurately.

"I'm the William Wallace of this game," Nick Devito, another member of the Stamford Seven, says.

The truth is these guys could be any fans in any Meadowlands lot. This place, with its 25,000 parking spots, is a tailgating mecca. It has its own smell -- burning lighter fluid. It's own sound -- the constant hum of generators. And it's own feel -- that of a cold can of beer pressing against an already frozen hand.

In Lot A14, there are the Jetnuts, a group of GM employees from Port Reading, New Jersey, who souped up their full-size 1986 school bus to include everything from the latest BOSE music system to a 6-foot cooler, fully stocked bar and oven. They have a separate trailer that includes a steam table, a hot plate, a jumbo grill and a pair of deep fryers.

In Lot B18, there's third-grade special education teacher Rick McGovern, who's been hosting 20 friends in and around his old-school Jets camper for 16 years. In Lot H5, there's Jon Young and his 1972 New York Jets painted hearse/ambulance combo.

And then, in B8, there's the crew from Stamford, which has been coming to games together for almost 20 years, the last five driving a 14-year-old "short bus."

"The handicapped elevator is key," says Nick Devito, another member of the group, "That's how we unload the beer."

But if the Jets have their way, all the pre- and post-game fun could come to an end in 2009. That's when it hopes to open the New York Sports and Convention Center, a state-of-the-art entertainment complex complete that would serve as an indoor/outdoor sports complex as well as a convention center.

The facility would give the Jets their first true home. After sharing the Polo Grounds with the baseball Giants and Shea Stadium with the Mets, the Jets moved to New Jersey in 1984 where they share their football stadium with their archrivals, the Giants.

It was a strange sight Monday afternoon, seeing Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi rummaging through the trunk of his car looking for a pair of golf clubs while Jets fans tailgated a couple of hundred yards away. It was even stranger looking at a game ticket, which actually read, "Jets vs. Dolphins, Giants Stadium."

A newly proposed stadium on Manhattan's West Side would give the Jets a home, but it also would eliminate almost all parking, instead relying on public transportation to bring fans to games. That, in turn, would lead to the death of Jets tailgating. Even the team's media guide admits, "part of the transition to a new stadium that we can call our own will be a shift from the traditional forms of tailgating to new types of pre-game activities."

How serious are the Jets? A "stadium" link on the team website doesn't even mention the Meadowlands, instead going straight to the design for the NYSCC.

Most fans don't want to hear it.

"Without this, why bother?" Bancroft, the toilet seat-tossing champion, says. "I mean, win or lose, good times and bad, this atmosphere out here never changes. It's the one constant. There's nothing like this anywhere else in football. And now they want to take that away?"

Pre- and post-game parking-lot revelry are the lifeblood of Jets football. On Monday, cars started showing up at noon, some 9 hours before kickoff. Once the sun set, one family draped the inside of a box truck with white Christmas lights and used the glare to illuminate a makeshift living room in the middle of the parking lot.

Nearby, Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" blared out of a Ryder truck. A disco ball reflected off a pop-up tent. And pickup football games took place at just about every turn. Those who didn't have a tailgate wandered through the assorted parties, arms wrapped around cases of beer as if they were Curtis Martin trying to hold on to the football.

The crew from Stamford is a prime destination. On their bus, there are but two rules. No. 1: Never let the Jets ruin a good day. No. 2: No women. One of the guys, a man they call "Tony Two Quarters," wears a pink Jets ski cap. "Two Quarters" got his nickname from his inability to last more than two quarters without getting thrown out of the stadium. "Ahhh, they caught me smoking in the bathroom," he said. "So the guys get on me about it."

These aren't wild twenty-somethings looking to sow their college oats. They're married men in their 40s who are utterly addicted to the pregame bonding. Where would they be without it?

"Probably in a bar somewhere, telling the same ridiculous stories," says Mike DeLuca, another member of the seven. "Though I'm not sure they'd let us throw toilet seats. It wouldn't be the same."

Just before heading into the stadium Monday night, DeLuca spotted a $20 bill on the ground. Instead of putting it in his pocket, he asked if anyone lost the money. Nobody did. So he taped it to the Jet Bus dashboard to cover the $20 parking fee for the next home game.

"This is how we do it," DeLuca says. "Always having a great time, always thinking about somebody else. Now if we could get our Jets to do the same."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com