Florham Park, NJ– We’ll start with the topic of the day and discuss the “retirement” of Fireman Ed like everyone else, but there’s very little to add to the discussion except if you care very passionately about Fireman Ed one way or the other you probably have your priorities a bit out of whack. Fireman Ed has always been a polarizing figure to Jet fans, they see him on TV leading the famous J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS chant and many fans appreciate his energy and enthusiasm, others have a deep seeded hatred for the man I never fully understood. I guess I get it, you think he’s seen as some sort of mascot of all Jet fans, but I think you’re reading too much into it and ironically enough those who are very vocal in complaining about him are in fact making him out to be exactly what they complain about. The ones complaining are the ones giving him this mythical power, to everyone else he’s just a retired fireman who loves the Jets and yeah maybe he enjoys the spotlight, most people do, but it’s the detractors that bring light to the issues they claim they don’t want associated with their favorite team and fellow fans.

Whether Fireman Ed really stays away from MetLife stadium should be fairly irrelevant to everyone except Fireman Ed, his family and friends. The classic chant will continue, as long as the Jets give the fans a reason to cheer, and Fireman Ed is just one fan, you can like him, dislike him or feel literally nothing for him, but unless you know him personally some of you probably shouldn’t spend so much time thinking about him.

But enough about Fireman Ed, seriously that goes for everyone else who decides to make this into a story with actual meaning over these next few days. Jets fans will need to find someone else to lead the four letter chant, easy enough, of far more importance though is who is doing the leading in the locker room and the answer to that question would be Antonio Cromartie.

There hasn't been much for Jets fans to cheer about, but the emergence of Antonio Cromartie, of all people, as a leader on the field and in the locker room is one of the few silver linings in this seemingly lost season. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

After the loss to the Patriots the scene in the locker room was identical to the scene on clean out day last season. Having just completed their disappointing season last year most of the Jet players strategically avoided the locker room during media hours, Cromartie was one of the few who did no such thing. He stood there in front of a crowd of reporters and answered every question that was asked of him. It was impossible to blame the other players, many were beyond frustrated and just wanted to avoid saying anything that would make matters worse, but give credit where it’s due, Cromartie could have brushed off the media but he didn’t and I made a note of it and thought he deserved some praise for how he handled himself as he was beginning to step up as a leader inside the locker room.

Cromartie continued to grow as leader, publicly supporting Sanchez in the offseason, after the loss in Seattle and every day in between. When Darrelle Revis was lost for the season Cromartie stepped his level of play up as well as welcomed the extra pressure and responsibilities that were thrust upon him in Revis’ absence. Then came Thanksgiving and the embarrassing beat down from the Patriots, the crowd was angry, rightly so, the players were frustrated, confused and ashamed and yet once again the scene in the locker room consisted of a just few players hanging around to talk about the loss to reporters, and once again there was Cromartie holding court with the reporters and taking the bullets for many of his teammates.

A theme is beginning to take shape in the media, people are beginning to claim that Rex Ryan has lost the locker room just like last year, but there is a distinct difference between last year and this year. The energy level in the locker room was at an all time low last year, mostly because it was always so empty. The team was falling apart and there was issues between players causing friction and silence, this year the energy is good and Cromartie is a huge reason why.

“I mean you see the energy.” LaRon Landry said when asked how he would describe the team’s morale. “The team’s still in high spirits.”

Cromartie is the loudest voice in the room and I mean that in the most positive way possible without a sliver of backhanded negativity. Everyday he’s joking and laughing with his teammates (today’s jokes revolved around the classic movie ‘Pootie Tang’) and everyday he stands up to answer questions and act as a voice on this defense and team. If people wonder who the younger players on this team should take their cues from, look no further than Cromartie. Cromartie might not always say the right thing, but he always says the honest thing and he never runs and hides from it, that’s what a leader does. He owns his words and his actions and players have taken notice as his voice probably carries the most weight in the locker room right now.

“Honestly my focus isn’t on whatever happened Thursday, I’m beyond Thursday and whoever wants to talk about it, that’s on them, but my mind is focused on getting ready and making sure the back end is getting ready for this upcoming game against Arizona.” Cromartie said, “It’s very discouraging, but at the same time we still have five games left and the most important one is this week coming up against Arizona and we got to go out and win the game and stop going back-and-forth having losing streaks and going out and doing things like that and we just have to learn how to put a complete game together for one whole game.”

Gone are the days of Rex Ryan guarantees, now we just get promises that no matter what this team will continue to fight.

“Heck yeah, that’s our goal.” Ryan said when asked if his message to the team had to do with running the table, “Absolutely that’s what you’re trying to do. Our goal was to beat New England also but that never worked out. That’s why you play. You try and win every game that you’re in. I’m saying right now I’m not going to make a guarantee that we’re going to make the playoffs or that deal. We have to get better. It has to start right now. You can’t look down the road. Of course you’d like to run the table, I guess that’s human nature to say, ‘hey I see what’s on our schedule, we have to win all five games, we have to do this, we have to do that.’ We have to win this game. I think that’s where our entire focus is.”

Pick a press conference, any press conference and you’ll hear Ryan mutter those words and while those words may be falling off deaf ears as far as many fans are concerned the players have been listening, you can hear it when they speak.

“I mean honestly, you can’t even look at it like that.” Cromartie said, echoing Ryan’s words, when asked about a remaining schedule filled with winnable games and the idea that mathematically the Jets aren’t dead just yet. “I think we just have to take it one week at a time. I think once guys start to look ahead to what the schedule is like guys start to take their minds off the focus of what’s more important and what’s most important is what’s coming up next week at home.”

Ryan said the team has to get better and while semantically Cromartie disagreed with his coach, the message was the same and Cromartie even offered up specifics for how they can get better. It’s not about the team needing a transfusion of talent (although that clearly wouldn’t hurt), according to Cromartie as much as it’s about eliminating self-inflicted mistakes.

“I mean honestly we hear that every week, (but) it’s not that we need to get better, we got to eliminate the mistakes. We got to eliminate the turnovers, eliminate the penalties, on defense when we commit penalties.” Cromartie said, “Again I think we’ve given up the most points after penalties to offenses, so that’s something we have to eliminate and that’s the way you get better, by going out and eliminating the penalties and eliminating the mistakes. So if those are the things that he (Ryan) means by getting better, that’s what we need to do.”

A few weeks ago Cromartie expressed his full confidence that the Jets would be able to make the playoffs, like his coach he’s taken a step back from making anymore predictions. When asked if he still believes they can make the playoffs Cromartie said, “Man, I don’t even know what I believe right now. The way we’ve been playing, but there’s five games left, anything can happen. My biggest focus is this one important game, not thinking about the playoffs right now.”

An awful lot would have to happen for the Jets to miraculously earn a playoff spot, but one of the few silver linings in this disastrous season has been the play, and growth in leadership, from Cromartie. No matter how the season ends at least Cromartie has proven himself to be a worthy leader in these trying times, it likely won’t be enough to save this season, but it could certainly go along away to righting this ship next year.

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