Friday, October 29, 2010 | Posted by Weinstein
Giants Stadium may be gone, but I still can’t shake its memory. The more familiar I get with its shiny new replacement, the more I feel its presence. Giants Stadium hosted more NFL games than any stadium ever has, and in attending something in the neighborhood of 200 of them it became my treehouse. For 27 years, it was a place where my old man and I could go to get away from whatever else was happening in our lives and lose ourselves in the frenzied company of 80,000 mostly anonymous friends.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Giants Stadium lately, and especially today, because it marks an anniversary of sorts. One year ago today I got my first and last glimpse at the Giants Stadium press box.
There was a time in my life when my greatest desire was to sit in that press box, covering the football team I loved. It was a dream that, as a teenager, I dreamed nightly. As the sports editor and, later, editor-in-chief of my high school's newspaper, I mimicked the reporters and columnists that covered the Giants for Newsday and The New York Times, the two papers that were delivered to our Long Island home every day. I studied their ledes, their styles, hoping they'd rub off on me. It was only a matter of time, I figured, until I'd be covering the Giants myself, "Scoop" Weinstein rubbing elbows in the press box with Dave Anderson and Bob Glauber.
Before I ever stepped foot on campus at The University of Michigan, I'd already sent all of my clippings to the sports editor at The Michigan Daily, a sharp young fellow who has since gone on to become a columnist of some renown at the Detroit Free Press and Sports Illustrated. When I finally met him in person, he thanked me for my frequent mailings by promptly dispatching me to cover a women's cross country event. Later that year, while I was pledging a fraternity and very nearly failing out of school, he allowed me to report on women's softball. These were hardly the beats I’d envisioned covering in my fantasies, but it hardly mattered. By that point, all I was truly interested in was drinking beer and playing Madden until my thumbs were sore. I was hardly ready to cover Michigan football, basketball or hockey, and it showed. By my sophomore year, I wasn't covering anything at all.
My life took a number of twists and turns after that, but eventually I found my way back to sportswriting. Through this blog and my work as a book editor, I even became acquainted with a few guys working the Giants beat. To a man, they all told me not to envy them, stressing that the life of a newspaper beat reporter is a lonely, generally unstable existence. Still, while at the stadium on Sundays I'd often find myself looking over my left shoulder and up at the press box, wishing I was up there with them.
Last fall, opportunity knocked when the fledgling United Football League announced, much to my surprise, that it had scheduled a game at Giants Stadium. Though I'd never actually applied for a credential, I knew the Giants would never issue me one, as is their general policy with bloggers. But the UFL? Who was the UFL to deny anyone anything? So I sent a letter to the UFL's director of publicity on some phony letterhead I created in five minutes using MS Paint, requesting a media credential for the epic showdown between the New York Sentinels and the California Redwoods scheduled for the evening of Thursday, October 29th. A week or so later, after a friendly follow-up email, a credential was granted.
The game, I'd later learn, would be broadcast on Versus, announced by Dave Sims and Doug Flutie. Former NFL star Simeon Rice was suiting up for New York, as were a few other recognizable names including wide receiver Koren Robinson (the ninth overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft) and quarterback Quinn Gray, formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars. John David Washington, son of Denzel, would represent the Redwoods. It was to be a star-studded affair all around.
Because I do not own a car and at that time did not possess a valid driver's license (a story for another time), I took a New Jersey Transit train to Secaucus Junction, where I caught a shuttle bus bound for the Meadowlands. Though the bus had a sign bearing the words "Giants Stadium" taped to its windshield, I began to question whether or not I had boarded the right one after only six other passengers climbed on board. When, roughly thirty minutes later, the seven of us arrived at the stadium, the parking lot was essentially empty. Never before had I see it so deserted before a game, and we often arrive at Giants games five hours prior to kickoff. It was, for lack of a better word, eerie.
I made my way through the lot and to the press gate, where my credential was waiting for me. It allowed for both press box and locker room access, but not field. I rode the elevator up to the press level which, constructed in 1996, was the newest structure in Giants Stadium. After waving my credential at an indifferent member of stadium security I was welcomed to a better-than-decent catered buffet, which included dessert and as many cans of soda as I could drink. The spread included baked ziti, roasted chicken, scalloped potatoes and salad. The press box dining room, however, much like the bus and parking lot had been, was sparsely populated. I could have gone back for a tenth helping and nobody would have said a word. Heck, I probably could have taken a whole chafing dish over to my table.
The local sporting press, I can only assume, was more interested in covering the minor event being held 15 miles east that night at Yankee Stadium—Game 2 of the World Series. AJ Burnett was facing off against the Phillies’ Pedro Martinez. Because the Phillies had taken Game 1 in the Bronx behind a masterful, complete game pitching performance by Cliff Lee the night before, many felt that this was a “must win” game for the Yankees, and I guess “must win” World Series games attract more media attention than Thursday night UFL games do, even when they feature Simeon Rice. I know this because the Yankee game was being shown in the press box, and more reporters were watching the television than the game on the field. Who could blame them? The product on display was, to be kind, of dubious quality.
