Business was jumping at Doug's Fish Fry in Cortland.
A half-hour after the New York Jets finished their annual Green-White scrimmage Thursday night at nearby SUNY Cortland, a line of customers had backed up from the restaurant entrance waiting to order. Inside, nearly every table at the Route 281 eatery was full and many of the 100 or so diners sported Jets T-shirts and hats while they dunked deep-fried fish in tartar sauce.
"That was our busiest Thursday ever. Every day I think it can't get any better but this has so far exceeded my (business) expectations, and from a fan point of view, it's just blows me away," restaurant owner Mark Braun said Friday.
That's what local businesses and community leaders hoped to hear when the college and Jets announced in April the NFL team would move its training camp to the school this summer.
So far, no one seems disappointed. From restaurants to hotels, business is spiking. For Central New York football fans, having an NFL team in town for three weeks is as good as it gets, and for the college, sharing the national media spotlight with the Jets is bound to score big dividends in the future.
"The positive media coverage...has been outstanding. You can't put a price tag on it," college spokesman Peter Koryzno said.
The community has embraced the team and its green-and-white colors. There are "Welcome Jets" flags and banners on storefronts everywhere you look and some merchants, such as Braun, have gone the extra yard to lure visiting fans, the national media and Jets.
Braun hung a 6-goot banner outside his restaurant welcoming the team. He also outfitted his staff in green T-shirts and is selling a green ice cream sundae in honor of his favorite team. He's also put up a display of Jets memorabilia that he has collected.
His instincts are paying off. Business is up about 30 percent and a national radio reporter interviewed him and plugged his restaurant. Best of all, Braun said, he's gotten to meet some of the players, coaches and staff.
"It's a dream come true for me," he said.
The team started practicing a week ago and is drawing fans from all over Central New York, Canada and other states while reporters from ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Sirius Radio and New York City chronicle each day of practice.
"What has ever happened in Cortland that is any bigger than this? This is national," said Adara Alston, who drove 45 miles from her home in Endicott to watch her favorite team scrimmage.
Like many in the crowd, the 31-year old Cornell University graduate was wearing a green Jets T-shirt. She also clutched a white team jersey.
"It's very exciting being a Jets fan to be so close to where the Jets are because normally it's three hours away to the Meadowlands (where the Jets play). So to have them right around the corner is very nice," Alston said.
Fans were stacked in rows about 10 deep on one side of the field, making it difficult for many of them to see the team run through a series of scripted plays that lasted an hour. Many in the crowd had hoped to see if rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez plays as good as his billing.
Sanchez, whose No. 6 jersey fetched $80 at the nearby Jets souvenir tent, dazzled those in the crowd who could see. He drew boisterous cheers every time he completed a short pass or eluded a charging defensive lineman.
Auburn's Pat Mahunik, a Cayuga County legislator, has rooted for the Jets for as long as he can remember. He watched the scrimmage decked out in a white Jets jersey with legendary quarterback Joe Namath's name and No. 12 on the back. Mahunik seemed as happy as a teenager at a rock concert.
"I think it's great. It's great for Cortland and it's great for the Jets' fan base in Central New York. There's not a lot of us up here now, but I think we're going to be picking up some more now," Mahunik said, laughing.
The Jets signed a one-year deal with the college, but there's no word on whether they will return next summer. First-year coach Rex Ryan said he is impressed with the school's training facilities and the players seem to like what the college has to offer.
"At this point, they seem to be pleased and we're pleased, and we look forward to discussing the future with them when they feel it's appropriate," said college President Eric Bitterbaum.
Cortland merchants hope that means the Jets will return. Chris Beattie, guest service manager at the Country Inn and Suites, said business is booming since the Jets landed in town.
His 81-room hotel, which is on Route 281 near Doug's Fish Fry, was booked nearly full last week and half of the rooms are already reserved for the next two weeks, Beattie said. Typically, only 20 to 30 percent of the rooms are full this time of the year.
"I'd like to see them here every year. They've run our weekday numbers up and they're an NFL team. Who doesn't want that in their town?" Beattie said.