Mass transit meltdown on the way to the Super Bowl

Fans from Manhattan bound for MetLife Stadium and the Super Bowl crowd a NJ Transit station in Secaucus, N.J., Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014. The crowds came to a standstill for a time and began to move again at about 4 p.m. Fans had to go through a security screening at Secaucus before boarding shuttles to the stadium. (AP Photo/Verena Dobnik)
Fans from Manhattan bound for MetLife Stadium and the Super Bowl crowd a NJ Transit station in Secaucus, N.J., Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014. The crowds came to a standstill for a time and began to move again at about 4 p.m. Fans had to go through a security screening at Secaucus before boarding shuttles to the stadium. (AP Photo/Verena Dobnik)
Posted: February 03, 2014

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - By the time the fifth train from Secaucus rolled into MetLife Stadium with another thousand fans Sunday, both sides of this very Jersey Super Bowl were already defeated.

By Secaucus.

They slumped off the train silently, overheated, claustrophobic, transformed from upbeat football fans from out west into huddled masses of East Coast commuters, bitter and sarcastic about their long commute on N.J. Transit.

"Jersey sucks!" they had shouted in unison while stuck for 90 minutes in a Secaucus stairwell, some with only their Seattle Skittles to sustain them, dour demeanors in contrast with the bright sherbet colors of Bronco orange and Seahawk lime. "Train! Train! Train!"

Yup, if there was any doubt that New Jersey would leave the lasting impression on these Super Bowl fans (most of whom spent the bulk of their time in New York City), that evaporated in the swelter of Secaucus Junction. New Jersey: Where you're just one commuting disaster away from turning native.

Nobody even commented about the balmy weather Jersey gave them: 54 degrees close to game time. Of course, they'd already peeled off all their layers in Secaucus.

"Not very impressed with Jersey right now," said Seattle fan Lisa Barlow, as she emerged from the train, ignoring MetLife stadium visible beyond the train. "We would be cheering now. But we've all got post-traumatic stress syndrome."

It was, to be sure, an authentic Jersey experience. Never mind touristy toboggan rides up Broadway.

"It was like sardines," said Gail Patterson, 66, of Tacoma, Washington, who endured what she estimated as near 100-degree temperatures in the windowless stairway. "Heavy breathing. Hyperventilating. I almost fainted. Some people did."

She accepted a Bronco orange Gatorade from a stranger, but worried if she drank too much, she might have to go to the bathroom while enduring the next tight squeeze (on the entryway to the down escalator to the platform).

Indeed, several people collapsed as the afternoon wore on in Secaucus, bringing paramedics to the scene and a barrage of angry, graphic tweets to NJ Transit.

With so much worry about anticipated cold weather, it was the heat in the Secaucus Rail Station that proved the biggest challenge. NJ Transit cranked the air conditioning up full blast, handed out water, and security started taking less and less time screening people as they passed through.

It was exactly the mass transist debacle those who boasted of the first Transit Bowl promised would not happen. And that seasoned commuters predicted would. "Secaucus station is terrifying," tweeted Micah Doak. "This is a hot mess." He described crowds passing out, pushing, urinating on themselves.

Those who managed to get up the stairwell and into the light-filled waiting area found amenities to be slightly lacking. They spoke fondly of their long truck drives back home.

"It's like being homeless," said Brian Dunn, of Virginia, slumped up against the tiled wall with a beer he'd bought from the nearby bar. (At least there was that, though they were charging $35 for a six pack of Miller Lite. Still, these fans from two states that sell marijuana legally were impressed that you could buy a beer in a train station shop.)

"If they'd turn on the air conditioner, it'd feel better," said Chuck Devorss, of Lakewood, Colorado, two little bronco figures on his shoulders. A far cry from his usual tailgate, he made do with a coffee from Dunkin' Donuts. "Is Mr. Dunkin from New Jersey?" someone asked.

Raelynn Stenchever, of Seattle was especially angry. She and her husband had stayed in a hotel across from MetLife Stadium, but even though they could have walked to the Super Bowl, they had to take a $35 cab to Secaucus and take the train from there. They were stuck in Secaucus for more than two hours. "It seems ridiculous that all the transit goes through Secaucus," she said, logically.

By 4 p.m., NJ Transit said the train had carried 27,000 fans to the game, surpassing the old record of 22,000 in 2009 for a U2 concert and much higher than the 12,000 that had been predicted.

For most of the fans, who spent their pre-game festivities in New York City, this was their introduction to New Jersey. In New York City, there were fans who could not even remember where MetLife was located. "You go to Meadow, Meadow, Meadow, gate?" said Nick Bossoff of Seattle.

But at least New Jersey planners can rest assured: these fans now definitely know where the game was placed. On one train to MetLife Stadium, a group of fans had nothing but good old Jersey sarcasm for their experience.

"Definitely going back," said Wes Graham, as his group of Seattle fans rolled their eyes.

"Tropical," said Dave Jaffe of Seattle. "Worth a long weekend."

Lawrence Olson, 48, offered a slogan for the city of Secaucus. "You gotta hydrate before you go there."

And naturally, people started to wonder if somehow Gov. Christie was behind the transportation debacle (Time for some standstills in Secaucus.) Christie has endured a Super Bowl week of boos, wisecracks and bridgegate developments.

"I heard the mayor of Secaucus didn't support him," said Charlie Siogren, of New York, adding that he was embarassed for the host state. (For the record, Mayor Michael Gonnelli did in fact endorse Christie).

Siogren was relieved the transit debacle involved relatively laid back fans. "Thank goodness it was Denver and Seattle," he said. "It would've been a brawl if it was the Jets or Philadelphia."

arosenberg@phillynews.com

609-823-0453

@amysrosenberg

|
|
|
|
|