Looking out through the massive glass encasement of the press box, I quickly ascertained that the rest of the tri-state area was glued to their TV sets at home, because nobody was in the stands, either. I mean nobody. At the time, I tweeted that I estimated no more than 500 people were in the building, including the players, coaches, event staff and the assembled media. The league announced attendance of 10,318, which was ludicrous. I had seen more fans gathered in the old gym at Hofstra, where the defunct USBL's Long Island Surf used to play. I’m fairly certain I’ve also seen more people waiting on line for Shake Shack at CitiField, or climbing out of a car at the circus.
For what it was worth (and it wasn’t worth much to many), the Redwoods won the game, 20-13. Gray was awful, Rice and Robinson non-factors. I don't even think Washington played. For the Sentinels, it was their third loss in a winless inaugural season that would turn out to be their only season. Shortly after the six-game season ended they packed up, moved to Hartford, and renamed themselves the Colonials.
For the Redwoods, it was their second win in what for them would be a two-win season. Both wins came against the Sentinels.
For me, the game was immaterial, though. I spent the better part of the first half tinkering with a blog post that had nothing whatsoever to do with the game and everything to do with the death of Giants Stadium. Up in the press box, I took the opportunity to experience the stadium from a perspective I’d never been afforded, and which nobody would ever be afforded again after December. I wanted to see what I’d been missing all those years, and to live, for one fleeting moment, the life I’d once dreamed of. And after doing so, I left the stadium exhilarated.
Because I couldn’t risk missing the shuttle back to the city, I did not venture down to the locker room after the game. Instead I packed up my laptop, said goodbye to the kindly reporters I had met and exchanged business cards with, took one last look around, and headed out across the vast expanse of black asphalt towards the bus.
As is the custom, there was no cheering in the press box that night, though a few scribes delighted in the results of the baseball game, a 3-1 Yankee victory. Unfortunately for the UFL, there was also no cheering of any kind anywhere in the vicinity of Giants Stadium, either. This begged the question: If a pass falls incomplete, repeatedly, in an empty stadium, does it make a sound?
The answer, to the consternation of Versus, is no, but for me it’s had a reverberation. One year to the day later Giants Stadium is gone, the Sentinels are in Hartford, and the Yankees are watching the World Series on television (unless, of course, they’re Cablevision customers). But me, I’m writing this blog, writing two columns a week for MSG.com, covering the team I love, and inching closer to that dream deferred.
Watch those elbows, Glauber.
Friday, October 15, 2010 | Posted by Weinstein
I recently devoured, over the course of a few nights, the nearly 400 pages that make up The Most Memorable Games in Giants History, a new book by Jim Baker and Bernard Corbett. Employing an oral history format, the authors allow the players, coaches, executives, writers and broadcasters who helped make these games memorable to tell the stories in their own words. It's an informative and entertaining look at Giants history that belongs on the bookshelf of any dedicated Giants fan.
Corbett, perhaps best-known as the radio play-by-play voice of Harvard University football and Boston University hockey, recently took some time out to answer a few questions about the creation of the book and the manner in which he and his co-author arrived at their selections.
Here's the interview below, edited slightly for clarity and length:
* * *
MW: Let's get the obvious question out of the way first. How does a died-in-the-wool Boston guy like you become a lifelong, die hard New York Giants fan? The book's dedication indicates that it has a lot to do with your father.
BC: Once upon a time—in the late fifties when the NFL first became a Sunday afternoon American cultural staple—the Giants (pre AFL) were featured every week throughout New England, the Canadian maritimes, etc. My father and really everyone else that was a pro football fan in a place like Boston at the time was a Giants fan. The team maintained a strong following in New England /Massachusetts/Boston throughout the 1960’s through the AFL’s early days. The Patriots were very slow developing a following of their own. When I first started watching the NFL (circa 1967/Fran Tarkenton) I sat down on Sundays and watched the Giants religiously every week with my father, who stayed loyal to the Big Blue ‘til his passing in 1998. I’m 49 by the way.
MW: Two things impressed me most about this book. First and foremost is its breadth. The book covers games spread across 82 seasons and includes interviews with Giants players whose years of service span seven decades. That obviously took a great deal of research and a significant investment of your time. How did you go about gathering the necessary information on the memorable games that took place well before your time? What were the books that you found yourself continually referring to?
BC: I personally have a very deep collection of Giants-related books. I’m not saying I’ve got all of ‘em, but it’s close. Richard Whittingham’s very colorful history, which includes many entertaining sidebars and anecdotes about the team, was a primary source. For the 1946 story, Sports Illustrated's The Football Book was invaluable. Also, as has been the case through my entire career, there was no substitute for the microfilm department of the Boston Public Library, where I had access to countless newspaper accounts.
MW: The second thing that really impressed me is how you got so many of the old players to talk to you. As someone who has attempted to secure interviews with some of the men featured in this book, I can personally attest to how difficult that can be. That in itself deserves kudos, but they also gave you such great material. Which were the interviews that really stood out for you as the most enjoyable and/or informative? And what was it like, as a fan, to interview some of your heroes?
