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.