My father, Michael, a lifelong Giants fan, was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up idolizing the likes of Frank Gifford and Sam Huff, while imitating them in the schoolyard. In his lifetime he has seen the team’s horrendous struggles and misfortunes. He has also been there for the periods of prominence, like that of the late 80s and early 90s when the Giants won the Super Bowl twice, Lawrence Taylor changed the league and Bill Parcells established himself as a great coach, and one that would have a much sought after coaching tree (the two coaches in this year’s Super Bowl, Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin were both assistants under Parcells).
This is the story of his trip to Super Bowl XLII, made with his childhood friend Paul, as told to me.
August 2007: Making bold statements is easy when there is little chance you will be held to them. My father tells any family member that will listen, “If the Giants ever get to the Super Bowl again, I will go!”
Saturday December 29th: The Giants lose to the Patriots 38-35, but not without giving them a scare. The game gives the Giants a sense of confidence, pride and momentum heading into the playoffs. Although my hopes remain low for a postseason run, my father states that “this loss was a win, their confidence will get a huge boost from this game.
Sunday January 6th 2008: The Giants beat the Buccaneers 24-14 in Tampa Bay. Eli Manning wins his first playoff game and the Giants are already farther along than anybody expected. I do not wash the Giants shirt I was wearing for the game, beginning to consider it lucky.
Friday January 11th: Two days before the Cowboys game, the Giants have nothing to lose. A road game against a team that beat them handily twice during the season-no expectations, no pressure. My father sends this message to his friend Paul: “If the giants win out (ha!) we should consider going to the super bowl (we’re not getting any younger …)”.
Sunday January 13th: The Giants beat the Cowboys 21-17 (Take that Jerry Jones! Take that Jessica Simpson!) and are headed to Green Bay for the NFC Championship Game.
Monday January 14th: A new plan is hatched; forget about that Super Bowl nonsense, let’s make sure we get to see some important game! My father Mike begins searching for NFC Championship game tickets. Predictions of subzero temperatures and $1000 ticket prices derail the trip.
Tuesday January 15th: The trip is back on, because Peter King from Sports Illustrated says in his column, “There is nothing like Green Bay on a playoff weekend. You’ve got to go. You just have to.” Much to my mother’s dismay, she may be making a short notice trip to Green Bay for the privilege of getting frostbitten in hostile territory.
Wednesday January 16th: The trip is off, for good. Those temperatures keep getting lower and those prices keep getting higher. But the resolve remains strong, “If the Giants win I will be going to Arizona!”
Sunday January 20th: The Giants win the NFC Championship Game! Despite the harrowing, near heartbreaking moments at the end of the game, the Giants prevail 23-20. It’s put up or shut up time; for the Giants… and for my father.
Monday January 21st: Super Bowl tickets have been purchased! While my father laments the fact that he spent on one ticket “What I wanted to spend on a family’s worth of tickets”, he is going to the big game! Childhood buddy Paul will make the trip with him and together they will see the game in person. Lifelong dreams realized! But wait, my mother says. “So I was going to be dragged to Green Bay in -20 degree weather, but you and your friend get to go to Arizona for the Super Bowl?!” Objection duly noted, but the plans remain unchanged.
Thursday January 24th: The tickets arrive and are kept far from the reach of mischievous dogs and jealous family members and colleagues. A pleasant surprise, the tickets are a slight improvement from what they thought. Section 410, row 5, at about the 20 yard line.
Monday January 28th: With roundtrip airfare out of New York and Boston being reported to be as high as $3,000, the $700 roundtrip from Washington all of the sudden sounds like a bargain!
Wednesday January 30th: Souvenir requests are being taken. Unsure of what I should ask for – a playoff share from the Giants? Michael Strahan’s orthodontic sleepwear? A collection of acquired phone numbers from a rampaging Jeremy Shockey? – I settle for a hat.
