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September Lands Happily on its Head

Eighteen weeks ago yesterday I learned definitvely [1] the dangers of counting chickens and magic numbers before their proper and complete hatching. Yesterday I learned the flip side: never assume something can’t happen just because it doesn’t seem remotely probable that it will.

What a difference eighteen Sundays make.

For the Baseball Mets-Football Giants fans among us — particularly if you list yourself in that order — the breathtaking unlikelihood of January and February triumph does not necessarily compensate for the C-word that defined September and ruined 89% of the succeeding offseason [2]. The direct connection between one too many losses then and four increasingly incredible wins now is nil. Yet, gosh — it’s nice to be reminded that the lessons of You Gotta Believe weren’t lost on somebody we liked.

This has not been a gauzy Super Bowl run for me. It was nothing like the slightly garish but overdue romp from the winter of ’87 [3]. Despite comparisons and a couple of functional similarities, it didn’t feel of a piece with January 27, 1991, the non-baseball sports date that will always tower above all others in my life. The Giants meant way more to me back in the day. XXI was what I’d waited for all my sentient autumns. XXV was uniquely intense, emotional, jubilant and profitable [4].

XLII was nice. It’s getting nicer the more I think about it. But nice is the honest sum total I come away with once I take my thumb off the scale. Yes, the Giants are my football team [5] longer than any other football team. Yes, I stuck with them through the sour ’70s and reveled in the golden age of Parcells and absorbed the sting of cruel Whack-A-Mole losses to the Vikings in ’97 and the 49ers in 2002 and a cringeworthy Super blowout to the Ravens in between. No, I never took up with Dallas or some “national” team, heaven forbid.

Since the mid-’90s, however, the Giants have not really been a going concern of mine. I’ve cared about them when I’ve cared about them and cared less when I didn’t, if that makes any sense. When they did not put forth their best foot attitudinally, or presented personalities I found disagreeable, I chose to tune them out. It’s the Mets I love without question or qualification. Everybody else has to earn it as I grow older and maybe more mature. As much as I could never leave the Giants, there have been times when I couldn’t take them. I’ve pruned all my sporting priorities that way. When I was a kid, a teen and a younger adult, I could soak myself in football and basketball and hockey when their pools filled up with fortune for my teams in those endeavors. For the last dozen or so years, I don’t feel it like that. For the last dozen or so years, it’s been Mets against the world in my mind. Everybody and everything else just kind of gets in the way.

Somehow, though, every time I looked up since the end of December, there were the Giants. Perhaps as a defense mechanism, I found reasons not to be worried about their fate. The day they beat the Bucs, I was coming down with a cold. The day they beat the Cowboys, Stephanie was sick. For two consecutive Giants playoff wins, I had my mind more on Coricidin than football. Then I had a specific selfish reason (no, not a bet; I gave up gambling after losing a 2008 Carvel helmet on the USF-Rutgers fiasco [6] in October) to be unsorry in case the Packers beat the Giants for the NFC title. When that moment of ambivalence dissolved into Tynes’ winning kick [7], it was like a time-release capsule of joy. Not euphoria, but a jolt of joy. The Giants were going to the Super Bowl; why shouldn’t that be joyous?

The Patriots have never done anything for me, yet a little bit of me disdained the idea — the idea — that such a phenomenal season would go to waste. The Patriots have never done anything for me, yet I thought it would be sort of fun to see one team go 19-0 in my lifetime. I generally go for the underdog, but once in a while, I’ll suddenly decide, respect must be paid particular overcats. It’s the reason I was practically the only guy in my dorm 25 March Madnesses ago disappointed that N.C. State shocked Phi Slamma Jamma…and I wasn’t any kind of college basketball fan. It’s the reason I was slightly excited when the very sated Chicago Bulls won surplus championships…and I never liked them at all.

Again, I reason in the aftermath of a Giants win that could have been a Giants loss, I was employing a defense mechanism worthy of Steve Spagnuolo. If I convinced myself that I was in a no-lose situation if the Giants did lose — I just witnessed 19-for-19, what a treat — then how sorry could I be when they lost? Happily, I’ll never know.

As I give it one more burst of pre-parade, pre-Santana press conference thought, how could anybody sitting on a couch in a grungy Giants sweatshirt watching Eli Manning breaking free and David Tyree soaring in defiant regard to gravity (Endy: The Sequel, a friend [8] suggests) and Steve Smith showing up everywhere and Plaxico Burress cradling what needed to be cradled and Michael Strahan harassing who had to be harassed and Tom Coughlin succeeding after many of us insisted he never could survive in his job (crow equals delicious!)…how could you look at those Giant hearts practically leaping from those Giant chests and pretend you didn’t care? How could you see these guys in those uniforms, realize that because sports works the way it does that they may never get so close again, and not treat this as the milestone it is? How could I deny myself the ancestral thrill of at least brushing a hand against this third Giants Super Bowl trophy as it figuratively passed among the True Blue deserving diehards?

As this Giants championship seemed more plausible, then possible, then probable and, finally, definite, I thought of other Giants fans. I thought of a clutch of our readers who have been far more active Giants fans than I of late. I was particularly happy for them, for their families, for those who passed the Giant gene on to them. Less happy for myself than satisfied that the now extraordinarily grungy sweatshirt can also be certified as pretty darn lucky. When Burress caught the go-ahead pass, I jumped up and hollered by Giant fan instinct, pausing not an instant to analyze why I was so happy.

After the events of last September, I might do well to indulge more in yelling and less in thinking.