Friday, October 23, 2009

Top 10 Giants Stadium Moments, 1976-2010

My memories of Giants Stadium are mostly second-hand. I am not a fan of either the Giants or the Jets. I never saw any of the "home games" played there by Rutgers, or by Army, or any of the four Army-Navy Games played there. I never saw a high school State Playoff game, a Kickoff Classic or a Whitney M. Young Urban League Classic there. I never saw a Cosmos game or an international soccer match there. I never attended a concert or a religious gathering there.

The grand total of my inside experience is 1 Giants game, and the recent Red Bulls-L.A. Galaxy game, where the point was not to cheer the Red Bulls on to victory (as if), but to heckle the mercenary the Gals hired, David Beckham. My mission was accomplished, if not the Red Bulls'.

It's not a good place to drive to. The access roads and parking lots are bad. Public transporation was a joke: Until the building of New Jersey Transit's new rail spur, you had to go to Port Authority Bus Terminal and take the Number 320 bus to get there. Which wasn't so bad if you were a Giants or Jets fan, but if you were a Nets fan who didn't like the Knicks (yo), or a Devils fan who despised the Rangers (guilty as charged again), did you really want to change at Port Authority? You were 7 blocks from Madison Square Garden, close enough to smell the Rangers. And, boy do they smell! (Old joke. So are the Rangers.) And you know that rail spur wouldn't have been built if the replacement stadium wasn't being built.

Once inside, you could that Giants Stadium has good sight lines, but that upper deck is far from the action. The wind, my God, calling it "The Hawk" does not do it justic. It is spine-tingling, rib-shivered, teeth-rattling. There has been no stadium in the NFL that quarterbacks hated more to throw the ball in, and none that placekickers hated more to kick in, than The House That Mara Built. And those concourses, so dark and dingy. And the food isn't very good.

Tim Green, a former Atlanta Falcons defensive end, now a Fox NFL commentator and a novelist, wrote The Dark Side of the Game: My Life in the NFL, in which he wrote about a few of the NFL stadiums, the good ones and the bad ones. About Giants Stadium, he said, "Football in a tin can. Curse the Giants for ever leaving Yankee Stadium." (I've called the place "the tin can" ever since.)

Hey, Tim, I understand completely. But as a Yankee Fan, and as a lifelong New Jerseyan, I say it was a good thing the Giants built the tin can.

But without Giants Stadium, the Giants and Jets might still be playing in the New York Tri-State Area, but God only knows where. (Wellington Mara and Leon Hess might have had an idea, but these gentlemen are now deceased and not talking.) Maybe Ed Koch or Rudy Giuliani would have been able to get that West Side Rail Yards stadium built, and offered it to George Steinbrenner as well, thus bringing the original Yankee Stadium to a close 20 or so years earlier.

Without Giants Stadium, capacity then about 77,000 compared to Rutgers Stadium, then having a capacity of 23,000, the Scarlet Knights would not have been able to play bigger schools like Penn State in the big tin can on the Hackensack River, and might have had to take the opposite choice they made in 1978, going into Division I-AA, and continuing to play the Ivy League, Lafayette, Lehigh, Bucknell, Colgate, William & Mary, schools like that. (At least the rivalry with Princeton would have continued in football, as it has in several other sports. Check that, at most that rivalry would have continued.) Surely, Rutgers would not have built the new Rutgers Stadium that opened in 1994, and would not now be playing in a stadium newly expanded to 52,000 seats.

Without Giants Stadium, there never would have been a Meadowlands Arena, under any of its various official names and unofficial nicknames. The Nets would have been stuck at the Rutgers Athletic Center until deciding that the 9,000-seat chunk of concrete in the middle of nowhere was no good, and they would have moved. The Colorado Rockies hockey team might still have moved, but it would not have been to New Jersey, and the Devils would never have been born, and the Stanley Cup would likely have been won by the Flyers in 1995, the Dallas Stars in 2000 and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003. And, of course, the Prudential Center never would have been built.

Without Giants Stadium, and thus without the Meadowlands Arena, New Jersey wouldn't have been seen as a viable place to expand when the minor-league baseball boom began. The Trenton Thunder, the Newark Bears, the Somerset Patriots, the New Jersey Jackals, the Lakewood BlueClaws, the Camden RiverSharks, the New Jersey Cardinals -- now known as the Sussex Skyhawks -- and The SandCastle/Bernie Robbins Stadium, formerly home of the Atlantic City Surf and hopefully to host another pro team someday, all would have been highly unlikely had Giants Stadium not been built.

And without Giants Stadium, and thus without the Meadowlands Arena and the Prudential Center, the leading concert facilities in the State of New Jersey would have remained the Garden State Arts Center (I refuse to use the corporate name in this case) and the Atlantic City Convention Hall (now Boardwalk Hall), and without the comparatively modern Meadowlands Arena and the already-planned Prudential Center, who knows if the Convention Hall, built in 1926, would have been modernized in 2001, making it suitable.

