CORTLAND, N.Y. - They're all eager for today's homecoming of sorts, ready for the return to the area many called home for so many years.
After bolting to their spanking new, $75-million, state-of-the-art practice facility in Florham Park, N.J., in the middle of August last year, spurning a town the franchise was based in for 41 years and angering a large portion of its fan base, the Jets are coming back. Well, for a day at least.
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The Jets are hosting a "Family Night" at Hofstra Wednesday night, conducting a short practice that will serve as a brief tuneup for Friday's preseason opener against the Rams at Giants Stadium. The veterans are especially pumped for their Long Island cameo - even if it's not for the annual Green & White Scrimmage owner Woody Johnson said that he'd bring back to Hofstra yearly.
"I miss Long Island, man," running back/kick returner Leon Washington said. "I've got some friends over there, so they'll be out at practice, spending time with us. I miss all the Italian food. All the hot spots over there on Long Island. I miss it. It's going to be fun to be over there."
Don't expect the love fest to last long, though. The barely hourlong practice will essentially be a glorified walk-through. There won't be any real heavy hitting or tackling because the players won't be in full uniform. They'll be wearing shells and shoulder pads.
"I'm also looking forward to going down to Hofstra and being around a lot of our fan base," coach Rex Ryan said. "Even though people will think of the practice, 'Is this it?' It's right before a game. We're going to be in shorts. There's not going to be a whole lot of contact. It will still be a practice."
Following its conclusion, the players will spend time signing autographs. Some believe it's the least they can do for a fan base that was used to driving by Hempstead Turnpike and peering over at the Jets' facility, knowing a professional football team was sometimes practicing behind the shaded fences that hid the fields.
"It's like a throwback moment," said Freeport's own D'Brickashaw Ferguson, the Jets' starting left tackle who's expecting some friends and kids from various schools he's invited to attend. "I know we just moved and everything, but it's cool to come back and kind of reflect a little bit on what you just did. I think it's great because we get a chance to touch base with them, get a chance to let them know that even though we're gone, that we are still there."
There's no comparing the two facilities, however. The Jets' space at Hofstra was cramped and small while their new digs are located on a lush, sprawling piece of land. They have everything they need, including a full-length indoor turf field.
"Instead of practicing at Hofstra," linebacker Bryan Thomas said, "where they converted a school building into a practice facility, now we can finally say something is ours."
Still, it's not the same as Long Island. Just ask Washington.
"Me and Chris Baker went fishing a lot when we were in Long Island," Washington said, referring to the former Jets tight end who's now with the Patriots. "We miss some of the local pubs and taverns on Long Island and some of the malls. You've been over there for three years, so your barber shop is over there, you know everybody over there. So to have to pick up and move over to New Jersey is a difficult transition. But it's getting better. You learn your way around and that's all it takes."
Notes & quotes: C Nick Mangold (right knee), CB Darrelle Revis (left hamstring), NT Kris Jenkins (strained left calf) and RT Damien Woody (head) are out for Friday's game. FB Tony Richardson (hip pointer) is questionable. CB Donald Strickland returned to practice and should be available.