Sunday, December 10, 2017

Faux Flashback: How to Go to a Giants or Jets Game at Giants Stadium

I have become disillusioned by football, as a result of the frustrations over the poor performances of the football teams at East Brunswick High School and Rutgers University, the fecklessness of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the cheating of the New England Patriots, and seeing what the game of football has done to men, including to their brains.

Has it really been all that long since football seemed free of such problems? Return with us now, to those thrilling days of yesteryear... Say, the end of the 20th Century, when the Jets were contenders, and the Giants were, at the least, a team with historical significance, both recent and distant, but not yet the team that humiliated the Cheatriots in 2 Super Bowls. Come with me to Giants Stadium (with updates in italics)...

Before You Go. In New York and North Jersey, anything is possible as far as the weather goes, but there are some usuals. It can get really hot early in the season, really cold from November on out, and the biggest thing wrong with Giants Stadium, the wind, wasn't fixed for MetLifeStadium, even with $1.6 billion at their disposal. So be aware of the possibility of any kind of weather. Check the newspaper or local TV websites for the forecast before you decide what to wear.

It's the Eastern Time Zone, so you don't have to worry about fiddling with your timepieces if you actually are a Giants fan, or a Jets fan, or a fan of any of the teams in the East visiting them this season. If you're living in the Central Time Zone, turn your clocks ahead 1 hour; the Mountain Time Zone, 2 hours; and the Pacific Time Zone, 3 hours.

Tickets. The games are usually sold out well in advance, with all 80,242 seats sold (if not actually occupied during the game). This is in spite of the fact of the familiar joke that the only reason anyone goes to Jet games is that they can't get tickets to Giant games. Tickets in the lower 2 levels usually go for $75, and for $50 in the upper deck.

That's based on memory, from a 1996 visit. I could be wrong.

Getting There. For reasons that will soon become clear, I'm advising you to get to New York/New Jersey by a means other than driving: Plane, train, bus. Then get a hotel nearby (there are several near both Newark Airport and the Sports Complex), and then either get a rental car or take public transportation (especially the latter if you're actually staying in New York City).

Despite the fact that the Meadowlands Sports Complex is just 8 miles from Times Square, if you're in the City, getting to there by public transportation has never been easy. The only way to do it was to get to the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 41st Street & 8th Avenue (A, C or E train to 42nd Street), and then take the New Jersey Transit 320 bus in. This is still possible, and, theoretically, you can get from bus station to stadium gate in 20 minutes.

But, as I said, the traffic will be bad, so make sure you leave Port Authority no later than an hour before kickoff (12:00 or 3:00 for most Sunday games). Round-trip fare is $4.50.

Today, it's $9.00. At least now, you have the option of taking the train, New Jersey Transit from New York's Penn Station to Secaucus Junction, and then transferring to the Meadowlands Rail Spur. That's $11.

If you're driving, here's how to get to the Meadowlands Sports Complex by car: 

* From New York City itself: Take the Lincoln Tunnel, which will empty out onto New Jersey Route 3, which will take you directly to the stadium. With regular traffic, it should take you 20 minutes from entering the tunnel to getting off Route 3. This will not be regular traffic, and you should avoid this at all costs. Better to take New Jersey Transit, as I'll explain in "Going In."

* From New England: Take Interstate 95 South, including the Cross Bronx Expressway and the George Washington Bridge, to the New Jersey Turnpike and Exit 16W.

* From other points North: Take the New York State Thruway, Interstate 87 South, to Exit 15, to State Route 17, which will keep its numeric designation as it crosses the New York-New Jersey State Line. Take State Route 120 East to the stadium.

* From Central Jersey: Take the Turnpike North to Exit 16W.

* From the Jersey Shore: Take the Garden State Parkway North to Exit 129, then the Turnpike North to Exit 16W -- making sure you take the Western Spur, not the Eastern Spur, which leads to the Lincoln Tunnel.

* From Philadelphia (Eagles): Take the Ben Franklin Bridge to U.S. Route 30 East to State Route 38 East, to State Route 73 South, to the Turnpike, to Exit 16W.

* From other points South, including Washington, D.C. (Redskins) and Miami (Dolphins): Take Interstate 95 North into Delaware, then take the Delaware Memorial Bridge to the New Jersey Turnpike, to Exit 16W.

* From points West, including Buffalo (Bills): Take any route that gets you to Interstate 80 East, to U.S. Route 46 East, to State Route 3 East, to the Sports Complex. Or, take any route that gets you to Interstate 78 East, to the Turnpike, to Exit 16W.

Be advised that traffic around the stadium is going to be hellacious, even though (unless you're foolish enough to drive to a New York hotel) you'll never actually be entering New York City. So, whatever driving time I gave you, allow yourself at least half an hour to get from Exit 16W to your parking space.

Once In the City. East Rutherford is a Borough of 9,164 people in Bergen County, New Jersey. Its most famous native is basketball announcer Dick Vitale. If not for the Meadowlands complex, which opened in 1976 with Giants Stadium and the Meadowlands Racetrack, added the arena now named the IZOD Center in 1981, and replaced the Stadium with MetLife in 2010, it might very well be best known for producing Dickie V, bay-bee! It's not like, aside from the Complex, there's anything noticeable about the town.

