Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Exhibition Bowl!

In Glasgow, they call it the Old Firm. Between the Dodgers and Yankees in the 50's they called it the World Series. Between the Niners and the Raiders, I don't think they call it anything. I think San Franciscans just want Oakland people to stop using the term "Frisco." If I lived there, I'd probably be a Raiders fan, but don't tell my Dad that.

Anyway, if it's a matchup between the New York Giants of New Jersey and the New York Jets of New Jersey, then they call it week 3 of the preseason. Pretty hot, huh? How about "Exhibition Bowl?" Yeah, that sucks, too. The game is almost certainly designed to suck. It's typically agonizing, slow, and inept preseason.

The last Giants-Jets exhibition my wife and I went to was only memorable for the halftime entertainment, which featured a field goal kicking contest for selected fans sponsored by Levitra, a drug that treats what we now so mannerly refer to as "erectile dysfunction." Imagine the winking looks the sales reps gave as they unfurled the Levitra banners just as one unknowing kicker after another failed to "get it up" through the crossbars. "Get it?" the guys in the Levitra t-shirts seemed to say. "C'mon, fellas. Don't let the signified object of this otherwise harmless-looking metaphor happen to you. Go the distance."

Once, the game was the thing. Many a moon ago, in the time of my forefathers, two teams met for an exhibition game in August 1969 on neutral ground, the Yale Bowl, and the New York Jets beat the snot out of the only remaining NFL team to doubt the legitimacy of the AFL. The Jets beat the Giants 37-16. There was no pragmatic decision to bench the starters. Larry Grantham has said that players put off retirement just to play that game. Talk about workers putting their muscle behind the corporate brand. It was a religion, not a job. Mike Battle leaped like a gazelle over Giant defenders in his touchdown return of the opening kickoff. Dad still talks about that move. Only proud devotion could shoot a man so elegantly high in the air.

Dad also talks about going to the Yale Bowl for other Jets-Giants exhibition games in the early 70's whose drunken conflicts in the stands were very much in the style of scenes at Ibrox and Celtic Park. The bowl's construction itself meant that if you lost your balance, you were tumbling for a long, long while down. He says that civil wars broke out all around, and the only thing keeping the drunk guys above from rolling onto the field were guys lower down the bowl. Hot, sunny, fights, beer. That's pretty much all he recalls from it.

I have one other memory from the Levitra game that proves that some things don't change as readily as treatment for erectile dysfunction. My wife and I wore our jerseys to the Meadowlands amid a sea of red, blue, green, and white. At one point, every human soul there stopped to watch two fans, one Giants, one Jets, get hauled away from their business of battering one another. The fight was close to the field, which probably explains why so many players found it intriguing to watch, too. As the Giants fan in the Jeremy Shockey jersey was brought away by an impressive number of Meadowlands security staff, Jets fans along the way up took free shots at him. Then, in quick succession along the same route, Giants fans returned the favor to the pugilist in the Wayne Chrebet jersey when it was his turn to be arrested. It really isn't a rivalry until somebody gets hurt.

The two exhibition matchups I have been to at Giants Stadium were field goal fests decided by an unexciting point or two. When you leave, you actually find yourself asking, "Wait. Who won again?" 13-12, 16-15, 10-0. Real nail biters, especially for a guy like me who really doesn't need an excuse to bite his nails. I'm chomping on them right now with the fear that Pennington will be lost again for the season with yet another ridiculous injury against the Giants like he was three years ago. So who the hell cares about a good game? Stay healthy.

Then every four to five years, we meet again in the regular season, an honor we will repeat this year. If I'm not mistaken, the series is just about even. The first regular season meeting was a 22-10 Giants' victory in 1970, which I didn't even know about until I read about it. The critical moment in that game at Shea was when Fran Tarkenton partially instigated a goal-line fight with Jets players that cleared the two benches. Yeah. I know. Fran Tarkenton. That's how serious these guys were.

My favorite remains the infamous moment back at the Yale Bowl in the middle of the 1974 season when Joe Namath crossed the end zone by himself against the Giants after faking the handoff to Emerson Boozer, much to the surprise of even Boozer himself. Joe walked into the end zone, signifying his simultaneous desire to stop and not be stopped by offering the famous palm raised upward in fragile defense. "OK, guys," he seems to say, "play's over. Don't blow out what's left of my knees. OK, dudes? We cool?" Brad Van Pelt certainly thought so, and he was the guy Namath wanted to fake out with the move.

When the Jets lost 20-10 during the regular 1984 season, I was invited to watch the game on a large scale projection TV with my friend Doug and his family, all insane Giants fans. They made it clear that my presence there was an act of generosity. With me around, they were slumming. I kept getting the feeling that I needed to get up and take everyone's snack orders. When Freeman McNeil went down in the game, injured for the year, Doug forced only the slightest note of compassion out of grudging appreciation for our friendship.

Junior was a Giants fan on my floor in college who taunted me all week leading up to the last game of the 1988 regular season, a matchup between the Jets and Giants. He and I had a deal. If the Giants won, then all week I would wear his Giants mesh hat that was frankly deformed already by his misshapen head. The unthinkable for him occurred when the Jets won with an O'Brien to Toon touchdown, 27-21, and the Giants were forced out of the playoffs. Our deal stipulated that he wear my Jets t-shirt all week. He regarded it with disdain when I handed it to him, and that's even before he realized it had skipped many washing cycles, as was the case with most of my clothes back then.

Such moments of conflict can hardly be compared with the legendary cultural divide between members of the Old Firm. Indeed, the Jets and Giants share the Meadowlands, both present and future. The nameless stadium to be has no real coherent design. Take a look at the pictures below. Each seems to manifest an entirely different design. The second picture appears to put the field in the wrong direction, actually.

This is what happens when you have corporate park architects render their idea of a football stadium. Check out some of the other pictures of the proposed facility, and you'll only see more pictures of the proposed parking lot.

So now, amiability prevails. There are otherwise no distinctive markings on the arena, which might actually be a good thing, because if this is a joint Tisch-Johnson venture in the truest sense, then maybe this time the stadium won't be the sole nominal property of the Big Blue, the so-called flagship organization, the stuck-ups. Those bastards.

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