Adam and the Giants
It was my knockout blow. I delivered it in style. With the grace of Ali and the power of Tyson, I had taken my opponent to the canvas. He would not be getting up; at least not this year. Or so I thought.
The picture was taken on a chilly Sunday evening in mid-December at my in-laws house. There I stood, toe to toe with my future brother-in-law, both of us with fists clenched, a battle soon to commence. I was wearing my burgandy Washington Redskins Clinton Portis jersey. Adam was wearing his dark blue New York Giants Eli Manning jersey. My mother-in-law took the photo in jest, but there was a reality behind the faux grimaces.
No division in football does rivalry and hatred like the NFC East. I’ve put up with Dallas fans my entire life, and now, most notably with my father-in-law; I’ve put up with my Dad, who has always backed the Eagles. I even put up with a few friends and an uncle who supported the Giants. Each of them turned already bitter rivals into something much more, much deeper. Then along comes Adam, all bluster and New York cockiness, and he raises the bar to a level I didn’t even think was possible.
It started when we first met a few years ago. It started casually, even playfully. He’d razz me about the Redskins, and I’d counter with insults directed towards the Giants. When the teams would play, as they do twice a year, every year, we’d have some good-natured sparring. For the most part, neither team had really gotten the best of the other. I did hold two small historical notes over his head: The Giants last won the Super Bowl in 1990, one year BEFORE the Redskins last trophy celebration in 1991. Second, the Redskins boasted a total of three Super Bowl trophies, to the Giants two. Yes, those accomplishments were long ago, but when it comes to sports bragging rights, there is no statute of limitations.
All in all, our personal rivalry was pretty tame. Until the 2007 season. Something changed this year. Maybe it was because Adam proposed to my sister-in-law, hammering home the fact that he WILL be around for a long, long time. Maybe it was the fact that we spent two weeks together on the road, during our cross-country football road trip. Even though the Giants weren’t on the field that day, Adam still wore his Manning jersey to FedEx Field for a Redskins game, where he was mercilessly teased and taunted for doing so. Chants of “She-li” could be heard everywhere we went. Maybe it was because in week three of this NFL season, my 2-0 Redskins led his 0-2 Giants 17-3 at halftime. Maybe it was because the Giants rallied to win that game, turning around what would surely would have been a losing season otherwise.
Whatever the reason, the stakes had changed. It was a new game. When the Redskins hit a mid-season tailspin, Adam reminded me weekly that I shouldn’t be surprised because he “said all along that the Redskins just weren’t very good.” Slowly, the Giants distanced themselves in the standings, and each week, Adam seemed a bit taller, a bit more proud.
Then, the Redskins had a resurgence, and they went to play the Giants in New York on a cold December night. We took the picture before the game started. By halftime, it was pretty much over. The Redskins dominated the Giants that night, eventually winning, 22-10. After that game, it appeared the Redskins were streaking to the playoffs (which they did), while the Giants were enduring yet another late-season collapse (which they didn’t).
My braggadocio that night came from my silence. I never hooted. I rarely hollered. I never gave Adam dirty looks or directed taunts in his direction. I simply watched, and rooted for my team. After the game, I calmly walked over to Adam, extended my hand, and said, “good game.” Anyone who knows anything about sports fandom, knows that this approach is actually the most insulting.
Before the game, we posed with fists clenched. Now, I had won. Adam was floored. The Redskins were on their way, and the Giants were circling the drain. A beautiful night it was, indeed.
Over the next couple of weeks, both teams wound up finishing strong. Both teams made the playoffs as wild cards in the NFC. Entering the post-season, both teams were on level ground, the playoffs would determine ultimate bragging rights.
The Redskins lost a tough game in Seattle on the opening day of the NFL playoffs. The Giants won fairly easily in Tampa Bay. At that point, I was too upset about the end of the Redskins season to give much thought to the Giants. Yeah, Adam would be able to brag for an extra week, but there was no way the Giants would go into Dallas and beat the Cowboys. After all, that was MY dream. MY team would be the ones to go into Texas Stadium and beat those rotten Cowboys. Now, it would just have to wait until next year.
