Okay, Steve Serby, who wrote No Substitute for Sundays: Brett Favre and His Year in the Huddle with the New York Jets, must have dealt with the question. Was Brett Favre a Jets’ quarterback, a Jet quarterback, or a Jets quarterback? Will he face the Jets’ Sanchez as a Vikings’ quarterback?
Anyone who writes sports deals with this question. And understanding it leads to some interesting grammar: attributive nouns vs the possessive and genitive cases.
First off, adjectives are not the only words that modify nouns in English. Lots of nouns modify other nouns all time; just think of woman president, high school principal, chicken soup, land speed record, grammar blog, and others. When a noun is used to modify another noun, it’s called an attributive noun or a noun adjunct. (Try sprinkling that tasty tidbit o’ grammar in the middle of the conversation about the tortilla chips on Sunday.)
But things get sticky quickly. Consider the players’ locker room. Is players an attributive noun? Or a possessive? Is it a locker room belonging to players—i.e., they possess it and thus deserve an apostrophe? Or is it a locker room for the plumbers, in which case it is a genitive and also deserves an apostrophe? (Geek note: The genitive case is a subtle and rather archaic relative of the possessive case, known mainly by classicists and others obsessed by case grammar. In practice, just treat genitives like possessives. Don’t’ talk about them. Or risk a beating by your fellow fans who just want to watch the game already.)
The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) comes down squarely on the side of using the apostrophe when there is any question about whether a modifier is a possessive or an attributive noun. (See CMOS 15, 7.27.) Most sports periodicals such as newspapers, magazines, and websites, which follow the AP Stylebook, do not. There, team names are treated as attributive nouns. I admit I have done and continue to do this myself, despite Chicago’s rather fussy strictures. Yet, when I’m writing about the Jets’ Sanchez, I want that apostrophe!
J-E-T-S, Jets’ Jets JETS! Where do you come down on this question?