As NFL Draft Approaches, Jets Fans Rev Up Cargo Cult

FLUSHING, Queens, N.Y.  The National Football League’s 2019 draft is two months in the future, but Bill Zawinooski’s eyes are looking to the past.  “For him, it’s always 1969,” says his wife Cheryl, who attended Ron Swoboda Elementary School with her future husband when it was still called P.S. 188.  “Most people have moved on, but he’s a Jets fan.”

Shea Stadium, Flushing, New York


As this reporter steps outside the Zawinooski’s modest two-bedroom home on 59th Avenue, he finds the man of the house setting up what appears to be a miniature airport runway on the driveway they share with their next door neighbors, Bob and Janet Flammer.  “Don’t startle him,” his wife says, “he’s approaching a state of religious ecstasy,” and indeed, as one draws tentatively closer from behind, a eerie chant that sounds like “Weeb Ewbank . . . Weeb Ewbank” is heard to issue from his lips.  “I think you’d probably better go now,” his wife says.  “Tribe members don’t like to be observed during their rituals.”

Ron Swoboda Elementary School


Zawinooski is a member of a pro football “cargo cult,” a community of New York Jets fans who believe that superstitious rituals will bring back a brief period of past glory–the team’s lone Super Bowl victory in 1969, an upset triumph over the then-Baltimore Colts.  “Cargo cults form when a novel benefit, such a modern goods from a more advanced society or a professional sports championship, is experienced by a community,” says anthropologist Allen de Groot of SUNY-Plattsburgh.  “When the goods run out or the team is a perennial also-ran in the AFC East, members re-create the circumstances that surrounded the phenomenon in the hope of bringing it back.”

“Weeb Ewbank . . . Weeb Ewbank.”


For Melanisians and Jets fans, the practices designed to bring back the golden days of the past include building airplane runways and passenger aircraft.  In the former case, the hope is that a new cargo of consumer goods such as rubber-soled shoes and wheelbarrows will return; in the latter, that the team will receive a top-flite quarterback with the skills of brash Joe Namath, who guaranteed a victory over the 18-point favorite Colts, or at least a shut-down defensive back of the caliber of Johnny Sample.

Cargo cult plane:  “Is the son of the Great Broadway Joe on board?”


All the effort strikes neighbor Bob Flammer as ridiculous, “a bunch of hooey” he says as he sips from a morning cup of coffee while watching his cargo cult neighbor working away on the other side of the driveway.  “Easy for you to say,” Zawinooski calls over his shoulder as he applies a final runway stripe, “you’re a Giants fan.”

“That’s right.  Eight championships to your one,” Flammer says with a smug smile.  “Maybe you should draft one of Eli Manning’s nephews.”


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