Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey's most enduring mission since taking office nearly 11 months ago has been the revitalization of New Jersey's Meadowlands sports complex, which was suffering from what looked like the imminent defection of four of five professional teams that play there: the Devils, the MetroStars, the Nets and the Jets.
And late Thursday afternoon, he seemed to have accomplished his mission, doing what amounts to the unthinkable in the National Football League: getting two teams - the Giants and the Jets - to commit to building a new $800 million stadium together and, in this case, to stay in New Jersey for the next 99 years.
"It's a huge win for Codey," said Paul Fader, the governor's counsel, who is involved in the negotiations, which threatened to blow up at almost any moment in the last two weeks. "Codey comes in and negotiates an agreement that locks in not only the one team that was staying, but one of the teams that was leaving. It's a tremendous coup for the governor and the state."
That may sound awfully self-serving, given that most economists are pretty skeptical about public investments in stadiums, which, they say, tend to enrich team owners, with little additional economic benefit. After all, Mr. Codey sealed the deal by promising to provide 20 acres of state-controlled land for each team's practice facilities and offices, on top of the 75 acres and $30 million worth of roadwork he had already promised.
The teams will pay a relatively modest fixed rent and cover the cost of demolishing the existing stadium. But the state government will be stuck with the remaining $100 million in debt.
But even some critics of building hugely expensive stadiums for teams that play only 10 home games a year say that this deal may make sense, when you install not one team, but both the Giants and the Jets, and integrate the stadium into Xanadu, the $2 billion shopping and entertainment center that will share the Meadowlands complex with the teams.
It might just attract millions of visitors and generate millions of dollars in tax revenue, economists say, especially if it includes a retractable roof. The roof would allow the building to be used for Super Bowls, Final 4 basketball games, political conventions and concerts.
"If this does become the premier sports venue, with 80,000 seats and a retractable roof, and it's embedded in Xanadu, then it might be worth the public investment," said James Hughes, dean of Rutgers University's School of Public Planning and Public Policy.
The Jets favor a roof, and the Giants are considering one. They have already agreed to pay for the stadium, but they have not figured out yet how to finance the estimated $200 million cost of the roof. Mr. Codey said emphatically on Thursday that it would not come from public coffers.
Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist who teaches at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., had been critical of the Jets' lengthy effort to build a $2.2 billion stadium on the Far West Side of Manhattan with a direct $600 million subsidy from the city and the state.
Assuming the teams see it through, Mr. Zimbalist said, the deal in New Jersey is "a very positive outcome, from a development point of view."
In recent months, L. Jay Cross, the Jets' president, said the team was exploring all its options when it simultaneously considered building a $1.35 billion stadium in Queens as it negotiated with the Giants and the Codey administration over building a new stadium in the Meadowlands with the Giants.
But with Governor Codey refusing the Jets' request for a 60-day extension on his Thursday deadline for a deal, the team ran out of time.
"You're getting two teams to share a stadium and to be part of a broader project," Mr. Zimbalist said. "The teams will build the thing. Government is committing infrastructure and land. They're not busting up the West Side or taking precious parkland in Queens. It's the rational way to go."
But it was not easy getting the two teams to share. "It's so easy for something as complex and ego driven as this to unravel," Mr. Hughes said. "To be able to pull together all the pieces, forcing the Giants to do something and then the Jets, is absolutely extraordinary."
John Mara, a co-owner of the Giants, was reluctant to give up the team's premier position in the Meadowlands, where the stadium bears its name, and form an equal partnership with the Jets,
"It must be galling to the Giants that they are the team that stayed," said Marc Ganis, a sports business consultant based in Chicago. "They are the ones that never flirted, much less announced that they were going to leave New Jersey."
And the Jets wanted the Giants to move their practice fields and offices away from the new stadium so they would not have to feel like second-class citizens anymore.
"From Day 1," Mr. Fader said, "Woody Johnson made it clear to me that the movement of the Giants' practice facility was a deal breaker."
The Jets also wanted to continue playing out their options in Queens. Governor Cody ultimately told the team to choose; he would not extend his Thursday deadline for a deal with the Giants.
If the Jets choose Queens, he said, he would sign a deal with the Giants to build a new stadium, regardless of whether the Jets made good on their threat to sue.
It is unclear whether Mr. Johnson, the Jets' owner, was serious about Queens, or merely using it for leverage in New Jersey. He certainly wanted to go to Manhattan, spending five years and $65 million to get there.
"I don't think anybody worked harder in trying to bring the Jets to the West Side of Manhattan," Mr. Johnson said at Thursday's news conference, when asked what he had to say to Jets fans in Queens.
One person who knows Mr. Johnson said that he had no stomach for another bruising battle like the one he endured in Manhattan over the past five years.
On Tuesday, the Jets finally sat down with the governor and the Giants to negotiate, at the offices of Carl Goldberg, chairman of the sports authority, in Short Hills. With a deal in sight at a bargaining session the next day, Mr. Goldberg's staff brought out a birthday cake slathered in green and blue icing.
"It was an icebreaker," Mr. Fader said. "Mr. Mara got up and ate from the green side of the cake and Jay Cross ate from the blue side of the cake. It was a sign of coming together."