The sales tax in New Jersey is 7 percent. ZIP Codes in North Jersey tend to begin with the digits 07, including 071 for Newark and environs, 072 for Elizabeth, 073 for Jersey City, and 075 for Paterson. Central and South Jersey got ZIP Codes starting with the digits 08, including 084 for Atlantic City, 086 and 086 for Trenton, and 089 for New Brunswick and environs.

New Jersey's original Area Code was 201. 609 was split off in 1958, 908 in 1991, 732 in 1997, and 856 in 1999. Now, they serve as follows: 201, with 551 overlaid in 2001, serves only Bergen and Hudson Counties (including the Meadowlands, and thus MetLife Stadium, and Harrison, and thus Red Bull Arena); 609 serves Mercer County (including the capital of Trenton and Princeton University) and the Southern Shore region (including Atlantic City); 732, with 848 overlaid, much of Central Jersey (including Rutgers University) and the Northern Shore region; 856, the Delaware River region that serves as suburbs of Philadelphia; 908, the Counties of Union, northern Somerset, Morris and Warren; and 973, with 862 overlaid, the Counties of Essex (including Newark, and thus the Prudential Center) and Passaic.

Because they used to play at Shea Stadium, and their headquarters -- office and practice facility -- is at Weeb Ewbank Hall on the campus of Hofstra University in Hempstead, across the street from the Nassau Coliseum -- the Jets are the more popular team in Queens and Long Island. The Giants are more popular in the rest of the Tri-State Area. I guess Sports Illustrated had it right in 1986, when the Giants were on their way to their 1st Super Bowl win and the Jets were also Playoff-bound.
For those of you not old enough to remember the 1980s,
those really are professional football players of the time,
not the leaders of a gangsta rap group and a hair metal band.

Going In. Despite the fact that the Meadowlands Sports Complex is just 8 miles from Times Square, if you're in the City, getting to there by public transportation has never been easy. It used to be that the only way to do it was to get to the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 41st Street & 8th Avenue (A, C or E train to 42nd Street), and then take the New Jersey Transit 320 bus in. This is still possible, and, theoretically, you can get from bus station to stadium gate in 20 minutes.

But, as I said, the traffic will be bad, so make sure you leave Port Authority no later than an hour before kickoff (12:00 or 3:00 for most Sunday games). Round-trip fare is $9.00. The official address of the Stadium is 50 Route 120. Parking is $25. Tailgating is allowed in the Stadium parking lots.

Giants Stadium -- set up for a Jets game.

Seating capacity is 76,891. The field is artificial turf, and runs (more or less) north-to-south. And while summer clothes may be fine for September or even early October, the wind can be nasty, so if you're going in November or later, bring a winter coat, a hat, gloves, maybe even earmuffs.

A temporary grass field was laid down in 1994, for the World Cup, because FIFA, the governing body for world soccer, has ruled that all World Cup matches must be played on real grass. It wasn't until 2000 that a permanent grass field was put down. It turned out to not be all that permanent -- and not because the stadium was doomed, either. The field couldn't hold up to all the events at the stadium, and so it was replaced by a new FieldTurf carpet after only 3 years.
The Giants have played there since 1976, the Jets since 1984. It was also home to the New Jersey Generals of the USFL from 1983 to 1985, and the New York/New Jersey Knights of the World League of American Football in 1991 and 1992.

College football made its home there with Rutgers playing half their home games there from 1976 to 1992 (due to Rutgers Stadium only holding 23,000 at the time), all their home games there in 1993 (due to Rutgers Stadium being demolished and rebuilt as a modern 41,000-seat stadium), and the occasional game there since. It also hosted the Garden State Bowl from 1978 to 1981, and the Kickoff Classic from 1983 to 2002.

In soccer, it was home to the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League from 1977 to 1984, and it hosted the NASL championship game, the Soccer Bowl, in 1978 and 1979. It hosted 7 games of the 1994 World Cup, including a famous game between Italy and Ireland (a natural matchup for the New York Tri-State Area) and the Semifinal between Italy and Bulgaria. The new league, Major League Soccer, debuted the New York/New Jersey MetroStars there in 1996.

In its last few years, Giants Stadium hosted both the Giants, the Jets and the Red Bulls until their league's respective 2009 seasons, games of the 1999 Women's World Cup, and the Finals of the 2005 and 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cups, the continental tournament for national teams in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. It also hosted the New York/New Jersey Hitmen of the ill-advised, ill-fated XFL, a 1 "home game" for the hurricane-displaced New Orleans Saints in 2005.

Despite a rainstorm, Pope John Paul II delivered a Mass there in 1995. Among the concerts held there have been numerous Bruce Springsteen shows, including the 1986 A Conspiracy of Hope Benefit Concert for Amnesty International, which also featured Joan Baez, Jackson Browne, Sting and U2; U2's 1987 stand; and hard-rock festivals Ozzfest and Monsters of Rock.

