Pregame: Bonding Over Football


I imagine that at some pivotal point in the game today my phone will ring.

I have told my father before not to call me during Falcons' games because I blog during them and that means watching every play closely on television, keeping track of statistics online, listening to the commentators, analyzing trends, trying to write down and chart every play and digging through notes that I took during the week in sessions with Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith and the players during the open locker room.

But the life-long Giants fan that he is, my father will get aggravated at some point or excited and he will forget and call. If the Giants were on television in Atlanta and playing in a different time slot than the Falcons, we'd talk for a few minutes about the play and the game and then hang up. Then when another similarly exciting/aggravating play would occur, he'd call back. If I happen to be watching the Giants, I have a preternatural sense as to when the phone will ring and that my father will be on the other side.

I guess that's one of the great things about football and sports in general -- that family members can be more than 1,000 miles apart like myself in Decatur and my father, the displaced New Yorker living in Massachusetts, and still share that common experience. It's what makes tailgating so enjoyable for fans of the Falcons, Georgia or Georgia Tech and so many other teams. The football is a big part of it, but the other part is seeing friends and family in that ritual on Sundays -- the pregame anticipation and excitement -- and then going through the agonies and the ecstasies of four quarters with those same people.

Some of my first memories of family gatherings were of my father, my uncle and my grandfather sitting around and watching Yankees' games at my cousin's house in suburban Dumont, N.J., about 13 miles from where today's game will be played at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford. Only about 2 or 3 years old, I knew that I wanted to be a part of that group and so watching those games was the ticket.

As I got older, I dropped my childhood infatuation with the San Diego Chargers of Dan Fouts, Chuck Muncie, Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner and John Jefferson and picked up dad's affection for the Giants who were coming into their own during my middle school years. (Earlier this week I had a conversation with my friend Jack Wilkinson, who worked at the Journal-Constitution for more than 20 years, about those Giants. Jack covered the Giants for the New York Daily News and told me about how he was playing pick-up basketball when he got word that Ray Perkins was leaving as Giants' head coach to succeed Bear Bryant at Alabama. That left the Giants, who had made their first playoff appearance in 18 years under Perkins, in the hands of the young former defensive coordinator named Bill Parcells.)

One of my most painful memories of the Giants in those years was their loss to the '85 Bears in the NFC playoffs at Soldier Field when Sean Landeta whiffed on a punt attempt. Not sure if that happened before or since. There were also some humiliations at the hands of the John Riggins and his Super Bowl-winning Redskins.

But the '86 Giants season was special. Going in, we had an inkling that it would be and I started video-taping every game. For games that we could not get on television at our suburban Massachusetts home -- we had left Dumont behind in '77 -- my grandfather would tape them at his three-family Queens apartment and mail them to us. Two of my favorites are a 55-20 victory over Green Bay in the season finale -- that really announced the Giants were ready for the playoffs and peaking at the right time -- and the NFC Championship Game, a 17-0 win over the despised Redskins at the Meadowlands. It was one of those games that was not as close as the score and created a sense of deposing the incumbent power. I can still see nose tackle Jim Burt, a favorite of John Madden's, celebrating amid the swirling January wind, and the free-floating debris looking like celebratory confetti.

I watched those games with my father but when the Giants won the Super Bowl again four years later, I was in college and we had to share the moment over the phone. The same was true of the Giants' throttling at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2001 Super Bowl when we commiserated over the phone.

One of the great things about the Giants' 2007 season was that I got to watch the regular season finale against New England with my father at my mother-in-law's house in suburban Virginia during the holidays. He had given up and gotten in bed, but the Giants made a late rally and I went and roused him when the Giants attempted an onsides kick in a bid to spoil the Patriots' unbeaten season. It failed and the Giants lost 38-35, but throughout that playoff run my phone was constantly ringing -- when Tony Romo could not rally favored Dallas past the Giants in the final seconds in the second round, when Brett Favre was intercepted in overtime of the championship game and, ultimately, when Plaxico Burress scored that magical touchdown to slay mighty New England in the Super Bowl.

The stakes -- although they loom large -- aren't quite the same today. I'll have on my objective hat -- the one that one learns to wear after working for years as a sports writer -- and so I won't be able to sit back with my favorite beverage and a bag of chips and wait for the phone to ring because I'll be working. But I'm sure it will ring any way.

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