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Sunday Night at the Giants (Part IV)

The first time the Giants won the Super Bowl, I was shocked — not because the Giants of 1986 weren’t a very fine team but because the Giants of 1969 and 1971 and 1973 and 1974 and clear through to the Giants of 1980 were so darn awful.

The Giants to whom I established diversionary ties as a six-year-old seemed to exist so I wouldn’t take sports team success for granted. When I fell into them in the autumn of ’69, the Mets had just completed their Miracle and the Knicks were making a high art of hitting the open man. The Giants, as introduced to me by my father, were any given Sunday’s bad news, grounding me in how sports fan reality actually worked.

It worked like this: The Mets won the World Series…then the Giants lost seven games in the seven weeks that followed. When they finished their 1969 by raising their record from 3-8 to 6-8, I swear I was beaming. Six and eight, I calculated, was extremely close to 7-7. Seven and seven, I then reasoned, was the essence of not bad.

My baseball team was a champion. My basketball team was en route to being a champion. I could live with my football team striving to be not bad.

Took a long, long time for the Giants to attain that standard on a going basis. After a couple of modestly encouraging campaigns in which wins slightly outnumbered losses, the Giants avoided spreading further encouragement as if vaccinated against it. From 1973 through 1980, they played every week and lost in most of them, compiling a record of 33-84-1. As diversions went, the Giants were not a fulfilling one.

But I hung with them in the non-Met months and was finally rewarded with all I ever thought to dream of: a playoff appearance, in 1981. I didn’t expect them to do anything with it. I didn’t expect them to repeat it annually. I was just happy that for one weekend after the end of a football season, there’d be another Giants game.

Standards changed. The Giants managed to improve themselves enough to transcend not bad by the mid-’80s and ultimately attain excellence in the form of that first Super Bowl victory, January 25, 1987. They had gotten so good that it was actually disappointing when they didn’t achieve a second immediately.

But they did get a second eventually, January 27, 1991. A third arrived almost out of nowhere, February 3, 2008. And last night, February 5, 2012, a fourth materialized in brilliant fashion [1].

I swear I was beaming each time.

The Giants are four-time Super Bowl champs. They’ve won the biggest game there is to win in four different decades in four different time zones* on four different networks. They’ve won more Super Bowls than all but three franchises, yet nobody has won more in the span that began with the Giants winning their first. For as long as I’ve been following them with a tangible measure of heartfelt allegiance, they’ve never been a dynasty and never been positioned as one of their league’s glamour teams, yet by the ultimate measure, they’ve risen to stand among what some would call the elite [2] in their sport.

Which is all well and good, but all I ever wanted out of the Giants was enough Sundays when they’d be not bad and a few years that weren’t part of a 33-84-1. I got that and I got it again…and again…and now again.

Trust me: My appreciation for it is boundless.

And until further notice, it’s the Mets who keep me grounded.

*Indianapolis apparently runs on Eastern time nowadays, so there goes that one. Giants will need to win Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans to restore this factoid to factual.