And I was there to watch it happen live during Saturday night football in the New York Giants Stadium in New Jersey. The fact that I initially found the stadium’s location baffling as we left Manhattan and drove across the George Washington Bridge speaks volumes to how much I do not watch football. My fraternity brother, who had offered me his extra ticket, found this amusing.
"You really didn't know the Giants Stadium was in Jersey? That's adorable," he had said as we crossed the Hudson River. He would continue to laugh at me throughout the night as I would ask question after question in a genuine effort to understand the game and the Giants' place in New York culture. Sometimes he would chuckle and say something like, "They change the field turf when the Jets play here," or “There are no cheerleaders because it’s a cold-weather team.” Other times he would commend me, "That's a really good question. So if the Giants score here, they're going to try for an onside kick."
This was my first NFL game and the first football game I have ever watched in its entirety, from warm-ups and National Anthem to desperation strategies in the last minutes of the final quarter. At college football games in North Carolina, I was often late entering the stadium because of tailgating festivities and leaving early as a result from side effects of the aforementioned tailgating festivities. The only two games I really ever remember watching were when we beat Appalachian State in 2001 and again in 2005.
As for this renewed attempt to enjoy the gridiron, I think I was the newest member of the Giants fan base before I even crossed the parking lot to the stadium. For someone whose list of active sports-viewing is confined to volleyball, figure skating and gymnastics, this is a big deal. Distinguished by license tags or bumper stickers, an equal sense of camaraderie and competition was thick among Giants and Patriots fans even as the NJ Turnpike traffic slowly bottlenecked into the stadium lots. The desperation of anxious fans holding “I Need Tickets” signs out of their car windows escalated the excitement. We hiked from Lot 29 in a dense crowd of Giants and Patriots paraphernalia mixed with friendly and not-so-friendly banter. The New York versus Boston rivalry exists on multiple levels, even beyond the standard Rangers and Bruins, Knicks and Celtics, Giants/Jets and Patriots oppositions, which only added to the spirited atmosphere.
By the time we found our seats, I was smiling like a kid on Christmas. I didn’t even mind paying $7.50 for a beer. Well, I did mind. But I needed the quintessential hotdog in one hand and beer in the other while I screamed at the field to complete my experience. Jon (dubbed for this evening “The Trader”) was routing for New England while I was remaining faithful to my New York, which made the game even more fun.
“You picked a hell of a game for your first NFL experience,” Jon said before the game began. And it was. Neck-and-neck quarters. Giants ahead in the first half. The Patriots became the first team in NFL history to go 16-0; touchdown passing and receiving records broken by Moss and Brady. As we were leaving, Jon laughed, “That will be the game that you get free on DVD with your subscription to Sports Illustrated, and you can say you were there.”
With phone photo ops ...