The Lifeline That Is FootballPosted: February 17, 2008
On a November afternoon in 1963, five days before President John F. Kennedy is assassinated, a 12-year old with this mother, father and cousin sees Y.A. Tittle and the Giants pound the 49ers in Yankee Stadium.
A son arrives in May of 1986, and that fall Big Blue, fueled by the great Lawrence Taylor, dominates the NFL and cruises through the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos, ending a 30-year title drought.
Early in February of 2008, a middle-aged man kneels in front of a television, emotionally spent, as the Giants rally and upset the previously unbeaten Patriots to snap a budding dynasty and win Super Bowl XLII.
It’s a tie that binds generations…
Football is the tie that binds generations. From father to son, brother to brother, family to family, friend to friend. There is a fabric that weaves through all of us who follow this tough sport. Professional football in America is a special game, a unique game, a game that threads a story through our lives.
So the 7-year-old kid remembers sitting in the backseat as his father drove the family Blue Dodge through the snow to Brooklyn to visit relatives, and on the car radio a football game between the Giants and the Browns. The famous game, where Pat Summerall kicked the winning field goal in a swirling Bronx snowstorm to propel the G-Men into a playoff game … again with Cleveland….and then ultimately to face the Baltimore Colts in the fabled sudden death overtime game of 1958, the greatest game ever played according to some.
That was his first football memory. Fast forward three years and a 3,000 miles later, New Year’s Eve in Daly City, California, where the houses look alike, palm trees in front, and the hills are steep. Vince Lombardi’s Packers are crushing the Giants 37-0 for the NFL title. And a future Hall of Fame offensive tackle Bob St. Clair of the 49ers and his family are living right next door.
It’s 1962 and the matchup is the same. Only it’s blacked out in New York, and there’s a newspaper strike as well. There was a time, before ESPN and cell phones and the Internet, when sports events were not always online…or even on television. So classic games like Giants-Colts in 1958, Giants-Packers in 1962, and the 1967 Ice Bowl in Green Bay, went un-televised to large partisan home audiences. There was a time when games were seen on the radio. That was 1962, listening to Marty Glickman call the play at grandmother’s house. The Giants lost a hard-fought 16-7 battle on a brutally cold, windy Sunday afternoon.
The 1963 Giants should have won, but an injury to Tittle’s knee early in the championship game doomed the G-men, who lost 14-10 to the Bears in a bitter battle at Wrigley Field in the days when baseball diamonds often doubled as gridirons. That day an altar boy rushed home from the one o’clock Mass at St. Bernard’s in White Plains to catch the game, and though disappointed, figured there was always next year.
Next year was a long time coming, and a painful lesson was learned. Oh, they came close to the post-season a couple of times, like 1970, when all they had to do was beat the Rams at home in the final game of the season. That game too was blacked out in New York, so the college student, a sophomore at Holy Cross, home for the holidays, went to cousin Frankie’s in Valhalla with the 60-foot tall antenna to catch the scratchy TV signal from Hartford on a black and white Philco. The Rams won 31-3.
Don’t take for granted the good years, you never know when another playoff run is coming. “15 years of lousy football is long enough” read the banner trailing the biplane circling Giants Stadium in 1978, barely a week after the Miracle at the Meadowlands — when an improbable Giant fumble led to a shocking, last-second loss to the Eagles.
But help was on the way in the form of Lawrence Taylor, the #2 overall pack in the 1981 draft out of North Carolina, Lawrence of the Meadowlands, destined to be the greatest defensive player in the history of the National Football League. LT burst onto the scene in 1981 and almost immediately changed the mindset of a team that hadn’t made the playoffs in 18 years. That December, a 30-year-old sportswriter watched transfixed on a Saturday afternoon in Florida as the Giants beat the Dallas Cowboys in overtime, and with some help from their crosstown rivals the Jets, made the post-season the next day.
The first Super Bowl came five years later in a dominant display of power — a 14-2 regular season, then 49-3 over the 49ers, a 17-0 shutout of the Redskins, and the Phil Simms game, a 39-20 win against Denver. Giants among men.
Four years later, another title. Matt Bahr’s field goal at the gun ends the 49ers three-peat effort at muddy Candlestick Park, followed by the 20-19 upset win over the Bills in Super Bowl XXV, aka as Wide Right..
They came close in 2000, only to face the crunch of the Ravens defense in the only Super Bowl this fan has ever attended. Meeting Joe Namath, Dan Rather, Adam Sandler and other celebs in Tampa was a thrill, but the 34-7 result was not. It was a long plane ride home.
Eli Manning, Super Bowl XLII MVP
And then along came 2007. Every once in a while a team comes out of nowhere to make an unexpected run, surprising even its most ardent fans. A team that gave up 80 points in the first two games. A team that couldn’t win at home and couldn’t lose on the road. A team that gathers momentum at the end like a snowball running down a hill, that keeps getting better and better. A team that embodies the essence of the word. A team that makes a city proud.
This year, the Giants buried ghosts and slew dragons in the playoffs after first beating Tampa Bay. Then they tripped the archrival Cowboys to leave TO in tears and Jerry Jones in stunned disbelief on the sidelines (for all we know, he’s still standing there, glaring out on the field).
Next, with the NFC title on the line, making amends for those losses to the great Green Bay Lombardi teams in the 60s as Eli Manning outplayed the great Brett Favre in one of the coldest games ever played. Few gave them a chance against the Cowboys in Dallas or the Packers in Lambeau, but the Giants prevailed. It took more than 45 years and an overtime for the Giants to avenge those playoff losses to Green Bay, but third-times-the-charm Lawrence Tynes kicked Big Blue to the Super Bowl.
And finally, in one of the biggest upsets in NFL history, the Giants shocked the world, beating the heretofore unbeaten New England Patriots 17-14 with a last-minute touchdown to win the Super Bowl. A fearsome pass rush that battered New England’s Tom Brady, a miracle catch by David Tyree and the poise of MVP Eli Manning helped write the final script.
If you’re a football fan, you have to love it. You have to love football. And you have to love life.