So a posthumous "Thank you" to Governor William T. Cahill and Giants owner Wellington Mara for getting Giants Stadium built, and my thanks to the still-living Governor Brendan Byrne for extending the project to the Arena that once bore his name.


Brenda Flanagan of WWOR's "My 9 News" (or is "My9" treated as one word?) is doing a feature story on Giants Stadium, and soliciting fans' memories. She wrote to me that she's particularly interested in prices, for things like tickets, parking and concessions, from the opening in 1976 to the Giants' glory years in the latter half of the 1980s.

She can be reached at Brenda.flanagan@FOXTV.COM. Who knows, you could end up on TV because of your times at Giants Stadium. And in a good way, unlike that lunkhead from Bridgewater who threw the iceball that knocked out the San Diego assistant coach on Christmas weekend 1995. (Good job by the Maras, revoking that dope's season tickets.)


Top 10 Giants Stadium Moments, 1976-2010

Note that this list does not include the Playoff games that may be played there by the Giants and/or the Jets this season. If they get that far, I may revise this list. But, as of right now, the last Giants home game at Giants Stadium is set for Sunday, December 27, 2009, against the Carolina Panthers; and the last Jets "home" game there is set for Sunday, January 3, 2010, against the Cincinnati Bengals, and will someone please tell me why the last regularly-scheduled game at Giants Stadium is a Jets game?

Anyway, here are my Top 10:

10. December 16, 1978, Garden State Bowl. Rutgers had to create its own bowl game to get into one. And what happened? Of course, they lost, 34-18 to Arizona State. The GSB ran for three more seasons, until 1981, and was discontinued, and replaced the next season by a start-of-the-season neutral-site game, the Kickoff Classic.

9. August 27, 1984, Kickoff Classic. Defending National Champion Miami, led by Bernie Kosar, won a 20-18 thriller over Bo Jackson's Auburn.

8. November 19, 1978, the Miracle of the Meadowlands. Giant fans won't like seeing this one here, but it may just be the all-time NFL blooper.

Imagine you're the quarterback of the New York Giants. You're leading your arch-rival -- or the closest divisional opponent, the team you should consider your arch-rival -- the Philadelphia Eagles, 17-12, with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation. If you win this game, you have a shot at making the Playoffs, and you'll also be effectively knocking your rivals out of Playoff contention.

So what do you do? Easy: You snap the ball, step back, and kneel down on the artificial turf and let the clock run out. You don't run the kind of play that would risk losing the ball and giving the other team a chance to win. After all, as a man who would later coach the Jets in the same stadium would say, "You play to win the game!"

Yes, that's what you would do if you were the quarterback of the Giants that day. Certainly, that's what Giants coach John McVay wanted his quarterback to do. Ah, but on this day, the quarterback was Joe Pisarcik, and he thought, "Duuuuh, I got the great Larry Csonka in the backfield, I think I'll hand off to him." The Zonk told Pisarcik, "Don't give me the ball." What did Pisarcik do? He tried to give Csonka the ball, when he was not expecting it.

As Merrill Reese, then a new broadcaster for the Eagles, put it:

Under 30 seconds in the game, the Giants can just run out the clock, and there is nothing the Eagles can do about it.

And Pisarcik -- fumbles the football! It's picked up by Herman Edwards! 15! 10! 5! Touchdown, Eagles! I don't believe it! I don't believe it!

I do not believe what has occurred here, ladies and gentlemen. As Pisarcik came forward, he fumbled the football, Charlie Johnson hit him, and Herman Edwards picked up and ran for a touchdown! The Eagles take the lead, 18-17, in front of a shocked crowd at the Meadowlands!

Reese pronounced it "MED-il-unz" instead of the usual "MED-oh-lands." I think he can be excused, as nobody saw this coming.

The extra point made the final score 19-17 to the Eagles. The Eagles made the Playoffs for the 1st time in 18 years. The Giants missed for the 15th season in a row, and the Maras cleaned house, firing the coach and the general manager, and beginning the rebuilding process that would result in the 2 Super Bowl wins in the 1986-87 and 1990-91 seasons.

Oh, and that Jets coach of 2002, who reminded us to do what it takes to win? "Hello! You play to win the game!" It was Herman Edwards.

7. January 14, 2001, NFC Championship Game. The Giants lived up to their nickname of "the Big Blue Wrecking Crew," demolishing the Minnesota Vikings, 41-0. The "Purple People Eaters" went hungry that day. The Giants lost the ensuing Super Bowl, though.

Prior to the 1986-87 NFC Championship Game, at home, the Giants had hosted NFL Championship Games at the Polo Grounds in 1934 (beating the Chicago Bears), '38 (beating the Green Bay Packers), '44 (losing to the Packers) and '46 (losing to the Bears).

They'd hosted NFL Championship Games at Yankee Stadium in 1956 (beating the Bears), '58 (the loss to the Baltimore Colts known as "The Greatest Game Ever Played") and '62 (losing to the Packers).

