The New York Giants: The Agony and Ecstasy of Fandom


Every fall Sunday, starting when I was five years old, at 1 p.m. my father turned the dial of our black-and-white TV to the CBS broadcast of the New York Giants game. We huddled together discussing strategy, as if we were out on the field. The oldest of three girls, I was clearly the son that wasn't.

I sang myself to sleep with a little ditty I had written about the '63 Giants (to the tune of "Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing") as they approached the NFL Championship game with the Chicago Bears. I remember that I sang about the strong arm of the quarterback, Y.A. (who would ever name a kid Yelberton Abraham?) Tittle, who was bald as a cue ball, but man, could he zing a football. He later became a Hall of Famer. One day, Y.A. was a guest at our tennis club. It was a happy day, indeed, when my father brought home a tennis ball autographed by the great Y.A. -- the first of what would grow to be a large collection of Giants memorabilia.

I sang about the handsome, fleet and sure-handed flankerback, Frank Gifford, whom I dreamt about marrying. (Kathie-Lee beat me to the punch). I sang about Sam Huff, a defensive back, who had a unique ability to diagnose and disrupt the opponents' plays.

The Giants lost that championship game against the Bears 14-10. I was crushed. My father and I sank into mutual depressions, as the Giants stumbled mightily between 1964 and 1980, with only two winning seasons and no playoff appearances.

The low point was the play known as the "Miracle at the Meadowlands" -- a miracle for the archrival Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants were ahead in the closing seconds of the game, and their quarterback, Joe Pisarcik, was told to kill the clock. This was code for running around in the backfield until time expired. Instead, Pisarcik (a name that will live in Giants infamy forever) fumbled the ball. It was recovered by a dastardly Eagle, who ran all the way down the field for a game-winning Philadelphia touchdown.

In 1980, an even worse event happened. My father died at age 56 of a heart attack -- after playing tennis, not watching the Giants. I was 26 years old, and devastated.

But by the end of the decade, the Giants had regrouped, and so had I. In 1989, I was married, and expecting the birth of my son on Christmas Day. I went into labor early in the morning of the 24th. Anyone who had a choice about scheduling a Caesarean delivery at New York Hospital was not doing it during Christmas. I got the posh Birthing Room, which was more like a hotel room, with a Barcalounger birthing chair, a television and a comfy couch for my husband to cheer me on.

The first obstetrician was with me from 1 a.m. to 8 a.m. Dr. Steadman and his son had tickets to the Giants playoff game that day at the Meadowlands. I labored on until 12:55 p.m. -- the last half hour not only in the final pangs of childbirth, but also keeping an eye on the television set, watching the Giants pre-game show.

By halftime, I was back in my hospital room, nursing Teddy. My adorable infant wore a blue cap, as if he were already cheering on "Big Blue." The Giants and the Los Angeles Rams were tied 13-13 at the end of the fourth quarter, and the game went into overtime. I cursed mightily when L.A. Ram Flipper Anderson caught a 47-yard touchdown pass to win the game.

The next year, I held Teddy as we watched the Giants every Sunday. There was lots to cheer about. Instead of Tittle and Huff, there was quarterback Phil Simms and linebacker Lawrence Taylor, and the legendary coach, Bill Parcells. The Giants ended the season with an impressive 13-3 record, with Simms' ball-control offense leading the league in total points scored while Taylor's ferocious defense allowed their opponents to score the fewest. I hated my statistics course in college, but now I was all about the stats.

In the playoffs, the Giants beat the San Francisco Francisco 49ers (who had won the previous two Super Bowls and were going for a three-peat). They then faced the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV in January 1991.

It was the height of the Gulf War, and patriotic fervor was at its height when Whitney Houston sang a rousing rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," and military jets flew over the stadium in Tampa, Fla.

I held my breath as the Bills' placekicker Scott Norwood's last-second field goal attempt went wide of the uprights, insuring a Giants win. I twirled Ted in a victory dance, holding up an autographed photo of the young blond quarterback Phil Simms a PR friend had gotten me. It read:

To Emily,

My devoted fan

Love Forever

Phil Simms

For the next 10 years, the Giants proved to be the most erratic team in football. Teddy and I rode an emotional roller coaster, as the Giants alternated between spectacular wins and stunning losses.

Then another Giants era began, with slow-drawling quarterback Eli Manning and gap-toothed smiling defensive end Michael Strahan (now of Kelly and Michael In the Morning) leading the offense and defense.

In 2008, the Giants were back in Super Bowl XLII, this time against the New England Patriots. Though we had lived in Connecticut for 15 years, there was no question that our loyalty was -- and always would be -- with the New York Giants.

The best play of the game (and hailed as The Greatest Play in Super Bowl History) came as Eli Manning deftly escaped from the grasp of three Patriot defensive players, and threw a long forward pass to receiver David Tyree, who made a leaping catch by pressing the ball against the top of his helmet before crumpling to the ground. Four plays later, the Giants scored the game-winning touchdown.

In a silent auction at a charity benefit, I successfully bid on a football, autographed by all the Giants, who won a fourth Super Bowl Championship in 2011. I presented it to Teddy when he graduated from Brown, and it now sits proudly in a glass case in his room.

Teddy went to boarding school at 15, and then college and now is in graduate school in California. We watch the Giants games together when he is home for the holidays. Otherwise, we call or text each other before, during and after the games. We pray on the altar of Phil Simms before the game, and scream at the television whenever the Giants bungle a play. We high-five so hard it hurts.

There are times when both Teddy and I may have crossed the line from fan to fanatic. We have attended home games at MetLife stadium, watched a playoff game last year from Skinny Legs, a bar on St. John in the Virgin Islands. Teddy somehow managed to get radio reception of another playoff game from Prague in the Czech Republic.

Professional football is also much more violent than it was when I was watching with my father in 1963. I hate watching players slam into each other at top speed and injured players being carted off the field. I hate hearing the statistics about concussions and knowing that so many men's lives will be ruined because of head, neck and other injuries.

Yet, I am still fascinated by this game -- a game that I, first as a girl, and now as a 60-year-old woman -- will never play, other than pick-up touch football games with my cousins and friends on the sands of Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, Mass. during my childhood. I have always loved the strategy of offense vs. defense, the staccato play-calling of the quarterback as he steps up to the line of scrimmage to start the play, the running backs juking down the field evading the defenders, and the spectacular catches by the receivers, who drag their feet at the sidelines to keep both in bounds. Most of all, I have loved the rollercoaster ride which I have taken every fall with my father and my son.

The Giants started this 2013 season in another one of their droughts, losing their first six games. It doesn't get any worse than watching the Giants lose miserably week after week. Today Teddy goes by Ted, and is no longer a towhead blond like Phil Simms -- in fact he sports a light brown beard. Now studying for a PhD at Stanford, he gets free tickets to Stanford football games, and sent me a photo from his phone as he and other students stormed the field after the big win against Oregon State.

"I will always be a Giants fan," Ted admitted after their sixth pathetic loss. "But I can't even stomach how bad they are. Right now Stanford is much more fun to watch."

True to form, the Giants rallied in midseason, winning four games in a row. The carrot of making the playoffs briefly dangled. But then they fell back to their losing ways. So now I, too, will be rooting for Stanford in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

But there is always next season for our New York Giants.