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Harvey’s Version

My dad’s one of those people who scans the Paid Death Notices in the Times to see if anybody he knows has recently become somebody he knew. He was surprised to discover his cousin Harvey was among the listings two Sundays ago. He died at 81 on January 4…or to put it in terms Harvey would have appreciated, between the Giants beating the Cowboys to win the NFC East and the Giants beating the Falcons in the first round of the playoffs.

Here’s how Harvey’s listing memorialized him:

Loving husband, brother, father and grandfather. Internist, bibliophile, US Army veteran, lover of music and politics, unshakeable Yankees and Giants fan. He will be sadly missed.

I didn’t really know Harvey, save for two meetings from more than twenty years ago. As it happens, each of his unshakeables, if you will, made themselves readily apparent.

The first time was during the 1990 World Series when our Long Island branch of the family was invited up to Harvey headquarters in Westchester to break bread. Dad and Harvey had been close at some point, I was told. Then they weren’t. Then my mother died and folks were getting together again. Anyway, it was a lovely evening and a lovely dinner and all, and it led to the living room TV being turned on to catch the remaining innings of Game Three of what was turning into a shocking sweep of the A’s by the Reds. Everybody who drifted to the television declared temporary fealty to the Cincinnati cause. Harvey and his crew were all excited that good ol’ Lou Piniella was positioned to win a championship — Lou, Hal Morris, Jose Rijo, the GM Bob Quinn and anybody else who had some connection to the Yankees. Good ol’ Lou! He really deserves this!

Yeah — I added enthusiastically, elated that I was in a room of baseball fans — and Randy Myers! I’m a Mets fan, so I’m really happy for Randy Myers!

Except for Jack Buck and Tim McCarver doing the game on CBS, there was silence, save for the sound of Harvey & Co. staring at me like I had three heads.

Randy Myers…you know, the Mets closer who’s now one of the Nasty Boys. Yeah, I really liked Randy Myers. Sorry the Mets traded him.

Even Buck and McCarver were quiet now.

Yup…big Mets fan here. That’s me. Did I mention that?

Talk about a stranger in a strange land.

Just over a year later, the Harvey bunch was at my wedding, which took place on a Sunday afternoon in November [1], which is significant in that, well, it was a Sunday afternoon in November, and if you’re so inclined, that means one thing more than it means anything else. Knowing Harvey was a Giants season ticket holder and knowing the Giants were on the road to play the Cardinals meant I wasn’t at all surprised when Harvey sought me out shortly before four to let me know his party was gonna be getting going.

“Kickoff in Phoenix in ten minutes, huh?” I asked good-naturedly.

This time I got a look less like I was an alien and more like I’d found out his dirty little secret. Thing is I totally, totally, totally respected Harvey’s unstated reason for bolting my wedding. If the Giants hadn’t been having such a letdown of a season in 1991, I might have divined the location of the nearest television, my first hours of matrimony notwithstanding. I understand unshakeable fandom. I understand not wanting to miss a pitch, or in Harvey’s case, a down. The wedding of some vaguely familiar relative versus play-by-play on the car radio? I know which one I would have chosen if I’d been in his position that Sunday — and that’s with my wedding having been universally agreed upon by all who attended it as pretty darn delightful.

Thus Harvey fit the basics of one ilk of the classic New York sports stereotype: Westchester-Yankees-Giants. As evidenced during the 1990 World Series, we had little common ground on which to strike up a baseball conversation. But football would have been a different matter had we ever crossed paths again.

I’ve never quite hit the mark when it comes to locale-baseball-football around here. As a Long Island-bred Mets fan, I suppose I should have gravitated to the Jets as if by instinct, but the Giants — who didn’t train at Hofstra, didn’t (except for one orphaned season) play at Shea and didn’t rhyme with “Mets” — got to me first. They weren’t any good when they made themselves known to me in 1969 [2], but they became my team in their sport, and I’m generally unshakeable about such affiliations. The Jets got to me eventually, and making room for them in my psyche [3] proved an almost involuntary reflex, yet on my Permanent Record (namely the Sports Illustrated subscriber survey on which I had to pick an NFL team so I could receive bonus pages I rarely read and a 1995 highlight tape I never watched), I’m listed as leaning Giant.

When the Giants and Jets played in Week 16, I essentially rooted for plays to work. I couldn’t bring myself to pull for one team to succeed at the other’s expense. When it was over, I was thrilled that the Giants were going to have a golden opportunity to win their division (at the expense of the Cowboys, no less), yet I was genuinely sorry it pretty much screwed up whatever playoff chances the Jets had. My position on New York football teams, as formulated in the 1970s when neither was the slightest bit good, is the more each succeeds, the better it is for all of us. I figured my odds were improved with two local teams, even if the Steelers of that era would win more games in a year than the Jets and Giants combined.

I know many Mets-Giants fans, though probably more Mets-Jets fans. I also know Yankees-Jets fans, despite the prevalence of the Cousin Harvey stereotype. Doesn’t seem to matter what part of the Metropolitan Area you’re talking about these days when it comes to allegiance alignment. TV, radio and the Internet reach all five boroughs and all surrounding suburbs with pretty much the same speed. Also, it’s a free country, so Mets fans can do what they want with their non-baseball innings.

Me, I’m rooting for the Giants, which I’m not sure I expected to have the chance to be doing as January moved along. I’m thrilled they beat Green Bay [4]. I’m happy they’re going to San Francisco with a trip to Indianapolis at stake. And I’ll be ecstatic when Pitchers & Catchers report and I only vaguely recall getting caught up in something that wasn’t the Mets.