Thursday January 31st: Plans for “those left behind” are being finalized. Orders for a Quizno’s party sub have been placed. Ingredients for chili are being purchased. And, hey, who needs Arizona? 50 inch TV screen, HDTV and more beer than Joe Namath on a bender could handle, for the same price you’ll be spending on a hotdog! Ha!
Friday February 1st: The jersey has been transferred. I have officially handed over my number 80 Jeremy Shockey jersey to my father to be brought to and worn at the Super Bowl. God speed… god speed.
Saturday February 2nd, 1:30 PM: The trip finally begins. Although regretting that he didn’t give himself a few more days to enjoy everything that is periphery to the Super Bowl itself, the parties, the atmosphere and the madness, everyone is undoubtedly excited! My father Michael heads to the airport to await the arrival of his childhood buddy Paul, flying down from Boston. Shockey jersey in hand, a collective century’s worth of fandom begins the pilgrimage to Arizona
Saturday February 2nd, 10:30 PM: 9 hours later, Mike and Paul finally arrive at their hotel room, sending home reports that “The eagle has landed”. Tonight is a night for nervous tension and rest; tomorrow is the big day. My father relays to me that the security guards at BWI airport were shouting, “G-Men in the house! G-Men in the house!” along with many well wishers and football fans pulling for the underdog along the way. At dinner, Mike and Paul, both from the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, encounter a retired policeman from Canarsie who they continue to chat up for the better part of an hour. Small world; and the reach of the Giants and of all of New York is, not surprisingly, quite far.
Super Sunday, 12:00 PM Eastern: Still in the morning locally, noon Eastern, they start calling a taxi to get down to the stadium area, with plans to stop at the mall next door first to take part of the festivities. Reports back include Giants fan everywhere, a sea of blue has traveled to the desert for the big game!
1:00 PM: The traffic and overall scene is described by my father as “Nuts!” The moment is definitely starting to set in, he exclaims “Definitely feeling psyched now!”
1:50 PM: Finally through the traffic, they get to the stadium area. Again, reports read “The eagle is in!” My report back: clever military lingo it may be, but it’s time for a new metaphor!
2:00 PM: The traveling Brooklynites get to the NFL Experience. My dad Mike learns the hard way that he can catch a football, but apparently is completely inept at throwing one. What, no large football practice fields in the Brooklyn projects when you were growing up? If only there was a NFL Stickball Experience, than surely they would have impressed the crowd. They also stop at the NFL Shop, which was impressive and huge, but had been depleted for a week. They comment that the amount of merchandise and souvenirs they go on to purchase inside the stadium “was enough to jumpstart the economy”.
2:30 PM: They enter the stadium and report back happily that every single person working inside the stadium was as nice as you could imagine. The security, ushers, police and concession workers were all quite pleasant. When they take their seats, Paul, now a resident of the Boston area, recognizes all-time Patriots great and Hall of Fame offensive lineman John Hannah sitting one row in front of them. Coincidentally, one row in front of him was an old school Patriots fan wearing a John Hannah jersey. Apparently both men were amused. Sitting on the Patriots side of the stadium, Mike and Paul don’t encounter much hostility. Like the staff, everybody was pleasant, and after the game, congratulatory. They say that it is a “gorgeous stadium, without a bad seat in the house.”
4:15 PM: We receive a call and some photos as the teams begin practicing on the field. Reports are that Giants fans are clearly in higher numbers than Patriots fans. We’ll take all the help we can!
4:35 PM: In NHL news, the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadians 5-3. They started the game down 0-3. Sounds a little like another New York team starting the season down 0-2 and rallying to come back. But wait, here’s the kicker. The last goal is assisted by one Paul Mara. Mara… does that last name sound familiar? Well, it’s the same last name as Giants late owner Wellington Mara. If this isn’t an omen, I don’t know what is.
The Super Bowl Begins (!!!)
