I am not a Giants fan.
That is both a confession and a mantra.
I was not brought up to be a fan of the New York Giants, having been raised instead in a family of sports journalists. The lessons were always to be objective, to analyze and criticize. Study the game, the history and the players and never, ever root for the teams at hand.
Again, I am not a Giants fan. I root for the Chicago White Sox, the Oklahoma Sooners (Go Sooners!), Rutgers football and basketball (sometimes the Temple Owls) and --- the deepest, darkest secret of all --- the New York Knicks, though I have yet to really emerge from the closet on that last one.
I made my final trip to the original Giants Stadium recently to see the Giants play the Atlanta Falcons and I must admit the visit made me nostalgic and maybe a little misty. The Stadium, as some of you may know, will be destroyed after the season, giving way to the new Meadowlands Stadium that is nearing completion.
Even though I am not a Giants fan, I grew up with the team in the family. My father began covering the team in 1961 for a daily newspaper and I was born three years later (in the offseason and after the draft, fortunately). Since then the Giants have been part of the family, like it or not. Holiday plans late in the season hinged on the schedule. Making the playoffs was at once exciting and disappointing, since the team would take up that much more of the family life. As a very lucky little kid, I am told I once met Spider Lockhart. I remember being introduced to guys like Rosey Brown, Kyle Rote, Ron Johnson, Andy Robustelli, Phil Simms, Harry Carson, Gary Jeter, George Martin and more. I appreciated spending a little time with legendary fullback Alex Webster and to this day, the occasional contact from Big Red (through my father) makes me burst with pride.
Lucky, I know, but still not a fan. Instead, the team has been part of my life in a way that is difficult to explain.
I was there on October 10, 1976, when the Giants opened the new Giants Stadium against Dallas. That they lost to the Cowboys is immaterial. The Stadium was the first major sports venue in New Jersey and its opening was perhaps the biggest thing to happen in the Garden State since the Hidenburg burned in Lakehurst nearly 40 years earlier. Being part of a New Jersey sports writing family, the opening of Giants Stadium was more than just a big deal since every step of the process had been part of the dinner table conversation long before the Mara family threw open the gates. In 1967, a sportswriter for the Newark Star-Ledger first suggested the idea of a football stadium in New Jersey. The idea grew wings and soon Governor William Cahill was trying to lure the Giants to the Garden State; the team signed a 30-year lease in 1971.
Again, I was lucky to have the opportunity to sit in regular seats (Sec. 330, Row 9, Seats 1-2) for about a decade. I made more than few trips up to the Yale Bowl and even made a visit or two to Shea Stadium during the years when the homeless, nomadic Giants waited for the new stadium's completion.
Since I am not a fan, I have rarely been able to watch any football game for pure enjoyment. Instead, I always have to analyze what I see, figure out why a play worked or did not, try to foresee how the game will progress and who might win or lose. In some way it is a curse, maybe, since my fun and the fun of others isn't the same thing but I have learned so much about football in the shadow of the Giants and I wouldn’t trade it for a thing.
There I was a few weeks ago, watching that frustrating, painful and inexplicable win over Atlanta, many memories flew through my mind. It was funny to see the new Meadowlands Stadium. It is larger and will be more luxurious than the original, modern but with the look of a tuna can without the label (did someone say Tuna?). The new stadium will undoubtedly lack the charm of the cement, the wind and the noise of Giants Stadium.
I took my wife to the Atlanta game and she enjoyed it the most as she is a far bigger fan than I could ever be and is getting pretty good at understanding the game and seeing it from a different perspective. Part of me thinks I should just shut my mouth instead of explaining everything because I do not want to spoil her fun. I should simply let her enjoy herself, cheer the successful plays and boo the bad ones without thinking about the details. That is my job, not hers.
We went to a game on one of our first dates back in 2002 and I sat there stone-like, carefully studying every play while she yelled and screamed and had the time of her life. On the way home, her napping in the passenger seat as I drove, I knew my life had changed again. Hey, I never said that I was emotionally unattached to the whole thing. I am not a Giants fan.
Still, I will confess to two emotional outbursts in Giants Stadium. There may have been more, but I will deny them all.
1. December 19, 1981. Giants-Dallas. Rookie wide receiver John Mistler catches that Scott Brunner pass for a first down and keeps the drive alive to set up Joe Danelo to tie the game with a field goal and send it into overtime. Danelo did it again during sudden death and the Giants made it into playoff contention. I lost it, along with the other 78,000-odd fans there. Still, the Jets had to beat Green Bay the next day to put the Giants into the playoffs for the first time in 18 years, but it did not matter at that moment. John Mistler has forever been one of my favorite Giants.
2. I admit that I lost my objectivity during the fabulous Super Bowl run of 1986-87. In the stands and surrounded by friends and other regulars, we stood there after they beat Washington, 17-0, for the NFC Championship to clinch the trip to Super Bowl XXI, the torn paper swirling in the wind, people out their minds, no one leaving as though going home would make the whole thing untrue, a dream, knowing that somehow it all meant more than just a game, everyone filled with pride and hope. I was right there in it and I will never forget it.
Perhaps, though, my favorite memory of all is still from that day in October 1976 when I was just 14. I think my little sister and mother were there, maybe my grandmother and my uncle, too. But I am sure I was there with my grandfather, the patriarch, the leader, the editor, the man who taught me to read headlines. I still have that picture of him in my mind's eye, getting out of the car, buttoning his overcoat and putting on a cold weather hat, shock of white hair, black-rimmed glasses, cold autumn wind and electricity in the air as we all readied ourselves for a moment that would change the state, the team, the league and, in many ways, my family and myself.