Well it’s almost time for football and I for one can’t wait for the regular season to begin, although I could do without the cold weather which accompanies it every year. Ever since I can remember – literally – I have watched the New York “Football” Giants, either with my mother and stepfather, friends, or most times, with my father (I spent weekends with dad on Pratt Road growing up). I clearly remember the two of us, in addition to my step-brother and many times our good friend J.B., cheering (some might say screaming) our Giants on, climbing the ladder on the front porch to adjust the antenna and enjoying my step-mother’s made-from-scratch spaghetti.
As the years went by our crew diminished to just myself, dad and J.B., who we invited to the house on a weekly basis. This is the crew that sticks out most in my mind when I sit down these days to watch my beloved Giants. Unfortunately, I’m the only one left nowadays. Dad passed away in January of 2008 and J.B. just a few months ago. If I remember correctly, the last game we all watched together was over a decade ago now, when the Giants thoroughly stomped the Minnesota Vikings in the 2000 N.F.C. Championship Game, forty-one to zip.
Yet my most vivid memory of the New York Giants took place in 2008, the year my father died.
When the season kicked off that year dad was already beginning to fall ill, and it was a struggle for him to truly enjoy the games early that fall due to this. He did his best though, and through the months of September and October we watched as our Giants started slow and, finally, began to build up some steam. By November dad’s condition was deteriorating and it seemed the games weren’t what they used to be. Still, the Giants continued on their unlikely run to Super Bowl XLII.
Dad’s last game at home pitted the then-undefeated Patriots versus the Giants in the final regular season game, a match-up which in many ways meant nothing to either team, and everything. The Patriots were playing for a perfect 16-0 record for the regular season, the Giants for some respect. Both were already in the playoffs yet the atmosphere was electric. Unfortunately for me I had a gig in downtown Binghamton and I missed the game, one of the best-ever according to some Giants fans, including my dad. Friends who watched the game with him said they hadn’t seen him so animated in weeks, although it took a toll on him. Three days later he was in the hospital, never to return home.
Even though he was bedridden from January 1 on, he did his best to watch our team through the first two playoff games, versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and our most hated rivals the Dallas Cowboys. I’ll never forget the close call we had on my birthday, January 12, which dad apologized for saying, “I can’t believe I almost died on my son’s birthday.”
He made it one more week.
Dad died on January 19, one day prior to the Giants’ match-up with the Green Bay Packers in the N.F.C. Championship game, one I will always remember. In a game which came down to overtime, a Bert Favre interception and an extremely difficult game-winning field goal, all I could think of was my father and how he would’ve loved to have seen it. Two weeks later, at the conclusion of Super Bowl XLII, I realized he had.
Down by four points with under three minutes to go, Eli Manning and the Giants confidently drove down the field, a drive which included what has now become known as “The Helmet Catch.” David Tyree, Manning’s target on that unbelievable play (Eli somehow avoided a sack, scrambled and set the ball sailing to a heavily-covered Tyree who somehow pinned the ball to his helmet while going to the ground) later said he felt like he had an angel on his shoulder. I guess dad wanted to make sure we won that game. Several plays later my father’s favorite player on the team, Plaxico Burress, caught the game-winning touchdown.
I still watch the Giants every week when football season rolls around, although I’m fairly certain it will never seem the same. Yet sometimes I wonder to myself, how did it feel for dad to watch all those games, through all the years, with me, his son? Does he still look down and cheer on our team while I’m sitting there missing him? And I wonder if my son, if I’m blessed enough to have one someday, will feel the way I did when I spent all those Sunday afternoons with dad.
It’s an experience I’ll never forget.