Football fans taking the train to what was billed as the first "Mass Transit Super Bowl" were met with wall-to-wall crowds, stifling heat at a key station, and long waits to buy a ticket and board a train.
And that was just to get to the game. Heading home, riders faced another mass exodus.
But New Jersey Transit officials, who said they set a new ridership record -- 28,000 -- heading to MetLife Stadium Sunday, insisted that everything was going according to plan, and that they had the situation under control.
"It is fair to assert that this is exactly what the planners of the first 'Mass Transit Super Bowl' had in mind," said NJ Transit spokesman John Durso Jr., who added the riders were transported "safely and efficiently."
Not so, said some frustrated fans, who spent hours trying to complete what is usually about a 30-minute train trip from Penn Station to the East Rutherford, N.J., stadium. Complicating their travels was heavy security screening at Secaucus Junction, where fans had to present a Super Bowl ticket to board a shuttle train to the Meadowlands.
After the game, an announcer asked fans to stay in the stadium because of congestion on train platforms. Stadium officials tweeted the same request, saying "we're loading a record number of riders."
Gary Romaka, 52, of Wantagh, and Larry Decker, 52, of West Islip, who traveled by train most of the way to the game, said they took cabs from Secaucus, N.J., to the stadium. They said they planned to head back to the Secaucus Junction station the same way to avoid the exiting crowds. They said they'd catch an NJ Transit train back to Penn Station from there.
Other fans drove or took a coach bus to the game and would return that way. They were trying to avoid the chaos most train riders experienced on the way to MetLife Stadium.
"Utter and complete failure," said Jessica Carlson, 28, of Seattle, as she boarded the train in Secaucus for the final leg to the game. She said if the stadium wanted to host World Cup or the Olympics, "they better get their act together."
She said she was standing for 45 minutes in a corridor with no air moving. "I can't believe it took us three hours to get here," said Shawn Meineke, 37, of Vail, Colo., who traveled from Edison, N.J. He joked that the motto should've been: "Don't use mass transit -- walk."
The Associated Press reported that several people collapsed at the Secaucus Junction station and that emergency medical workers had to push through the crowds to treat overheated travelers. But Durso said he could not confirm the incidents, and that there were no official reports of medical response being required.
Responding to angry fans on Twitter, NJ Transit said it had the air conditioning inside the station "cranked to full blast."
Durso said NJ Transit was not caught off guard and was equipped to handle the record number of riders.
By about 4:30 p.m., the crowds had thinned somewhat since their peak, said Durso, who added that the crowding earlier in the day was made worse by many fans arriving at Secaucus by 11 a.m. -- 2 1/2 hours before the first shuttle train to MetLife Stadium was set to depart. Durso said NJ Transit could not operate trains to the game earlier because the stadium gates were not set to open until 2 p.m.
Some passengers met the wait with a shrug. Rich Armbruster, 52, of Lindenhurst, noticed the crowd was mellower than a typical New York throng. "Must be a West thing," he said at Penn Station.
With Dan Rivoli