At first glance, Ed Anzalone and Anton Shunin have precious little in common. The former is Fireman Ed, the well-known face of all J-E-T-S fans, while the latter is an elite Russian soccer goalie, a 6-foot-3-inch stopper for Moscow Dynamo and part of Russia’s national team.
Anzalone the firefighter-turned-celebrity-fan, Shunin the high-profile shot-blocker. Different countries, different profiles, and vastly different worlds, yet connected now in a way both would assuredly lament.
Fireman Ed, 53, has been a fixture at Jets home games for decades, and he is expected to be back in the MetLife Stadium stands today, sans his iconic green-and-white fireman’s helmet, for a game against the Cardinals.
Turned sour on his fellow J-E-T-S fans, he says he no longer wants any part of being the No. 1 supporter in the stands, and is surrendering his iconic hat because he has been worn out by the verbal abuse tossed his way by the hometown crowd.
“We’ve had much worse teams than this,’’ Fireman Ed explained in his guest column Monday for the local edition of Metro, noting that chiding by the fans forced him to leave the last two games, including the 49-19 pounding by the Patriots, before halftime. “And I never left before.’’
Shunin, 25, was forced to exit a game two weeks ago when a firecracker tossed from the stands in Moscow exploded at his feet during a game against visiting St. Petersburg, the rising chemical plume burning one of his corneas and impairing his sight.
According to reports, police believe it was a female fan of Zenit St. Petersburg who hurled the firecracker Shunin’s way from Zenit’s designated fan section. The alleged perpetrator was not one of the 92 fans arrested in connection with the Nov. 17 incident.
The game was abandoned in the 37th minute, Dynamo holding a 1-0 lead. Shunin went straight to a local hospital. Everyone else went home, or to the local police station.
“A football pitch isn’t a war zone,’’ reminded Sergei Cheban, a Russian Premier League executive duly outraged by the incident. Russia has anti-hooligan laws on the books, which include fines up to nearly $16,000 and a maximum five years in jail.
So what’s the common bond between Fireman Ed and Shunin — simply the Fireman and the firecracker? No. It’s more about fan behavior, the lack of it, the sad state of it.
We live in a time when anything goes, whether it’s beating down a homie or literally putting one of the opposition’s players in the crosshairs, Zenit-style.
In East Rutherford, N.J., Fireman Ed has mothballed his gear, including his No. 6 Mark Sanchez jersey, in large part because fellow Jets fans don’t respect his right to root for the QB of his choice, even if Anzalone has been the guy for more than 20 years to lead those same fans in that boisterous, often comical J-E-T-S cheer.
Ol’ Fireman Ed, who for years worked Ladder 28 in Harlem, just couldn’t stand the heat anymore in the MetLife stands, or back in the concession line or the men’s room. Enough!
“I will attend games as usual,’’ wrote Fireman Ed, who no doubt will still be traceable by the TV cameras, “but just not as Fireman Ed.’’
In one of those only-in-New-York episodes, Jets coach Rex Ryan, a man who has learned to filter out the vulgarities hollered his way in East Rutherford, openly lamented the Fireman’s decision. Doubtful that Bill Belichick would get equally caught up if something similar happened in Foxborough. Coach Belichick would simply say he was focusing on the next game, not the stands.
“If he could play linebacker,’’ said Ryan, after first noting his admiration for Anzalone, “I’d use him.’’
Shunin’s treatment obviously was much harsher. Most of us would take an earful of grief over a face full of firecracker.
“Something fell,’’ said Shunin, quoted on the Dynamo’s Twitter feed as he made his way to the hospital. “I looked down and then the firecracker exploded in my face.’’
According to numerous reports, after the match, police found a women’s restroom floor at Dynamo’s stadium littered with condoms. They believe some of Zenit’s female fans put the pyrotechnics in the prophylactics (we are not making this up), then inserted them in their bodies tampon-like to conceal the firecrackers as they entered the stadium.
Male fans in Russia, according to reports, routinely go through a more rigorous body search prior to entering soccer games.
One only wonders what kind of security the Russians have planned when they play host to soccer’s 2018 World Cup. They won’t know whether to roll out their version of the TSA or surrender the gate to OB-GYN clinicians.
Suspect, questionable, even abhorrent fan behavior isn’t anything new. A cheap seat in the Roman Colosseum no doubt had its view to unsavory behavior. All that slaughter in the name of sport and entertainment had to make for some interesting interaction in the stands.
Anyone who was around here in the 1970s and ’80s can recall some nasty bloodbaths in the stands at the old Garden during Bruins games, especially with Montreal in town.
Security guards broke those up, with some members of the staff seeming to relish in firing punches at least as much as the combatants. Fenway Park has had its brawls, too, with similar security heavies participating in the fan beatdowns.
Had cellphone video been available then, the number of lawsuits would have been of Ruthian proportions.
Here in 2012, Fireman Ed and the Russian goalkeeper are two of the most recent victims of fandom gone off the rails. Anzalone will be in civvies this afternoon, officially checked out from a gig he loved because, well, he just can’t stands no more. Shunin, at last report, was on antibiotics, hoping for his vision to clear and to avoid a corneal transplant.
The games we play. The games we watch. And too often, the total nonsense that comes with it.