There were many highlights in the Giants opening week win over Washington, most notably the incredible strip/fumble recovery/touchdown by Osi Umenyiora and the exemplary individual effort exhibited by Mario Manningham on his first NFL touchdown. But while wins are always great, especially against a division rival, those of you who watched the game on television likely missed the afternoon's ultimate highlight.
At halftime, the Giants brought out something in the neighborhood of 80 former players spanning six decades, honoring them in a short ceremony to commemorate the final year of Giants Stadium and to acknowledge the 8 year anniversary of the tragedies of 9/11. Proving that Wellington Mara's "once a Giant, always a Giant" philosophy still holds true, it was a remarkable turnout and an amazing (and incredibly rare) assemblage of talent.
The Old Man seemed to get a kick out of seeing "wilderness years" old timers like Tucker Frederickson, Aaron Thomas, Bob Tucker, and John Mendenhall out there. And I felt privileged to get a glimpse at true legends like Andy Robustelli and Frank Gifford (pictured left), 83 and 79 years old respectively, lined up alongside heroes of my youth, Harry Carson, Rodney Hampton, and Leonard Marshall. It didn't even matter that L.T. and Phil Simms couldn't make it, because Stephen Baker could. And Karl Nelson. And Fred Dryer, and dozens of other Giants, stars and scrubs alike.
Would you believe I even cheered Chris Calloway?
After the ceremony, the players walked back down into the tunnel near the endzone where our seats have been located since the stadium opened. A few seconds later, though, Gifford re-emerged. Still possessed of the charm that once made him a matinee idol, The near octogenarian jogged gingerly over to the corner of the field, where a group of soldiers were gathered along the wall. Without fanfare or a swarm of paparazzi, or being prodded by a publicist, he approached each soldier individually, looked them in the eye, shook his/her hand, and offered each his sincere thanks (and an autograph).
It was a small gesture that speaks to the man's enduring character. It clearly wasn't for show. Though old #16 never served in the military himself, his best friend and teammate, the late Charley Conerly, fought in the Battle of Guam and Gifford has an immense respect for the uniformed servicemen who put their lives on the line to protect our freedom. Seeing him take time out to personally thank those soldiers was, for me, an unusually moving experience.
Following Gifford's cue, Hampton and Super Bowl XXV hero Ottis Anderson came back out of the tunnel and did the same. Theirs was a similarly touching gesture.
On a day in which the 2009 Giants outclassed a division rival, the Giants Alumni exhibited a significant measure of class as well. None of the beat reporters seemed to notice, and if they did, they didn't write about it (in fact, I haven't seen a single word about the halftime ceremony in any publication). And something tells me that's just fine with Giff, Rodney and Ottis.