New York Giants vs. Denver Broncos
Super Bowl XXI
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
January 25, 1987
It always amuses me that the team I spent the least time watching and rooting for in my youth became, in my renascence of fandom, the team who inspired my most lunatic, bordering on the psychotic, allegiance–the New York football Giants. And that my devotion to them started at the beginning of their long slough of despond from 1964 to 1981 makes it seem even funnier in retrospect.
Although being a Giants fan during those years was not funny at all. They were mediocre at best, and every Sunday was usually a time of gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, accompanied by too much alcohol. The best part was during my New Haven years having fellow sufferers with whom to watch the games, another dear friend from college and his younger brother. We had a little more to cheer about when Fran Tarkenton arrived in 1967 to lead a very potent offense with the explosive and speedy wide receiver, Homer Jones, our favorite player, and the “Baby Bulls” running backs. However, the defense was not very good at all, except for a couple of players–including safety Carl “Spider” Lockhart, who was our other favorite–thus every game was a roller coaster of emotion that would leave us drained and joyous or drained and depressed.
Once, after a spectacular play that won a game for the Giants (a long bomb from Tarkenton to Jones that led to a rare defeat of the hated Cowboys) we rose from the couch collectively, and descended with such force that we broke it in two.
In 1970, the Giants traded Homer Jones to the Browns for running back, Ron Johnson, which truly depressed me (but in fact, Johnson helped the team to its best season in years). But that was small potatoes compared to what my life was to become: after losing their first three games, the Giants went on a six game winning streak, during which I got fired, put a torch to my marriage, began drinking even more heavily than usual (and usual was a lot to begin with) and found myself in a dreary sub-let room with a hotplate, a refrigerator that groaned 23 hours a day, a mattress on the floor, and on the verge of mental collapse (that would come in April of the following year when my mother died). I remember very little of those games except the thrilling comeback from a large deficit to defeat the Washington Redskins for the sixth win, and the following loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on a Monday night, the game which Howard Cosell broadcast drunk and threw up on Dandy Don Meredith’s cowboy boots. All I can remember of that night was practically clearing out my favorite saloon with my antics—especially during the extremely long, drawn-out and inexorable Eagles late fourth quarter march to the winning touchdown. The Giants won their next three games, but needed to win their final game against the Rams to make the playoffs. The Giants got stomped 31-3, as I watched numbly from my usual barstool, and it would be eleven years before they got that close again.
The only consolation I found in those weeks was that I was not alone, for it was then that I discovered an autobiographically based novel called A Fan’s Notes by Fred Exley, in which he describes a man who is a lunatic Giants fan who clears out bars during games, drank too much, destroyed his marriage, and lost jobs. I identified, needless to say, but did not, sadly, understand then that I, too, had a drinking problem; I only had, as part of a rather long list of adversity, a Giants problem.
The seventies were a long, slow slog of bad football, the only difference being they now possessed a very good defense and terrible offense. But in 1979, in the aftermath of the famous Joe Pisarcik fumble at the end of a home game against the Eagles that snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory, the Giants hired George Young as general manager, the first competent football operations man they had had since the modern era began in the 60s. He drafted Phil Simms in 1979, and Lawrence Taylor in 1981, and the Giants made the playoffs for the first time in 18 years (an event I celebrated for several days) and won a playoff game that year.
The Giants went backwards for a couple of years, but under new coach Bill Parcells, they went to the playoffs three straight years, 1984-1986, making the Super Bowl in 1986. Again like 1970, I do not remember much from that season because once again, the Giants may have been winning, but my second marriage was collapsing, although I had at least been sober for a few years before it began to crumble, and had a decent job. My only vivid memories are the rousing catch and run by Mark Bavarro against the 49ers, knocking down and dragging would be tacklers for over 20 yards, that sparked a Giants comeback win. And listening on the radio to the Giants thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Minnesota Vikings while driving back from central New York after a visit with my son at college, highlighted by a fourth and 20+ yard completion from Sims to Bobby Johnson for a needed first down, and Raul Allegre’s last second winning field goal.
I made a sentimental journey back to New Haven to watch the Super Bowl with my friend and his brother, which was a little tense, because two of us were no longer drinking, and the one that was, was in bad shape. After a close first half, which could have been worse if not for a great Harry Carson-led goal line stand and a couple of Bronco missed field goals, the Giants went wild in the second half, and won going away. The only down moment for us was Allegre missing the extra point on the Giants last touchdown; my friend’s brother had the numbers 0-0 in the office pool, and the miss led to a final score of 39-20, and a 500 buck loss for him.
What I felt at the end was more relief than joy, the at-last-I-can-die-happy feeling (Red Sox, Cubs and White Sox fans, for instance, know well what I mean). The Giants, of course, did get to four more Super Bowls and their three victories (each highlighted by phenomenal pass receptions–Mark Ingram’s tackle-breaking winning drive-saving catch and run in 1990; the unreal David Tyree and Mario Manningham catches from Eli Manning in 2008 and 2012) were a delight, but none had the sense of necessity for me that the 1987 game did. My great obsession had been quenched, and my life as a sports fan began to fade, with the Rangers unexpected Stanley Cup in 1994 a surprise exclamation point.