Food. It's ordinary and expensive. Eat before and after the game. As I said, tailgating is permitted.

Team History Displays. As the only stadium in the NFL that has, as they would say in soccer, "groundsharing," it is difficult to have team history displays at Giants Stadium. The Jets hang banners with their retired numbers on the sideline, but the Giants, the older team and the more successful team, do not. And neither team, thus far, hangs representations of their World Championships (the Jets only the 1, the Giants 6.)

With the opening of MetLife Stadium, and the electronically-aided switching between home teams, signs can be turned out around the lip of the upper deck, showing the Giants' and Jets' Rings of Honor.

Stuff. There are souvenir stands around the stadium, but no big team store.

That would change after the move. On the first floor of the outer edge of MetLife Stadium, along the west sideline, is The Flagship Store, as big as most Sports Authority or Modell's outlets, that sells both Giant and Jet gear. Which includes Giants' and Jets' hard hats, which so many fans in the urban Northeast and Midwest like to wear, imagining themselves to be as tough as construction workers. Ha ha.

During the Game. 
Although New Yorkers and New Jerseyans can be intense, a visiting fan will probably be safe attending a game at MetLife Stadium. Giant fans may verbally harass people wearing Eagles or Cowboys gear, but if you don't provoke them, it won't get any worse than that. As for Jet fans, they'll probably leave you alone. But, again, don't provoke them, and you should be all right.

Both teams hold auditions for National Anthem singers, rather than having a regular do it. Neither team has a mascot. Neither team has ever had cheerleaders. The teams really don't need them. These are, after all, New Yorkers, New Jerseyans, and Connecticutians... uh, Connecticutites... uh, people from Connecticut.

The Giants still don't have cheerleaders. The Jets Flight Crew was established in 2007.

As I said, it was Giant fans in 1956 that invented the "Dee-FENSE!" chant. Jet fans, however, are content to chant, "J! E! T! S! Jets! Jets! Jets!" Giant fans may wonder if that's the best that Jet fans can do, but Jet fans can say, "At least we've proven we can spell." Of course, Giant fans could come back with "'Jets' is a four-letter word."

The man who leads the J-E-T-S chants from Section 134 (an end zone) of Giants Stadium is New York fireman Edwin "Fireman Ed" Anzalone. 
A native of College Point, Queens, not far from the Jets' former home of Shea Stadium, he wears a fireman's hat decorated with Jets gear, and a jersey, Number 42, in honor of former Jet running back Bruce Harper. Oddly, while continuing to work with the FDNY, he actually lives in East Rutherford.
He stopped going "in character" for a while -- apparently, it was Mark Sanchez's "Butt Fumble," on Thanksgiving Night 2012 against the arch-rival Patriots, that made him give up -- but he came back.

As for the Giants, I previously thought that they don't have any fans who are any more noticeable than the others. But this isn't true: Joe Ruback, a.k.a. License Plate Guy, has attended every Giants home game since Giants Stadium opened in 1976, and has attended every away game since 2003, too. He first came to a Giants game with his original plate, one of the old orange New York plates with blue lettering, reading "G1ANTS."

He now has a collection that he rotates, including a vanity plate with a Giants helmet (available from New York's DMV even though the Giants play in New Jersey), reading "XXIXX5" for their 1st 2 Super Bowl wins. (I guess someone already had "XXI XXV.") Like Fireman Ed, he's no dope: He's trusted enough to be the athletic director at a school in Yonkers, and runs a design company. 
That's got to be heavy. Certainly, heavier than Ed's helmet.

After the Game. Traffic may be even worse after the game than before. After all, those 77,000 people have tried all day to get into the parking lot, some to tailgate, some just to see the game. Afterward, they all want to get out as soon as possible. (Well, maybe not all. Some fans like to do a postgame tailgate, too.) Be advised: It may take a while to get out.

Route 3 is probably your best bet for a postgame meal, as there are plenty of chain restaurants. It's a typically tacky and commercial Jersey highway. Manny's Cocktail Lounge, a.k.a. "Manny's of Moonachie" (that's pronounced Moo-NAH-key), made famous as a watering hole by fans of the 1980s Giants, is at 110 Moonachie Avenue.

It has long since gone out of business, replaced by a Cuban-themed restaurant and banquet hall, La Havana 59. 

Sidelights. This is where I discuss other sports-related sites in the metropolitan area in question, and then move on to tourist attractions that have no (or little) connection to sports. Since most people reading this will be from the Tri-State Area, I'll skip it.


The New York Giants and the New York Jets no longer play in New York City, or even in New York State, but still represent the Big Apple after all these years. To be fair, the Meadowlands Sports Complex is only slightly farther from Midtown Manhattan than Shea Stadium was, and not that much further than Yankee Stadium. So they're still a good match for The City.

If you follow these instructions carefully, you'll be able to get in, through and out of a Giants or Jets game safely. Not without stress, to be sure, and I can't guarantee a win (I'm Uncle Mike, not Broadway Joe), but safely.

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