It’s Friday and on Sunday the Super Bowl will be played. I could work up a Super Bowl menu for the big game, but why would mine be any more interesting than the half a million others that have been blogged over the last two weeks? I could quip on a history of Super Bowl eats I’ve experienced over the many Roman numeraled years the game has been played, but that would only make me look very old; and do you really care?
So today I will digress a bit from things food—mostly. Instead I’m sharing something a bit different, at least from a Fried Neck Bones perspective.
Since the Giants and the Patriots clinched their conference titles two weeks ago, the blather has been incessant regarding how this is a “rematch” of the memorable Super Bowl the two teams played four years ago. And, in particular, how the current Giants stretch run practically mirrored what occurred in 2007/08. There have been numerous reminisces of that dramatic game replayed by sports’ writers, fans, and former players.
Not long after the 2008 Super Bowl, I scribbled an account of my experience watching that game and how, in some ways, it reminded me, on a much different scale, of what occurred when I witnessed a big game thirty years earlier. So here, on Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, is my Giants/Patriots Super Bowl story. You see, there really is no escape from it.
On the first Monday of October, 1978, I was in a rickety motel in New Hampshire on a mountain climbing/hiking trip with a friend. Looking back, I still wonder why I would agree to such an endeavor. The trip, however, coincided with the end of the baseball season that year; one that had seen the New York Yankees, my team, come from a 14 and a half point deficit to leap over the rival Boston Red Sox into first place. But on the last day of the season, while I was attempting to enjoy a hiking trip, the Yankees lost and the Red Sox won putting them in a virtual tie. There was to be a one-game playoff at Fenway Park the following afternoon to determine who would win the American League East.
My friend, also a Yankee fan, though a much more avid climber of mountains than I was in a quandary—or maybe he wasn’t. He knew what I was thinking.
“We came here to go climbing,” he said. We were close to the Mount Washington range in New Hampshire where we planned to hike. It was a sunny, crisp day; the foliage in the mountains was glorious. It was the last day of our trip. He looked at me knowing I would be unmoved.
Idyllic Mt. Washington in early October; a perfect day to stay inside and watch baseball.
“Well, I’m not staying in a motel room watching TV on a day like this,” he huffed as he grabbed his gear and headed out.
The television in the motel room was an old color set with rabbit ears. The game was broadcast on local network television and with proper manipulation of the rabbit ears, I was able to pull it in with only minor interference. In the small room I kept the shades drawn; the glare of the sun made it even more difficult to see the screen. I paced and cursed loudly throughout the game. When the Red Sox took the early lead, I was thinking maybe I should have gone mountain climbing sparing myself potential agony. And watching with only my own voice as my companion was torturous.
But in the seventh inning came Bucky Dent’s legendary home run. I let out a thunderous roar. I thought I was alone in the motel—who else would actually be in this fairy tale-themed, Snow White or Rip Van Winkle, I don’t remember which, motel on the first Monday in October? But there was someone here and he (or she) was most likely a Red Sox fan and banging angrily at the walls either, telling me to keep it down or in disgust at what had just unfolded on the field.
Deep to left…Yastrzemski…will not get it…
As the game progressed, I continued to pace the small room, moving from the bathroom and back out again in between pitches. I was talking to myself, occasionally yelling at the blurry screen and when Graig Nettles caught the final out, I hollered. This time there was no banging in return.
Almost thirty years later, on the first Sunday in February of 2008, I was in a luxurious two-bedroom suite on the 26th floor of a sleek Midtown Manhattan hi-rise hotel. There were high definition flat screen televisions in each of the bedrooms and a huge, 40 plus inch screen in the living room area. In little over an hour after I checked into the hotel, a New York team was scheduled to play a team from New England; the underdog Giants going against the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl.
I was at the hotel on assignment for a guide book I write on New York City. Usually I visit the hotels I review alone, but on this occasion I was with my seven-year-old son, L. The previous year, L wept when the Philadelphia Eagles eliminated the Giants in a wild card playoff game on a last second field goal. As I tried to console him, I told him he had officially been initiated into Giant fandom—that as a Giant fan, losses like the one he just experienced become part of your lifeblood. That didn’t make him feel any better.
