My Happy Place

Friday, February 1, 2008 |

With kickoff now just about 48 hours away, I'm doing everything I can short of mainlining H to keep my mind off of the Big Game and to relax a bit. And that means, like Happy Gilmore, I need to take my mind to its "Happy Place."

While I certainly enjoy pitchers of beer served by freshly wet, lingerie clad blondes as much as the next guy, for me, my "Happy Place" is Giants Stadium. It's one of the three places in the world, along with Preservation Hall in New Orleans and Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park, where I believe I'd feel at peace to die. And though I'll concede that I've endured some of the lowest moments of my life in that stadium (I see you, Flipper Anderson), none of them have been able to erode the pure, unadulterated joy I felt there on January 11, 1987, when the Giants defeated the Washington Redskins 17-0 in the NFC Championship Game.

Much of that joy, I have to admit, was derived from seeing the look on my old man's face in the closing seconds--a look that I had not seen before and haven't seen since. The look of ultimate redemption.

In 1964 the old man, at the time a young accounting student at Baruch College, bought four seasons tickets for himself and three of his Tau Delta Phi fraternity brothers. Following five championship game appearances in the span of seven years including three in a row, I can only imagine that my father saw great promise in those Giants, and that he envisioned attending many a Championship game over the subsequent seasons. What he did not (and most likely could not) have foreseen, however, is that when their 14-10 loss cinched the last of George Halas’ eight championships as coach and owner of the Chicago Bears in 1963, the Giants would not return to the league’s ultimate showcase for twenty-three years.

In fact, they wouldn't even return to the playoffs until 1981, eighteen years later.

There were, of course, warning signs. Yet despite the retirement of the great Frank Gifford, a Pro Bowl selection at three different positions, and the trade of Sam Huff, the defense’s inspirational leader, to hated Washington, my father fatefully decided to hitch his wagon to a team that would finish the 1964 season just 2-10-2, dead last in the league in points allowed. After a somewhat encouraging seven-win season the following year, the Giants crashed back to earth by winning just once in 1966, their 1-12-1 record still the worst to date in franchise history. Amazingly, Head Coach Allie Sherman was not fired, and my father, resigned to a life of torment and anguish, settled in for the Giants “fallow period.”

In 1981, the Giants finally qualified for the playoffs and even, believe it or not, won their opening round Wild Card game against the rival Eagles before being soundly beaten by Joe Montana and the eventual champion 49ers. The Eagle win must have imbued the old man with a sense of optimism, I guess, because the following season he started taking me to the games. A natural jinx, my freckled presence at Giants Stadium was primarily responsible, I was told, for the Giants winning just seven games over the next two seasons before rebounding with nine wins and a Wild Card berth in 1984.

But despite beating the Rams in the Wild Card game that year and winning double digit games for the first time in 22 years the next, their humiliating shutout loss at the hands of Mike Ditka's Super Bowl shuffling Bears in those 1985 NFC playoffs signaled to Giants fans all over that perhaps we were still a bit further from being true contenders than we had collectively imagined. And then, almost out of nowhere, came 1986--the most magical year of my entire life as a sports fan.

First, in October, came the Mets. Down to their last strike in Game 6 of the World Series, they somehow battled back and managed to defeat the Boston Red Sox in the decisive seventh game. Amazing. But just when my eleven year old self thought life couldn't get any better, the Giants caught fire, winning their last nine regular season games. And after making quick work of the 49ers in the Divisional Playoff Round (49-3 final), they found themselves hosting the Washington Redskins for the right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XXI.

The first thing I remember about this game is that it was cold and extremely windy. But there was such an electricity in the air that evening that I don't think I (or anybody else) felt it. Never before or since have I witnessed a feeling this intense running through Giants Stadium. And it was all because of fans like my old man--the loyal, long-time season ticket holders who had waited so long for a moment like this--the fans who braved all those cold Sunday afternoons in the sixties and seventies when the Giants were pathetic. When they were the laughingstock of the league. I think that day they all just sensed that their time had finally arrived.

The Redskins, a strong team that would go on to the win the championship the following season, never had a chance. Feeding off of the energy of the crowd, the Giants controlled the game from the opening kickoff until the last whistle, and won 17-0. The game's outcome was never in doubt.

And when it was finally over, when it finally sunk in that we had won the game and were headed to the Super Bowl, when the crowd was going berserk and the confetti was flying around the air and the Giants were dancing at midfield and climbing into the stands to embrace their families, I looked up at my old man and saw the purest expression of happiness I have ever seen on his face to this day. It was an expression that seemed to be possessed of more than just joy, though. The smile spread across his face was also a smile of relief. Of vindication. Of a million emotions and memories converging into one perfect moment. And when I think about that look now, I can still see it as vividly as I did when I was eleven years old.

That's my happy place.


Anonymous said...

can we get a post-superbowl bluenatic?