Joyce's Tavern on Staten Island had its most successful Super Bowl Sunday ever in 2018, even though closing time was at 6 p.m. and the game between the Eagles and Patriots wasn’t shown or barely even mentioned.
The popular Irish pub/restaurant, which implemented a ban on airing NFL games on its TVs at the start of the season in protest at the players taking a knee during the National Anthem, instead reserved Sundays for fundraisers which, proprietor Joseph O’Toole told the Irish Voice, raised $32,000 for charities that included the Wounded Warrior Project, Blue Lives Matter, Alex’s Lemonade Stand and many others.
“We had great events every Sunday, fundraising for all kinds of different causes and people loved it,” O’Toole said of his Eltingville establishment, which has been a Staten Island fixture for decades and was purchased by the O’Toole family three years ago.
NFL Sundays are usually a source of big income for bars showing multiple games at the same time. O’Toole canceled his bar’s NFL cable package last September when the knee controversy was taking off, and he says his business's bottom line for the season that ended on Sunday actually improved.
“People respected what we did,” O’Toole added. “It honestly didn’t matter to me if we had two people or 200 people on Sundays. I was going to ban the NFL because that’s how I feel and that’s it.
“But customers couldn’t have been more supportive. They were in near total agreement that the players who protested had gone too far and were too disrespectful. So the effort to fund-raise instead of watching football was 1,000 percent successful in every way.”
Joyce’s attracted national publicity for its NFL blackout across the U.S. O’Toole said that last Friday night two couples from Texas who were visiting Manhattan took the Staten Island Ferry and a train to have a drink at Joyce’s and show support.
“They came all the way from the city to say hi and to thank us. I couldn’t believe it. It’s an example of how people were really upset at the NFL players who used the anthem to stage their protests,” he added.
Many Staten Islanders who knew about Joyce’s but had never patronized it also stopped in to show support, O’Toole says – new customers he never would have had if he continued to showcase the NFL.
“Sometimes people said that they chose stop by during the week because it was too busy here on Sundays. We really gained a whole bunch of new customers. That’s not why I did what I did, but I’m really glad it worked out,” O’Toole says.
“We wanted to offer a welcome to everyone, and that’s what we did. What was especially great is that our veterans came out every Sunday. They felt very appreciated.”
One veteran in particular made a big impact at Joyce’s. Al is a 93-year-old World War II vet who barely leaves his house, “but when he heard about what we were doing ... he comes once a month with his caretaker,” from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, O’Toole said proudly.
Super Bowl Sunday itself attracted a large crowd for the final fundraiser in aid of local Staten Island charities that assist abused animals and a historic preservation group. Scott LoBaido, an artist who creates patriotic paintings, was also on hand to sign posters.
The National Anthem played at 2 p.m., and closing time was at 6 p.m., just before kickoff. It took a while to clear the premises, O’Toole says, and practically none of his customers had plans to watch the Super Bowl.
“Lots of them just went home or out to dinner. I went to my mother’s. I didn’t watch the game. I read about it on Facebook which was actually a lot more fun,” he says.
As for next season’s NFL TV plans? O’Toole is adopting a wait and see stance.
“If the season was to start again tomorrow, there’s no way I could stop doing what we are doing now. It just became too popular. If the NFL policies remain in place and Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t care about what the players do, then I would have to keep doing what I’m doing. It’s what I’m known for now,” O’Toole says.
“Everyone has rights in our country and everyone is entitled to an opinion, but it’s got out of hand in the NFL. Let the players go protest whatever they want, but do it on their own time.”