Two weeks before the Super Bowl, as the Giants and Green Bay played into overtime in the NFC Championship game, I worried that L, watching well past his bedtime, would suffer through a similar result and wondered what kind of toll that might take on his young psyche. But, thankfully, Lawrence Tynes’ field goal eliminated that concern and sent the Giants to the Super Bowl.
Gourmet Super Bowl fare.
I had already scheduled my visit to the hotel well before I had any inclination the Giants would be a participant in the big game. My usual Super Bowl tradition is to gather with a few buddies at a friend’s studio apartment downtown, watch on a 15-inch television, boil hot dogs, drink beer, and consume absurd amounts of Crunch & Munch. But on this year, I wanted something a little different.
I gave L the option of watching the game with his friends at a neighbor’s apartment or coming with me to the hotel. “I want to go with you,” he said. So we packed L’s clothes and homework for school the next day and checked into the hotel; L layered in a Giants’ #27 “Jacobs” jersey, a “NY” blue and red sweatshirt, and a blue Giants’ winter coat.
We ate pastrami sandwiches and hot dogs from the nearby Carnegie Deli while the seemingly endless pregame show droned on. Finally, after the introductions were made, the National Anthem sung, the game began.
Super Bowl take out.
L watched squirming from my lap to the floor to a chair, incessantly talking—his way of releasing nervous tension. At halftime with the Patriots leading 7-3, he showered and got in his pajamas. His squirming slowed in the third quarter and then he got very angry and teary after the Patriots won a challenge and he used the familiar 7-year-old lament, “that’s not fair.” I could tell he was getting tired.
He revived a bit early in the fourth quarter, when the Giants scored and took the lead 10-7. But as soon the Patriots got the ball back he began rubbing his eyes and I asked him if he wanted to watch in bed. He nodded, got under the covers and I turned on the television in his bedroom. The Patriots, as I had no doubt they would, immediately moved the ball down the field. I looked in on L; he was turned away from the game. I asked if he wanted me to turn it off so he could sleep. He nodded. I wanted to make sure and asked again. He nodded again.
As I returned to the living room, I wondered if L just wanted to spare himself the heartbreak of a Giant loss or if he really was exhausted. He had gotten up very early that morning, excited about the day, and spent a good portion of it ice skating in Central Park. Looking in on him a few minutes later, he was sleeping soundly.
I retreated back to the big screen, lowering the volume and watching the Patriots score to take the lead 14-10 with two and a half minutes left. I grumbled quietly. Though my son was asleep close by, I was watching one of the biggest games of my life in a hotel room by myself as I did thirty years earlier.
And a scream was stifled.
When Eli Manning impossibly escaped a sack heaving the ball to David Tyree who caught it off his helmet while falling backwards, I jumped out of my chair, but I caught myself from yelling. Over the past few years, I had learned not to holler loudly at the television with my children around. The few times I have, I either frightened one of them into tears or had them look at me as if I were a lunatic. But on this night, though it wasn’t easy, I was able to restrain myself. I jumped up again and let out a yell I immediately stifled when Manning hit Plaxico Burress for the winning touchdown for the Giants and then glanced into the bedroom. L had not stirred.
A few moments later Tom Brady let go with a final fruitless heave. The Giants were Super Bowl Champions. And my son missed it.
The next morning L wandered into my room and woke me up.
“Who won?” he asked with a hopeful, yet wary look on his face.
It was my pleasure to tell him.
The seven-year old is now 11 and has a younger brother who is the same age he was when he watched Super Bowl XLII. Like the older brother did before him, the younger brother will now squirm and talk incessantly throughout the game. If a call goes against the Giants, he will say “it’s not fair.” And he might cry if the Giants lose. He will be watching with a big group of friends and family, including his father who won’t have to converse with the walls for this big game. The view for Super Bowl XLVI, however, will not be from the 26th floor. But there will be a view.