After the 1st quarter: The score stands at 3-0 Giants, which means that my dad won his office numbers pool, raking in $75. After the Super Bowl ticket, plane ticket, hotel room and merchandise, apparently the $75 pulled him close to even for the weekend. Well, maybe not quite.
Halftime: The atmosphere in the stadium is described as “an emotional roller coaster” that you can feel through everybody. My father, also a huge Tom Petty fan, says the concert was “awesome”. Mike and Paul, at first worried about a potential blowout and having to sit through a miserable second half, are happy just to be in the game. Money well spent on the tickets, and no buyer’s remorse here. With both of their cell phones dying, this is the last we speak to them for the night. The rest of this story is filled in from a conversation with Mike and Paul the next day, as well as our own experience watching the game from home.
4th quarter: At the beginning of the 4th quarter, a commercial airs featuring the cartoon dog Underdog. Could there be a better omen? Immediately following, Eli Manning hits Kevin Boss for the 45 yard game breaker. Jumping up to celebrate, I slap my mother’s hand in a celebratory high five. The problem with that would be the carpal tunnel syndrome she is currently suffering from. In immense pain, she still manages to laugh and enjoy the game as the Giants continue the drive and take the lead!
At the stadium, my father and Paul actually start to believe the Giants could win! With just three minutes left in the game, Randy Moss catches the go ahead touchdown pass as Corey Webster slips in coverage. Afterwards, Paul ridicules my father for not even realizing that Webster fell on the play! Disheartened but not disbelieving, I say “Well, this is what it’s all about. Eli has a chance for greatness now. No matter what happens, he played great, but let’s see if he can do something special.” No joke.
Little did we know what we were about to witness. The amazing scramble by Manning and the absurd catch by Tyree. The fourth down conversion. The Burress touchdown. Wow! The stadium goes insane and both my father and Paul nearly shout themselves to death. The Tyree catch and his overall performance is described by Paul and my father – old school as they are – as a Max McGee moment, harking back to the semi obscure Packers’ wide receiver’s heroics in the first Super Bowl. (While Tyree wasn’t out partying and hung over all day, he certainly came in under the radar, the obscure reference surely holds up).
Giants 17- Patriots 14. The Giants win Super Bowl XLII!
Post game: Mike and Paul stay around for the trophy presentation and all of the aftermath, as did most of the Giants fans, while the Patriots fans “cleared out”. Sort of like their coach did with time still left on the clock. See a trend here? After what could only be described by my father as “tons of confetti and wild celebrating” they wait 45 minutes in a cab line, to no avail. They report that surprisingly there are no Giants championship hats for sale anywhere. During this time they get in a near-fight with a group of college-aged drunks who were being belligerent about other people in the taxi line. Having had enough of that, they leave the taxi line and happen upon a cruising limo and pick it up for the ride back to the hotel.
I decide my shirt, which was now worn for all four playoff games – without being washed – was the critical and deciding factor in the Giants success and Super Bowl victory. Plans to frame the lucky t-shirt commence. Additionally, plans commence to name the next dog in the family something along the lines of PlaxEliOsiAmaniStrahaTuck.
Eli Manning is awarded the MVP trophy and Terry Bradshaw declares the game the best Super Bowl he has ever witnessed. Steve Young declares it the biggest upset in NFL history. As a picture of recently deceased NFL icon and Giants owner Wellington Mara flashes upon the screen, I think back to the omen I cited earlier, and how maybe, just maybe, it was more than just a coincidence.
My father and his childhood friend Paul, two adults from Brooklyn living out their wildest child fantasy, could not have possibly been happier or more satisfied with the game and their trip. They describe the trip as a “fabulous time” and that the game and the concerts were all “superb”. The trip was undertaken as a once in a lifetime experience, expenses be damned. Little did they know they would witness their team win one of the best, most exciting and most shocking Super Bowls of all time. Certainly there are enough memories to make the price worthwhile, and hey, my father won that $75, what more could he ask for?