They played NFL Championship Games on the road in 1933 (losing to the Bears at Wrigley Field), '35 (losing to the Lions at the University of Detroit's Titan Stadium), '39 (losing to the Packers at Marquette University Stadium), '41 (losing to the Bears at Wrigley) and '59 (losing to the Colts at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore).

The Giants have won their other two NFC Championship Games, for the 1990-91 and 2007-08 seasons, but those games were at Candlestick Park in San Francisco and Lambeau Field in Green Bay, respectively.

6. October 23, 2002, the Monday Night Miracle. There had to be at least one moment here for the J, E, T, S, Jets, Jets, Jets. They trailed the Miami Dolphins 30-7 on Monday Night Football, but scored 30 points in the 4th quarter to send the game to overtime. John Hall kicked the winning field goal, and the Jets won, 40-37. It is probably the greatest Jets victory since Super Bowl III.

5. June 18 to July 13, 1994, World Cup. Seven matches were played at Giants Stadium: A 1-0 Republic of Ireland victory over Italy (which certainly perked up ethnic interest in New York and New Jersey), Italy bouncing back with a 1-0 win over Norway, Saudi Arabia's 2-1 win over Morocco, Ireland and Norway's scoreless draw to close out the Group Stages; Bulgaria stunning Mexico through penalty kicks in the Round of 16, and coming from behind to beat usual World Cup power Germany 2-1 in the Quarterfinals; and Roberto Baggio's brace to beat Bulgaria in the Semifinals. Italy then went on to lose the Final to Brazil on penalty kicks at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

Several major European club teams have come to Giants Stadium, including England's Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea; Scotland's Celtic and Rangers; and Spain's Barcelona.

In 2005, the SuperCoppa Italiana -- Italian Super Cup -- was held there instead of in Italy, as Serie A (national league) champions Juventus of Turin and Coppa Italia (national tournament) champions AC Milan were both touring the U.S. in their league's off-season. Considering the sizable Italian communities in New York and New Jersey, the Meadowlands was an excellent place for it. A crowd of 54,128 saw a 1-1 draw, won 5-3 on penalty kicks by Juve.

This past June, Giants Stadium was supposed to host All-Stars for Hope, which would have featured several African and black European stars, including several current and former star of England's Premier League, and the proceeds would go to building housing, schools and hospitals in Africa. But because of the worldwide credit crunch, sponsors could not be lined up and it had to be cancelled.

4. August 18 to September 1, 1985, the Born In the U.S.A. Tour. From August 5 to 20, 1984, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band had played the Arena. On the return leg, Bruce did 6 shows at Giants Stadium -- squeezing in 2 shows at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto in the middle of it.

Some have said his 10-show stop on The Rising Tour in 2003 was better, and his recent shows that marked the stadium's final concerts, just after his 60th Birthday, also got great reviews. But it was the '85 shows in his home State, after his biggest-selling album, that cemented The Boss as one of rock and roll's all-time legends.

3. October 5, 1995, Papal Mass. A crowd of 82,948 came out in a rainstorm for a Mass delivered by Pope John Paul II. If a 75-year-old man with Parkinson's disease could take it, so could they.

The Pope's trip to the New York area also included a speech at the United Nations, and a Mass at Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey's largest house of worship. The attendance figure has been topped only once, by the 84,472 that came to the U2 concert last month.

2. October 1, 1977, Pele's Farewell. It was a testimonial match, in which the player being honored, if he is fit to play, usually plays a half for both teams. Prior to the game, Pele spoke to the fans, and asked, "Say it with me, three times: Love! Love! Love!" No one could resist.

He played the 1st half for the New York Cosmos, who had just won the North American Soccer League's "Soccer Bowl," the 2nd of 5 NASL Championships they would win (and their only one with Pele on the roster). Pele's last goal was a 1st-half equalizer.

In the 2nd half, while Pele played for his former club team, Santos Futebol Clube of Santos, City of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Ramon Mifflin, who took Pele's place in the Cosmos lineup, scored the game-winner. Cosmos 2, Santos 1.

(Incidentally, today's is Pele's 69th Birthday, so he was 37 when he hung up his boots.)

1. January 11, 1987, NFC Championship Game. Of course this is Number 1 one on the list. After all, the place is called "Giants Stadium." And, since Super Bowls are always played at neutral sites, and the Meadowlands would never be chosen as such a site because of the frigid New Jersey winter weather, the NFC Championship Game is as far as the Giants can go on their home field.

They beat the Washington Redskins, 17-0, as the wind swirled around the place. Bill Parcells, Phil Simms, Lawrence Taylor and the rest were headed to Pasadena to play the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI, which, despite trailing at the half, they won.

The dominant image of this game is of defensive tackle Jim Burt, Number 64, dancing around the field at the end, with the wind blowing trash all around him. That's Giants Stadium: It may have been a mess, but within the mess there was glory.
UPDATE: The new MetLife Stadium was chosen as the site for Super Bowl XLVIII, to be played in early 2014. There was no snow, no rain, hardly any wind, and while winter coats were necessary, it wasn't as cold as it was for the 1986-87 NFC Championship Game. The Seattle Seahawks crushed the Denver Broncos.

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