Sunday, January 22, 2012

N.Y. Giants ~ A Transcendental Championship Game

From the desk of:   DO IT FOR THE DUKE  ~  Championship Game Edition

National Football League

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National Football Conference

San Francisco 49ers

Rainy and Soggy Candlestick Park

The Giants-49ers Rivalry Transcends a Big Blue Generation.


In a very literal sense, I spent the 1986 season alone in Texas, far away from the friends I grew up rooting-on the Giants with since the days of Ray Perkins and back to 1977 when I was eleven years old and new to the neighborhood.  In 1986, I was a very young man in the Army and not yet a father.  Serving in Texas at the time was a double whammy for a Giants fan from Brooklyn for quite obvious reasons.  Needless to say, I celebrated victory over the 49ers, the Redskins, and winning Super Bowl XXI, alone.  Which was quite fine with me.  Besides, that team, that year, didn't make me worry about much, for they dominated.  That season was the culmination of childhood to adolescence for me.  It was a smooth and glorious ride through the playoffs.  As the lone Brooklynite/New Yorker in my unit, I felt it my responsibility to talk mega-smack on our behalf to all the middle-American and Left Coasters in my presence; especially the 49er fans.  There wasn't a Broncos fan in the house.  There's a preponderance of Californians in the Army though.  I wonder why?

Then, twenty-one years and two days ago, on January 20, 1991 - My bio-physiology barely survived watching one of the most gut-wrenching, mentally torturing, heart stopping, not to mention hardest hitting contests I ever saw.  The Giants won one of the greatest games in their history that day when they defeated the perennial Super Bowl Champions; the San Francisco 49ers; with five field goals to win the NFC Championship on their home field.  I was out of the service by then and my newborn son, no larger than a football himself, was less than a month old the day Matt Bahr nailed that game winning field goal propelling the Giants to Super Bowl XXV.  I counted every rotation as that football closed in on the uprights 42 yards away until finally making it's way through for the win.  The Giants were alive and well.  Me?  I survived.  My son...?  When Bill Parcells left the Giants a couple of weeks later, I thought to myself, woe is us.

I did not watch Scott Norwood miss wide-right in Super Bowl XXV.  I couldn't.  I was on my knees praying to the TV with my head buried face down in the floor.  I was resigned to letting the crowd's reaction tell me the outcome of that kick.  It turned out to be the most isolated three seconds of my life.  For three seconds, there was no breath, no thoughts, no feeling, and even less of a sense for where I was.  There was only the darkness of my closed eyes and the silence of Space.  That part I was used to.  I was less than one year out of the military by then and they train you in stuff like that.  But that kick; that game; those two games; were far worse for me personally, mentally, and physically, than anything Uncle Sam ever put me through.  My son spent both games sleeping in his crib like...well, a cute little baby without a care in the world.

A decade after the 49ers game of 1991, the improbable 2000 NFC Champions made a lasting impression on my ten year old son.  The Giants cemented a moment in time for my young impressionable boy with that game and wound up marking his most obvious destiny.  At ten years old, my son was a Giants Fan for life.  His team card was stamped right around the same time in his life that it happened to me.  But unbeknown to him, I festered inside watching our former two time Super Bowl coach bounce around the League.  I also felt bad for my son when the Ravens blew us out.  That Super Bowl, and life in the post-Bill Parcells Era plus ten years - came at a fortunate time in my life.  By then, I learned how to compartmentalize.  But 2000 and the Jim Fassel era, finally allowed me to move on from my post-Bill Parcells anger.

There is something that will always be all-together different about the 2000 NFC Championship.  I was the Pop of a ten year old.  And as a Pop watching a jubilant Wellington Mara hold up the George Halas Trophy and chiding the Media about it, I knew John Mara's time was coming soon as The Duke was getting on in years.  I also remember thinking in regards to my own situation that Sunday - Welcome to the Big Blue Family son.

For me, unlike ten years prior, there was nothing really to worry about in that game against Minnesota. The Giants had the Vikings wanting to go home after the first five minutes. Only League rules prohibited them from exiting Giants Stadium before their destruction went final.  Then the Ravens happened which left me thinking, - Oh My!  What Have I Done to my Son?  But then again, what do ten year olds really know about suffering through their team's worst times like Super Bowl XXXV when there are Power Rangers and Toy Story action figures to be played with?

By 2007, my son was a fine adolescent specimen in full Giants Fan bloom.  After seventeen years on this planet, my son was finally exposed to the real pain that comes along with a Super Bowl run.  His right of passage was upon him.  By then as a fan hitting my forties, I was familiar with the long night ahead versus the Packers.  If you're my age, we've learned a thing or two about our games when they start to take on certain characteristics.  But for my son, only then did he learn and come to understand how these games can take years off our lives.

