The Giants and Jets collaborated on a $1.6-billion football stadium set to open in September at the Meadowlands. But which team would earn the right to play the first game at the new facility turned out to be a much bigger debate than any of the construction details.
After months of behind-the-scenes wrangling, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced a plan Monday that he believes will address both teams' concerns: The Giants and Jets both will play their first home games the first weekend of the season.
"After extensive discussions with both teams, we have come up with what we believe is a unique approach for celebrating the opening of the new Meadowlands Stadium," Goodell said in a statement yesterday afternoon.
Goodell used a coin toss to determine that the Giants will be the first to play at the stadium on Sunday, Sept. 12. The Jets will have their home opener the next night in front of a national television audience for Monday Night Football.
Their opponents could be announced as soon as next week's NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla.
Both teams had lobbied Goodell to be the first to host a game at the new stadium. The commissioner then decided to have both teams play their openers at home, and used a coin flip Friday at the league's Manhattan-based headquarters to determine which team would play first.
He informed the clubs that he wanted both to open on the first weekend, and because the Giants had won the toss, they would play Sunday and the Jets on Monday. The Jets will open the preseason at the new stadium, with the Giants to follow.
The idea of both teams playing at home in the opening weekend of the season had been on the table for several weeks. The teams could not agree on a resolution, though, because each wanted to play first. Goodell decided on the coin toss to decide the matter.
Goodell noted that the owners of both teams "felt passionately for their fans about being the first to play at home on the opening weekend of the regular season and could not agree on how to resolve the issue, including whether to conduct a coin flip."
Under the NFL's constitution and bylaws, the commissioner is responsible for determining the playing schedule. It is not uncommon for teams to make specific scheduling requests before a season; because the Giants and Jets are the only NFL team to share a stadium, this year's requests presented an unusual challenge.
The Jets posted a story on their Web site Saturday night indicating that a coin toss would determine which team would play the first home game, even though they already had been apprised of the coin flip the day before. The Jets wanted to have the coin toss done in a public forum with representatives of both teams present.
A person familiar with the coin-toss controversy felt the Jets essentially were asking for a do-over. The Jets did not immediately comment about the coin toss, but owner Woody Johnson reportedly was upset.
Johnson said in a statement: "An NFL coin toss has a few fundamental elements that are missing here, most notably the presence of the teams involved. That's how it's always done in the league, whether it's determining the order of the draft or deciding who's going to kick off the game. When the issue of which team would be hosting the first regular-season game could not be resolved on the merits, I suggested a coin toss as the fairest way to resolve this issue. The league rejected that idea. Then I was told on Friday that a coin toss had taken place at the league office and that the Jets had lost. We rejected a process in which neither team was present. The league departed from our time-honored tradition and declined the opportunity to set the matter straight with a transparent process.''
For the Giants' part, spokesman Pat Hanlon said: "We look forward to playing the first regular-season game ever in the new stadium. We have a great new home, and it's right next door to Giants Stadium, a building that housed our three Super Bowl championship teams. We look forward to building the same legacy for our new stadium, and it starts on Sept. 12."
The only previous time the Giants and Jets opened a regular season on the same weekend at Giants Stadium was in 1991, when the Jets opened against Tampa Bay on Sunday, Sept. 1, and the Giants hosted the 49ers on Monday night, Sept. 2.
The Jets played the final game at Giants Stadium to conclude the 2009 regular season.