But the Giants had other plans. I’m not sure what was worse that day; watching Adam cheer on his Giants as they pulled off the upset, or actually rooting for the Cowboys. Serves me right.
Well, no big deal, at least Dallas had lost, and my father-in-law would have nothing to brag about. No way the Giants would go into Lambeau Field in unbearable cold and beat the Packers. No chance.
We watched that game in my in-laws living room, as always. I watched as the horror unfolded. The Giants dominated the game all night, but still kept blowing their chances to seal the victory. When the Giants missed a game-winning kick at the end of regulation, I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. No way would New York be able to beat Brett Favre and the Packers in overtime, on the road, in the NFC Championship Game.
Yet, there it was: Favre throwing an awful pass that was easily intercepted. There it was: The ball splitting the uprights for the Giants, clinching the NFC Title. There they were: Giants players and coaches, dancing, prancing, and bouncing around. There he was: Adam lifting my sister-in-law into the air and shouting, “We’re going to the Super Bowl.” There I was: Sitting in disbelief, doing my best to “congratulate” Adam while masking my utter disgust. Much like the Packers, I failed.
At that point, I knew Adam had forever won at least a certain amount of bragging rights. The Giants were 2007 NFC Champions, their second such accomplishment this decade (2000). In 2000, the Giants went on to get pummeled by the Ravens in the Super Bowl. Yes, I knew New England was going to do the same to them again, but still, a conference title is worth bragging about.
Adam did his best to convince me in the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl that the Giants had a legitimate shot. I kept talking up Tom Brady and the Patriots, and he kept telling me they weren’t as good as people thought. All I could see was 18-0, the first team to ever do so in NFL history. I respected the Giants, and didn’t expect a total blowout, but I had NO doubt that the Patriots would at least find a way to win.
I mean, the Giants winning would have such long-lasting negative effects for me, that I couldn’t even comprehend such a thing. Winning the Super Bowl would be one thing, knocking off arguably the greatest team to ever play would be another. It would be historic. It would be memorable. It would be wrong. Just wasn’t going to happen.
No need to recount the events of Super Bowl XLII. You all saw it. I watched the madness take place right there with my wife and in-laws. I watched Adam cringe, bow his head, and tug on his Manning jersey during tense moments. I watched the most ridiculous heave-and-catch desperation play succeed to perfection, setting up the Giants winning score. I watched as the final seconds ticked away. I watched as Adam removed his Manning jersey, brought it close to me, and asked if I wanted to “smell it.” I watched as Adam stared at the trophy presentation on TV. I watched as Adam and his Giants got up from the knockdown and delivered a blow that Rocky Balboa himself could never have imagined. I watched as about all of the seven deadly sins coursed through my veins—well, at least one of them—envy. Once again, I did my best to be cordial. I did my best to not rain on his parade. But at that moment, nothing I could have done would have ruined that moment for Adam or the legions of Giants fans around the world. There was nothing I could do.
There is nothing I will ever be able to do. The bragging rights are forever etched in stone. The Giants are 2007 Super Bowl Champions. They beat the mighty Patriots. They earned it. They were brilliant on both sides of the ball. They were smart, tough, and resilient throughout their remarkable playoff run. There is no going back, no erasing history. It’s done. No matter what I say from this day forward, Adam can always throw 2007 back in my face. I must tread lightly from this day forward, or otherwise be bombarded with barbs about the 2007 Giants. The only way I will be able to counter this attack will be with a Super Bowl victory of my own.
And let’s look at that for a moment. The Giants won the Super Bowl for the first time in 1986. In 1987, they failed to make the playoffs and the Redskins won the Super Bowl. The Giants then won the Super Bowl in 1990. In 1991, they failed to make the playoffs and the Redskins won the Super Bowl. So, maybe history is on my side? Maybe I will be writing a different story in my blog next year?
Sounds very far away.