He and I watched the 2007 Championship Game together; alone; in the dark; and in relative silence.  Age allowed me to examine the game and watch it develop.  Speaking as a long time fan, we knew that game.  We've seen it before.  However, age and inexperience reduced my son to schizophrenia.  On that night, he learned what the 1991 Championship Game did to me.  And he achieved a great understanding into mood management to say the least.  And as is the case with many Giants Fans, he may have also lost a year or two off the back of his life as Lawrence Tynes kept missing field goals.

The 2003 playoff loss to the 49ers was merely a blip I once had to advise my then thirteen year old.  What he understands today about the rivalry the Giants have with the 49ers he came to understand through me, and through DVD's of those times that I lived through before and right up to the day he was born.  What I tried imparting to him over the years is to be thankful to the 49ers for our glorious Giants history.  The Giants won two Super Bowls during the heights of the San Francisco Dynasty of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice and Co.  -  Two Super Bowls for Bill Parcells and the Giants in five years, and each time we beat the 49ers and demolished Joe Montana on the way.  Of course, they bludgeoned us back then as well.  That's precisely what made those days glorious.  We destroyed each other un-mercilessly.  And because we beat one of the greatest teams of All-Time, our own Giants' greatness was and is undeniable.

Today is not just the NFC Championship Game against an old rival. Today, on January 22, 2012, at 6:30 p.m., my Circle of Life will have made it's way completely around a Generation of Giants Football.  My son is a raging twenty-one year old full blown mass of testosterone-fueled man now, with an insane voracity for Giants Football.  As a Giants Fan, he's come a long way.  He has over a decade's worth of experience and strong convictions under his belt.  And he has one Super Bowl; just like I did when I was twenty-one.

Today, Pop and Son are both going back in time; back to a time when the Giants were gunning for their second Super Bowl in 1991.  That boy of mine will come to bear witness and live what I lived through during that 49ers game back in 1991 when he was still the size of a Football.  Twenty-one years later, he will finally and truly understand why both our lives are destined to be snipped off at the edges.  Blame the 49ers and Big Blue's penchant for the most dramatic Giants Football moments imaginable.  Everything comes with a price.

I told him in 2007 as I have told him since, if you think that game against the Packers was a near death experience (in a totally metaphorically and Football sense and manner...of course), well then you better prepare yourself to die against the Niners.  They, the 49ers, are us.  We are them.  I don't know whether to feel sorry for my boy; wish him luck; or laugh at him.  But I warned him.  Today's game will rank among the greatest games these teams have ever played against each other, and will without a doubt, leave an indelible impression upon the rest of his (our) Big Blue Life, just like that game twenty-one years ago did to me when I, like my son today, was gunning for my chance at a second Super Bowl.

He's come a long way alright.  He's learning that with age comes experience.  Calling upon what he felt during that Packers game in 2007 and even last week, I hope helps his frame of mind today.  Because me?  I was a freakin' wreck in 1991.  If he could only have seen his father then.  But then again, he did.  In 2007 against the Packers, when Ahmad Bradshaw seemingly broke away for a touchdown, he and I jumped into full blown celebration mode.  We jumped, and screamed, and hugged like newly married brides.  THEN, the flag!  Holding - NYG!  We collapsed in place and died of utter disbelief.  So yeah, he knows a thing or two about pain.  And yeah, we've been there together before.  I've always told him - Giants Football is never fun until the game is over, and then only if you win.

He's going for his second Super Bowl in five years just like I was in 1991, and I wish him well.  I remember what that was like and the wars we had to fight to get it.  But unlike him, I had a greater understanding into the magic of Giants Football in 2007.  And I'm sure many Giant Families have similar stories, for this organization transcends generations.  For the third time in my son's life, but for only the second time together like Giant Blue Brothers in Arms, we'll be watching again today, alone, in the dark, and in relative silence again.

The Giants are playing for the NFC Championship again.  A little later today, he'll come to understand everything there is to know about the Giants/49ers rivalry.  This rivalry is something wholly different than the ones we have against the Cowboys, Eagles, or Redskins.  This rivalry in part made the Giants one of the greatest franchises in all Football History.  Today my son will come to realize the true sacrifices needed to be made on a football field.  This contest redefines what it means, and takes, to become great.  He's going back in time to the moment his Pop was twenty-one years old and learning all this for the first time.  Just ask Mom.  She watched me suffer every Sunday for the past twenty-three years.  Like I said, 1986 was the first Super Bowl.  It was magical, but it came on like a stream roller.  No one had a chance against us that season.  And I hadn't had the pleasure of meeting her, nor the notion to raise a little Giants Fan of my own yet.

This is the 49ers.  This is the last part of your Big Blue indoctrination son.  We'll do it together this time, both as men.  And by the way,  Welcome to my World.

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