Back in the New York Groove | March 22, 2012
Being a fan of US sports on this side of the pond often makes us feel a bit disjointed and out of the loop when it comes to following your team. Yes you can get the t-shirt, replica jersey and hat and, now thanks to the internet, twitter and facebook, get daily news about who’s being released, signed or got a DUI, but the one thing that alludes us is going to the match.
I started supporting the Giants when I was 6, although it was many years later before I actually knew who they were and what sport they played. At that time we got the occassional match at Wembley and, if they got too the Superbowl you actually got too see them on tv. So when I organised a trip to the east coast last year it made sure that I was in New York on a Sunday and Monday night, just in case the Giants had a home game. It was a long shot, the schedule wasn’t released for another few months, I had know idea how to go about getting tickets, as I needed special ones, and there was talk of the season being locked out. But I had to try.
I was lucky when the schedule came out, there was going to be a home match the week I was there. But yet again I was up against it to get a ticket. It was to be a Monday Night Football game, the first home game of the season and it was also going to be the Giants first competitive game at their new stadium. Luckily after many phone calls, made both here and once I got over there I was able to secure tickets and it was football time.
Arriving at the ground the first thing that struck me was the smell of bbq’s as tailgate parties got going all round the stadium. We aren’t just talking little disposable ones like we take on camping trips but big Webber beasts under marquees and cooking every sort of bbq food you could think of. It also felt a little strange being surrounded by other people dressed in Giants stuff. If I see anyone over here wearing it I feel compelled to speak to them as there just aren’t that many of us around but suddenly here was 80,000 people all dressed in the gear but I still had the urge to run up to them and say “Im a Giants fan as well!”.
As it was the first game at the new stadium and 25 years since they won Superbowl XXI (technically it was 24 years but the season started 25 years ago!) the players and coaches in that winning team were there to sign autographs. So I queued up and got some signatures of players that I had never heard of, I was getting nowhere near Simms and Taylor, just because I could and then made a quick visit to the shop. All I can say is thank god the wife held onto the credit card as I could have bought everything in there. As it was I picked up quite a few things and obviously the lady at the till got confused over the amount of items as she forgot to charge for one of the t-shirts! Then its the obligatory ‘dog and off to our seats.
What a stadium it is. I was expecting to be far away from the pitch but we everything was perfectly visible and with 4 massive HD screens in each corner (not Cowboy stadium big mind but not ones to be sniffed at) there was no way anything was going to be missed. Of course we had the big American show piece to open proceedings, flag waving, soldiers, anthems, fireworks, but disappointingly no flyover. And it was time for kick off. There was quite a bit of trepidation before the match given the awful performance the week before against the Redskins. Further questions were being asked like would last years interception prone Eli turn up and was he really an ‘elite’ QB. Would the release of Steve Smith and injuries to most of our big name defensive players harm the team. Plus it was the highly touted Rams who we were facing and this was meant to be Bradford’s year.
For me the game was a lot easier to follow in person then it is on tv. For example when im watching a pass on tv I see the QBs arm move and next thing I know the ball is either on the ground or in the WR’s hands. But here you could see actually see Manning scan his receivers, pump fake and watch the ball spiral sweetly into waiting arms. Where it was slightly harder was on running plays as of course the ball normally disappeared up the middle. But thanks to the announcers and and replays it was always easy to keep up.
Coming from rugby games here im used to lots of singing and chanting but there wasn’t any of that and all there was was just a constant murmur of noise rather then any co-ordinated action. The only two exceptions were on scores and defensive third downs. At this point the screens would light up with ‘motivating slogans’ (usually shouted out by Tuck or Pierre-Paul) and finally the crowd would get into the game. It only culminated in a false start penalty once but as they say ‘every little helps’. Then, the highlight for me was on scoring plays, just like I had always imagined they do, and seen on tv, complete strangers would turn round and high five you!
I had juggled endzone passes, controversy over faking injuries on the field and even Lady Gaga in the stand above us, and as it tuned out the Rams were not looking like the team people had hoped they would be. Sam Bradford did have a good game but our D held firm and kept limiting them to field goals. Whereas Eli was able to convert his red zone chances. The final score being a very gratifying 28-16.
Once the final whistle had gone I noticed that I was pretty much the only one left in our section as most people started to leave from 10 minutes to go. But there was no way I was leaving until I absolutely had too.
Of course we know now that this was to be the start of an amazing season for the Giants. Eli went on to prove that he belonged in the ‘elite’ category, JPP had a breakout season and the NFL discovered a new star in Victor Cruz. I like to think that I helped just a little and that I was their lucky charm to kick start their season.
Going to the west coast later this year but unfortunately staying no where near a major city during any weekends. But will never forget my first taste of live NFL, big, brash and in true American style, awesome.