KEARNY — A member of Kearny’s Finest is in select company in the world of pro sports.
Frank West, an officer with the Kearny Police Department, is one of a quintet admitted into the inaugural class of the New York Football Jets Fan Hall of Fame.
“They gave me the highest honor that could be bestowed on a Jets fan,” West told The Observer in a phone interview last week.
That tribute came Christmas Eve at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, where the Jets were playing host to the L.A. Chargers as part of the NFL’s Week 16 matchups. (West said he’d gotten an official heads-up prior in a phone call from Jets President Neil Glat.)
A perennial home game tailgater, West — whose talents as a culinary artist were highlighted when he appeared on the Food Network’s show, “Chopped,” as a Jets representative — had to forego that ritual on the day of the ceremonies.
“We had to be [at the stadium] at 11 [a.m.] so no tailgate party,” he explained.
The team set up a utility locker room for pre-game activities, West said.
“They had a still photographer there and they did an interview with the five [inductees] of us. Then they brought us out onto the field during the player warmups. A bunch of people from the front office [notably, Jets Chairman/CEO Christopher Johnson and Glat] came over to shake hands and take pictures.”
Joining West, 44, longtime Bayonne resident, for the fanfare were fellow honorees Ed Anzalone, (Fireman Ed) Ira Lieberfarb (Ira from Staten Island on sportsradio), Jack Ransom and Mary Sutton, each of whom got Jets Fan Hall of Fame varsity jackets and two roundtrip JetBlue flight vouchers.
They were picked, ultimately, from among thousands of nominees by a panel of Jets alumni and executives. (An initial Jets effort to have the public vote on the finalists was scrapped.)
The five Super-Fans were then brought inside the team tunnel from which — as fog machines did their magic — each emerged to applause from the crowd.
West jogged, attired in his Jet Green Santa outfit that he dons for home Jets games at holiday time, featuring a new belt with Jets and Kearny thematic attachments to it.
“That was made for me by longtime Kearny resident George Hemphill,” West said.
Amplifying, West said: “His son Derek was my [KPD] partner a few years and he is also a Jets season ticket holder. When I told Derek about the new buckle I made and the difficulty I was having finding a belt that would not only work with it but the Santa outfit, Derek reached out to his dad who is a wiz with a commercial sewing machine and had him make a custom belt that looked and worked great.”
But when it came time for the pre-game anthem, West said, “I took off my Santa hat and I saluted the flag like every good American should.”
The Fan-Famers then got to go on the field and be honorary co-captains for the coin toss. Afterward, as the players jogged to their respective sidelines, West recalled fixing a game face on the official picking up the coin — No. 34, Clete Blakeman — who, upon looking up into the eyes of Kris Kringle, did a double take.
Then the game began but, unfortunately, Santa West couldn’t Gift-Green a win as the Jets fell 14-7.
Still, West took some consolation. “A loss is forgivable once you’re eliminated from the playoffs. … Now you’re playing for a draft pick.”
Looking ahead to next season as a member of an elite corps, West anticipates being invited to Jets mini-camps and special events — where he’ll likely continue chronicling his team’s activities through photography — he takes thousands of shots each year which he assembles for an annual team yearbook.
At the same time, West — a 15-year veteran of the KPD — is hopeful of returning to the job from an extended sick leave by early 2018.
His fellow officers “have been nothing but supportive” of his Jets boosterism. “I’ve gotten dozens and dozens of text messages from them — all congratulatory — and even fellows who aren’t Jets fans,” he noted.
Not to mention his other home-and-away teammates: significant other Kristina, daughter Morgan, 18; stepson R.J., 17; son Frankie, 16; and parents, Mae and Bill Evans.