Few influences in life so shape a person’s psyche, mold his personality, and give him a broad context with which to interpret the world as do family, schooling, religious orientation, and being raised a Giants’ fan. My husband grew up on Long Island and that touch of fate made him what he is today—despondent.
Bleak times have descended upon him. If this were an aberration he could ride it out with sangfroid, but unfortunately history is not on his side. Apocalypse seems to haunt the Giants the way evil spirits follow those hunky guys of TV’s Supernatural. Twenty years ago the New York Football Giants riveted their fans with an astounding, dizzying spree, losing 10 of their 16 games, a statistic that belies the true horror that was the 1993 season. Fast forward to 2013. Seven games and six loses into the season, it seems cataclysm is once again in the playbook.
The names, of course, have changed. Back in 1993 the roster included Phil Simms, Jumbo Elliot, Dave Meggett, and Jeff Hostettler. They were our heroes and our goats. Often in the same play. So who among us could watch Eli float a screen pass directly into the waiting hands of Demarcus Ware (perfect aim; wrong color jersey) on the first play of the season or witness Steve Weatherford’s booming punt rushed back 89 yards for a Chief’s touchdown or see a hand off bounce off David Wilson and not nod our heads in appreciation of the historical significance of such inspired performances? It takes real talent to be so bad.
Back then, while trying to laugh through his pain, my husband once admitted that if it weren’t for nub teams, the Giants might have had no wins at all. This year we are the nub team. The Eagles?! Seriously?
If my husband were an ordinary fan who takes only a casual interest in the fortunes of his team, he might be spared some misery. But he is not. Game days are sacrosanct. The term “spoiler alert” was invented specifically for him. When he must be away, he records the game then sequesters himself from all outside communication until he can analyze every down for himself. On these days anyone who knows him and can’t keep a secret should also sequester themselves, for unwittingly leaking the final score makes the NSA-Edward Snowden brouhaha look like child’s play.
Once, my husband picked up the phone in the middle of watching a taped game to hear his father say, “The Giants are dead.” Robert Irvine and his sledgehammer could not have done more damage. Not even bonding over a hot smoker and a whole hog could have repaired this “Relationship Impossible.”
My husband is happy in our home because all that he values most highly is here. His heart swells when he thinks, not of his loving wife and children or our fine furnishings, but of the very first DVDs he burned from our collection of family videos:”Giants Among Men,” “Giants Forever,” and the 1986 Super Bowl. And Martha Stewart herself would be jealous of our table-decorating savvy. My secret? Drinking glasses imprinted with red and blue Giants’ helmets given away with a fill-up at Mobil two decades ago.
For my husband there is no escape from the injustices of this season. Every day his Giants are pilloried in the press. Here’s the nicest compliment the commentators have come up with: The Giants demonstrate “the ultimate level of futility.” It’s akin to Dante’s 9th circle of Hell. After the fifth loss, Tom Coughlin “took the blame” by saying this: “The guy (Manning) is trying to play the best he can. He’s certainly trying to do too much.” And that is supposed to comfort us? It’s not as if he’s trying to throw a pass while juggling two jobs, two children, and two mortgages. “He’ll bounce back. He’ll bounce back,” Coughlin went on. Yeah, kinda like the ball on those missed receptions.
You would think there’s only so much a person can take, yet every weekend my husband dutifully sits on the couch, flips on the remote, and watches another game with gritty bravery and eternal hope. He learned such fortitude from a relentlessly cruel visual “boot camp.” The military is famous for its methods of making “men” out of “boys,” but scrubbing the barracks with a toothbrush is pantywaist compared to watching—and I quote—“Joe Pisarcik. Against the Eagles. Fourth quarter. Ten seconds to go. The game was won! It was won! All Pisarcik had to do was fall on the ball. But nooo. He fumbles the snap. The Eagles pick it up and run for a touchdown.” I think I need say no more than that my husband cut the teeth of his character on the 1966 (1-12-1) to 1983 (3-12-1) Giants.
From that suffering has emerged a man of insight, emotionally anchored, and with a deep reserve of patience. He can write employee performance reviews with a smile on his face; he can philosophize about the most inexplicable phenomena—the popularity of Duck Dynasty, for instance; and he can calmly explain, as many times as it takes, his order at the local Burger King.
This personal strength makes his weekly optimism and catastrophic disappointment that much more difficult to watch. He does not normally use bad language, nor is he violent, but when Eli throws an interception or Wilson drops a pass or Cordle misses a block, his tongue is loosed and, on a number of unfortunate occasions, my head has been tackled by an arm jerked uncontrollably toward the television in exasperation. Why does he put himself through such agony? He tells me it’s like a bad bruise or a festering wound—you keep touching it to see if it still hurts. And so he keeps watching.
Now that the season is what they euphemistically call a “building year,” he’s begun to reminisce about better, victorious days, recalling specific plays the way a woman remembers the birth of her children: “1986. Denver. Super Bowl. It was one of the first touchdowns of the game. It was still sunny. The Giants were driving into the sun. Phil was having a superlative game on his way to a 22 for 25 day. Phil hits Bavaro cutting across the middle on a 20-yard slant. Touchdown. That was when you and I first started going together. Those were the good times,” he said wistfully last week, and I knew he wasn’t talking about our relationship.
But still I see a glimmer in his eyes, hear a buoyancy in his speech when he talks about the Giants. There is always next year and the year after that. Until they turn it around, he can settle down with a Giants’ glass of beer, pop a DVD into the player, and relive the time when his team truly were Giants Among Men.