“He said he would have been happy staying in the Polo Grounds.”
—John Mara on his father Wellington’s reaction to building another new stadium, 2005
I listened to the last quarter the Giants would ever play at Giants Stadium on the radio, before, during and after a shower. The Giants were taking a bath, so there was no need to stay glued to the screen. Besides, there’s something about listening to the Giants as opposed to watching them that appeals to me.
Particularly in the shower.
When I was a kid of 7, 8, 9 years old, the Giants were regularly on the radio on autumn Sundays in our house if they were home. The perfect TV sport was blacked out in each team’s own market by league fiat. Doesn’t matter that every Giants home game was sold out and that the waiting list to buy a Giants season ticket was long and legendary. That was just the rule before 1973. Thus, it was standard operating procedure for my dad to tune into WNEW (1130 AM) for all the action from, if you’ll excuse the expression, Yankee Stadium. He always seemed to be taking a shower just before kickoff, so he and his portable radio would disappear into the bathroom sometime between 12:30 and 1:00 and they’d emerge together as things were getting underway. We’d spend much of the afternoon between 1 and 4 at the kitchen table, the Giants on in the background, him reading the papers or doing some work, me reading whatever papers weren’t spoken for and both of us keeping one ear on the Giants. Half the time the Giants were on the road, so it’s quite likely we watched those games in his and my mother’s bedroom, but the mind’s eye reveals us listening in the kitchen. The blackout rule was itself blacked out when I was 10 and we got a color television when I was 11, but I’m sure Dad would transport the radio out from the bathroom as a matter of course and we continued to listen in the kitchen.
We weren’t listening that closely. The Giants didn’t obsess either one of us. The Giants weren’t good enough to grab my attention the way the Mets (and Knicks) did when I was of impressionable rooting age, and my dad has never been an over-the-top sports fan. As a result, except for pockets of championship-driven fervor, I’ve always followed football like a “normal” person — loyal to my teams, but not life or death. Not like baseball.
Yet I’ve always liked the radio part. That’s where the Giants play, I believe. If you wake me up and ask me to name their frequency, I’ll tell you it’s WNEW-AM, never mind that WNEW-AM hasn’t broadcast anything since 1992. Never mind that Marv Albert hasn’t announced Giants games since 1976. I still semi-expect to hear him giving downs and yards to go alongside Chip Cipolla and Sam Huff. If it’s them, it’s Jim Gordon and Dick Lynch, who held down the Giant mics from the late ’70s through the early ’90s. It’s not that I’m much of a football fan. I think mostly I like the sound of the Giants coming out of a speaker, at least if there are no Mets around to do the same.
I’ve followed the Giants less and less every year since peaking with them on January 27, 1991, the moment Scott Norwood’s kick wide right won us Super Bowl XXV. That made it two titles in five years, and deep down I probably didn’t feel I could rightly ask for any more out of a franchise that I never saw play a single playoff game until I was nearly 19. It didn’t help that after the Giants edged the Bills, Ray Handley replaced Bill Parcells, the football personnel equivalent of Art Howe supplanting Bobby Valentine (though Art Howe couldn’t have effectively succeeded a misshapen tree stump). My radio sought the Giants out less and less, too, though I noticed in recent years that I still enjoyed flicking on the bathroom radio and taking a shower with the Giants, if you will. I wasn’t hanging on every snap, but I liked hearing them if not exactly listening to them.
Today I was feeling a bit nostalgic about it being the last Giants game at Giants Stadium. I never attended a Giants game there, but I was relieved when it was announced to general shock and dismay around New York that they were moving to New Jersey. I didn’t like the idea that my favorite football team played in Yankee Stadium. Yeah, it was strange that they were putting down roots in the Garden State, but it’s not like I was on that season ticket list. If I happened to be making use of that color set in my parents’ bedroom, it was fine with me that I was looking LIVE at East Rutherford, New Jersey, per Brent Musberger.
Eventually, Phil Who? would become Phil Simms, and Lawrence Taylor would become unstoppable and the heretofore Hackensack Giants would stampede through their swamp to nail down an NFC championship in January 1987. My dad and I, for the only time ever, set up two TVs so we could attempt to watch the first part of the Giants and Redskins while taking in the conclusion of the Broncos and Browns. I think we had Gordon and Lynch on the radio, too.
It seemed unlikely the Giants would pull a Mets this afternoon, closing out a stadium by coming up painfully shy in an effort to make the playoffs against an opponent who had absolutely nothing at stake. It was such a nice day outside. “Mara weather,” the old-time football writers like to say. How could the Giants not win their last game at Giants Stadium in Mara weather? I’m not sure, but they didn’t.
Since they still have one away game remaining, and because they had not yet been mathematically eliminated, the reality wasn’t exactly allegorical to what the Mets experienced in ending Shea’s life on September 28, 2008, but the sensation was close enough. Really, the Giants losing 41-9 to the Carolina Panthers was closer in spirit to the Mets losing 8-1 to the Marlins at the eternally dispiriting finish of 2007 than it was to the wan 4-2 loss that deflated the Shea Goodbye ceremonies a year later.
Either way, it wasn’t worth watching to its bitter conclusion. So I decided to take a shower and close out the Giants’ portion of Giants Stadium the way I experienced so many Giants home games for the past forty seasons…with soap, water and uncommon acoustics. I showered, I dressed, I lingered. I listened to Bob Papa and Carl Banks wax more contemporary than nostalgic. Football isn’t as concerned with looking back as baseball is. Football is all about marking forward progress. The Giants stumbling out the door of Giants Stadium before inching into their next pleasure palace was more an issue for Wild Card positioning — or the lack thereof — than for sentimentality’s sake. I suppose that was the case with the Mets and Marlins the second time, but I’m pretty sure I was sadder that the Mets closed Shea with a playoff-eliminating loss than I was that they missed the playoffs.
Different sports, different values. No way I would have been standing around the bathroom listening to the end of a big Mets game.
Now, improbably, a different team closes out Giants Stadium with something tangible on the line. The Jets, only having recently stopped being the Titans, closed out the original home of the Giants — both Giants…and the Mets — in 1963, but who thinks of the Jets when they think of the Polo Grounds? The Jets have played 26 seasons’ worth of home games at Giants Stadium, but who thinks of the Jets there, either? The Jets never should have left Shea Stadium. Then again, Shea Stadium never should have left Shea Stadium. And fans of several 8-7 and 7-8 AFC teams must be thinking Jim Caldwell never should have taken out Peyton Manning this evening.
However they managed to approach the brink of something besides despair, here’s hoping the Jets, whose weather usually involves a very dark cloud, shine on in East Rutherford next week. I assume my dad will be into it. He drifted from the Giants to the Jets a long time ago.