BC: I have to say that reflecting back on some 125 interviews, 75 of which were with former Giants, there wasn’t one that I said, “oh my, what a waste of time.” Every interview had value. I credit that to the players, to the subjects in general and to my dedication to “doing the homework” and being prepared. The players know right away if they’re talking to somebody that has the knowledge, frame of reference, and passion for the subject. I take pride in developing all of the above before I set up the tape recorder.
There were so many that I enjoyed, but a couple standout by era: George Franck (1946 game, what a memory!); Pat Summerall (a broadcast idol, not just a football Giant); Doug Van Horn (What a great storyteller); Jim Burt (same as previous); Jeff Hostetler ( a real gentleman); Michael Strahan (he’s “Michael Strahan” 24/7) and Justin Tuck (incredible maturity for the youngest Giant, at 26 years old, interviewed for the book). That’s just off the top. I don’t want to slight anyone, as thankfully they all had their moments.
As a fan it was a dream come true, I won’t lie to you. I must admit the Summerall one really gave me goosebumps. I have been a play-by-play broadcaster for some 25 years (hockey/football/a little baseball) at the college level and truly idolize Pat. He was the “voice of the NFL” and so classy, succinct, understated–a true professional. While I interviewed him, I half expected him to do the disclaimer for “60 Minutes” being seen at its regular time except on the West Coast.
MW: I applaud you for not including the so-called "Greatest Game Ever Played" and for including four losses in the book. It was astute of you to recognize that this franchise is defined just as much by its historic defeats as it is by its great victories, and all true Giants fans know that heartbreaking losses can linger in the memory just as long, if not longer, than exhilarating wins. We've covered that here before. I am also well aware that you couldn't include everything, or else run the risk of an 800-page book. That said, there appear to me to be some rather glaring omissions in the book that, if you don't mind, I feel compelled to ask you about.
While some are mentioned in passing, the book doesn't include significant coverage of any games from the 1986 or 2007 championship seasons other than the Super Bowls. That means no 4th & 17 in the Metrodome, no Mark Bavaro dragging Ronnie Lott 20 yards on Monday Night Football, no 1986 conference championship (17-0), no 2007 conference championship at frigid Lambeau. Those games are all, without question, among the most memorable of the past 25 years. Inexplicably, the book also includes zero games from the 1956 championship season and zero games played in the 10-year period between Jan. 1991 and Jan 2001.
That's not even to mention the following 3 epic losses, all occurring in the postseason:
1) The Trey Junkin Game
2) The Flipper Anderson Game
3) The Chris Calloway/Jake Reed Game
So, my question is, how can you devote 18 pages to a 1970 regular-season win over Washington and a 1966 blowout loss to that same Washington team in lieu of these games? What determined your criteria for inclusion?
BC: Time and space were serious constraints. There’s certainly enough material for a volume II. We felt it was impossible to not include the Super Bowls that ended 1986/2007. That also allowed us to reference the games that you list in the course of our interviews in order to provide the back story regarding how the Giants got to the promised land in those memorable seasons.
As far as 1956, the Giants overwhelmingly dominant performance in the title game (47-7) made it tough to include when faced with other choices from that era for that iconic group of players. Not including anything from 1991-2001 was once again a “numbers game”. It doesn’t mean that, say, the Dallas game from 1993 or the Chris Calloway/Jake Reed game (two more heartbreakers) weren’t memorable or deserving. We only had so much space to work with!
As far as including the 1970 game, that was a watershed year for the Giants, the “almost year" during the “wilderness years” (1967-81). The 6th straight win tied a team record. It also gave us an opportunity to reference the Tarkenton Era. The 1966 game? It still stands as the record of the most points scored by one team in an NFL regular season game (72) and established the scoring mark for the two teams combined (113). unbelievable stuff. It defined the ineptitude of the “wilderness years” in an epic fashion.
MW: What, in your opinion, is the #1 most memorable game in Giants history?
BC: I think you can make a strong case for several, but here’s two about a half a century apart:
The 1958 Summerall field goal game had it all. A “do-or die” scenario for the Giants, a legendary band of Big Blue brothers and Paul Brown’s Cleveland club with arguably the NFL’s greatest player. Throw in the snow covered field and blizzard-like conditions and you’ve got “frozen tundra” before “Frozen Tundra”.
And of course it’s tough to argue with Super Bowl 42. The New York Times headline said it all, “A Perfect Ending…For The Giants”.
MW: Do you think the 2010 Giants can compete for a division title? How about a Super Bowl?
BC: I felt at the beginning of the season that the Giants were a solid playoff/division contender—a team that should win 10 games, which should be enough to make the playoffs. Now about a third of the way along in 2010, the whole conference is up for grabs. If the Giants can continue to progress/find their identity/keep their health, who knows? This could be a special year. More material for volume II.
Note: I recently began writing a biweekly column about the Giants for MSG.com. Check out my latest piece, a preview of Sunday's Giants/Lions game, here.
Note: I recently began writing a biweekly column about the Giants for MSG.com. Check out my latest piece, a preview of Sunday's Giants/Lions game, here.